University of North Dakota men's hockey successfully recruiting top players unnoticed by other programs

GRAND FORKS -- USA Hockey starts holding camps for the country's elite players by age 14.It picks top-end players for its National Team Development Program by age 15 or 16.Soon, the NHL will release its rankings for the upcoming Draft, which will...

North Dakota’s Paul LaDue, front, controls the puck along the boards Nov. 21 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. (FNS Photo by Dave Schwarz)

GRAND FORKS - USA Hockey starts holding camps for the country’s elite players by age 14.
It picks top-end players for its National Team Development Program by age 15 or 16.
Soon, the NHL will release its rankings for the upcoming Draft, which will by-in-large feature high school seniors.
But as everyone rushes to peg the next superstars and as colleges continue securing commitments for players who are four years away from attending school, there’s another story that’s playing out in Grand Forks right now.
The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team is ranked No. 2 in the country with a 16-2-2 record, buzzing through the season thanks in large part to some elite hockey players who had zero college recruiting interest during their high school years.
Defenseman Paul LaDue couldn’t get on a United States Hockey League roster when he left Grand Forks Central. Tucker Poolman had a tough time finding a North American Hockey League team after graduation from East Grand Forks Senior High.
They didn’t make any NHL draft rankings and barely registered on the radars of college teams.
Now, the former Knight and Green Wave players are two of the standouts on UND’s defensive corps, which is arguably the best in the nation.
They’ve developed into top NHL prospects, too.
The Los Angeles Kings flew members of the front office to Grand Forks in the summer to try to convince LaDue to sign. The Winnipeg Jets believe that Poolman will be a future NHLer in their organization.
This week, UND added another local product with a similar background.
Casey Johnson, who had no college offers when he graduated from Central, verbally committed to join UND in either 2016 or 2017. Johnson said UND coaches strongly stated they think he’s a big part of their future.
For North Dakota players, it’s important that they understand this: They are a longshot to get college offers during their high school days. They are always under-represented on USA Hockey festival rosters. They are rarely on the NHL’s draft lists.
But talented players - who stick with it and push themselves as hard as possible - continue to find their opportunities at the next level. There are examples all over the state and all over college hockey.
Central’s Casey Purpur is at Northern Michigan. Minot’s Bryce Schmitt is a captain at Lake Superior State. Bismarck’s Alec Rauhauser will soon play for a top-20 team in Bowling Green. Minot’s Mason Morelli is playing for a top-10 team in Nebraska Omaha. Red River’s Jon Lizotte has been a golden find for a top-5 team in St. Cloud State.
And right here in Grand Forks, No. 2 UND is rolling along, thankful to have Johnny Simonson, LaDue and Poolman on the roster while it eagerly awaits for future guys like Casey Johnson.
All of them are making an impact in college hockey. None were recruited out of high school.
So when the next list of future stars comes out next month void of any North Dakota players, they can scan the list, shrug their shoulders and then get back to work.

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