Minot, ND – As we approach the tenth season of Minotauros hockey in the Magic City we will be taking time to look back at our history. We know that while we have some fans that have been with us for the entire ride, many are have not. If there is something from our history you would like for us to take a closer look at email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We start our #TaurosTen series with a look back at the Tauros performance in the NAHL Draft.
The Draft is the first league event that any expansion team, including the Tauros, participates in. It presents a unique problem in drafting however that many fans of big league sports might not think about. When watching the NHL or NFL draft there is virtually no question that the players will report to the team that takes them, those are the top leagues for their sport. With the NAHL Draft however teams must not only identify talented players but also players who will play ideally not play in the USHL or Canadian provincial junior leagues. This can be a tight lane to navigate though it gets easier the longer a team sustains success. As detailed below there were times early when drafted players wanted no part of Minot, that has not been the case however for a long time.
In the end there may be no better microcosm for the Tauros fortunes than their performance in the NAHL Draft. From a disappointing first draft class in 2011 through sustained success in recent years it is no surprise that the Tauros on-ice fate has mirrored the success of their draft class year after year. Over the years the Tauros have used the draft to both find immediate impact players and developmental projects; and some of each type have found ways to contribute to the Tauros success.
The Tauros first draft in 2011 could go a long way towards explaining the growing pains of being an expansion franchise. First round pick Mike Mezzano was the only player of the class to play more than half a season with the team and even he would finish the year with the Tier III Bozmen Ice Dogs. Mezzano did dress for 41 contests and assist on six goals but he had little help from the rest of his draft class. Only four of the 11 other draft picks would even suit up for the Tauros with just Andrew Doig (9th round) and Nick Sova (11th round) getting more than 10 games. Doig’s lone goal in 15 games played was the only goal scored by the entire draft class. In a season that saw the expansion Tauros win just seven games none of the 12 draft picks remained with the Tauros for the full season. It was undoubtedly the Tauros worst draft class.
With Marty Murray taking over for Ben Johnson in February of the Tauros inaugural season he was unable to do much to upgrade the roster until the summer. On paper the Tauros second draft was only slightly better than their first. Just two of the eight players drafted would ever play for the Tauros. Three players: Mitch Hughes (6th round), Logan Smith (7th round), and Evan Moore (12th round) would make USHL clubs; two more: Bryan Sinz (2nd round) and Taylor Love (3rd round) would opt to head to Canada to play in the BCHL rather than report to Minot.
The two players who did report to Minot however were instrumental to the Tauros starting their run of playoff appearance that remains unbroken. Forward Beau Ricketts taken in the 8th round brought a physical presence as well as chipping in nine points as a rookie; he would also be the first Tauros draft pick to return for a second season with the team. Third round pick Ryan Ruck was the first goaltender to be drafted by the Tauros an 18 year-old a the time he backed up Tyler Parks (who was acquired via trade) and played well enough to move on to the USHL for his final two years of junior. In 25 games Ruck posted a .910 SV% and 2.94 GAA as a Tauro and became the first Tauro draft pick to play for the team and play NCAA DI hockey.
Perhaps the most consequential pick for the Tauros that year was first rounder Dan Sherer. Sherer never played a game for the Tauros, refusing to report based in large part to the teams poor showing the previous season. By October that year the Tauros traded his rights to the now defunct Fresno Monsters in exchange for Zack Holstrom, David Dalbec, and Carl Witty. All three were NAHL veterans and while Witty only played two games for the Tauros Holstrom and Dalbec brought talent and leadership to the club. Forward Holstrom posted 15 points in 30 games as a Tauro and Dalbec added 12 from the blue line before going on to play college hockey at Arizona State (ACHA DI) and University of Wisconsin-Superior (NCAA DIII) respectively.
The 2013 draft was a bit of a step backwards for the Tauros. Without a first rounder the Tauros took Zack Simpson in the second and while started the season in Minot he would eventually be lured away by the EHL after posting just one assist in 32 games. Fellow second rounder Jack Forbort posted three goals and four helpers before requesting a trade to his hometown Minnesota Wilderness; Tanner Holmquist came back in the trade and posted four goals and six assists in 36 games played.
In the third round the Tauros took a pair of WSHL Seattle Totems in Steven Mather and Rylan Cratsenberg. Cratsenberg would had played two games as an affiliate with the Tauros prior to being draft but would not play any after the draft. Mather meanwhile, would not join the Tauros until the 2015-16 season, an example of the Tauros using the draft to build a relationship with a young player. When he did eventually join the team he posted six goals and three helpers in 40 games. The following offseason (2016) the Tauros would lose Mather to the expansion Shreveport Mudbugs where he would be their first captain and post 28 points in 58 games.
The Tauros made five more picks from the fourth round on but only 9th rounder Bo Gronseth would make the team but played just 12 games before being released.
2014 saw the Tauros draft the Tauros begin a sustained run of draft success. While the first three draft classes combined to play 283 games as Tauros, the 2014 draft class combined to play 425 games in a Tauros uniform. The headliners from the draft class each played three seasons for the Tauros; fifth rounder Luke Davison and 13th rounder/future Tauro Captain Jacob Dittel.
Aside from a pair of three year blue liners the Tauros also picked forward John Snodgrass who became just the second Tauros draft pick to both play for the team and eventually play NCAA DI hockey. Snodgrass scored one of the more memorable goals in Tauro history during his lone season in Minot. With Game Two of the Central Division Semi-Finals against the Bismarck Bobcats tied 2-2 late in the third period the 6th round pick got loose on a shorthanded breakaway and scored what would be the game winner to give the Tauros a 2-0 series lead. The Tauros completed the sweep of the Cats the next Friday night in Minot to give the franchise it’s first playoff series victory.
Minot High School standout Quinn Fuchs was taken in the 9th round and played a season and a half for the Tauros posting four goals and 11 assists in 59 games before heading to North Iowa in the NA3HL and eventually NCAA DIII Concordia.
While the Tauros made 13 picks in the 2014 draft, only Mitch Snyder (1st round) and Lucas Debenedet (2nd round) joined those listed above in suiting up for the Tauros. Debenedet was released after five games while Snyder started the season with Green Bay in the USHL before joining the Tauros late. Injuries prevented Snyder from playing more than seven games in the regular season and a pair of playoff games before aging out.
The Tauros 2015 draft class was almost half the size of the previous group with just seven picks due to the number of players returning from the previous season. That did not stop the Tauros hockey ops staff from adding to the organizations depth. First rounder Cam McClure did not produce the stats that his draft status would suggest but he was a great locker room guy and hard worker who posted five assists in 27 games.
The second round produced a pair of picks, Owen Larson was eventually traded to the Minnesota Magicians for futures and a home run in defenseman James LaDouce. LaDouce would wear an “A” for the next season and his 35 points in 56 games was a single season record for Tauros defensemen until Sam Skinner (a 2018 draft pick) posted 38 this season.
After three picks in the first two rounds the Tauros final four picks all came in the fifth round or later. Grayson Gavin was the only player to join the Tauros from the back half of the draft but he posted eight goals and 11 assists in 57 games over a season and a half before being traded for futures from Fairbanks.
Without a doubt 2016 is when the Tauros drafts turned a corner, while they had been hitting more consistently the previous two years it is 2016 when the classes started getting deeper. There are undoubtedly several reasons for this but two stand out. First, at that time the Tauros had made the playoffs four seasons in a row (a streak that would have hit eight seasons this spring had the COVID-19 pandemic not hit). Second, Shane Wagner, who was just elevated to be the third Head Coach/G.M. in Tauros history joined the scouting staff.
First rounder Reid Stefanson posted 21 goals and 32 assists in his lone season as a Tauro before leaving for the USHL and eventually NCAA DI UMass-Lowell. The second round saw the Tauros draft another future UMass-Lowell River Hawk in Nolan Sawchuk. A two-year Tauro, Sawchuk posted 6 goals and 56 assists in regular season play as a Tauro. An Assistant Captain for the 2017-18 team Sawchuk scored the Central Cup game winning goal in double overtime against the Austin Bruins to send the Tauros to their first Robertson Cup. Sawchuk had the game tying goal with just under two minutes left in Game Three of the Robertson Cup Semi-Final to set up a thrilling overtime win; and the next day he had the Tauros lone goal in a 2-1 loss in the championship game.
The Tauros had three third round picks that year thanks to the Larson and Gavin trades the season before. Max Johnson and Josiah Slavin both made USHL clubs but the first pick of the round was perhaps one of the more overlooked Tauros in franchise history in Austin Dollimer. An impact player from the start Dollimer posted nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points as a rookie; he more than doubled that number in his second and final season posting 45 points on 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points during the 2017-18 season.
Like the year before the Tauros saw a long wait after some early picks having no 4th or 5th rounders. The Tauros did grab Charlie Weiand in the 8th round. Weiand was a solid defensive defenseman for the 2016-17 club adding 12 points as well in 52 games played. He would have returned for a second season but instead requested a trade to play for his brother who became the Head Coach of the Minnesota Magicians.
The Tauros 2018 Robertson Cup title game run was fueled by a strong 2017 draft. Lincoln Erne was taken 19th overall in the first round and was a mainstay for two years on the Tauro blue line. He played 114 games as a Tauro, had nine goals and 42 assists, and is now playing for NCAA DI Canisius College.
The Tauros did not have a second round pick but did have two third rounders. First, was current Minot State Beaver Landyn Cochrane who only played eight games as a Tauro posting three helpers. Second, was goaltender Jack Robbel. Robbel was eventually cut from the team for violating team rules but posted a 2.81 GAA in 23 games played. His removal also cleared the way for Nick Grabko to join the Tauros early, Grabko posted a 2.14 GAA and .933 SV% down the stretch while Samu Lonkila was recovering from pneumonia helping the Tauros clinch a 2018 playoff spot.
The Tauros grabbed Grant Loven in the fifth round, he had posted just eight points for Cedar Rapids in the USHL the season before but posted 13 goals and 35 assists during the 2017-18 season to finish second on the Tauros in scoring. The hard-working and soft-spoken forward just completed his sophomore season at NCAA DI Northern Michigan.
In the 8th round the Tauros nabbed forward Ondrej Pavel. Pavel it could be argued was the MVP of the Tauros second half during the 2018 run to the Robbie. Aside from playing a shutdown defensive forward role “Pav” went from posting two goals, two assists, and a -3 rating in his first 26 games to six goals, eight assists, and a +9 rating over the final 22 contests of the regular season. He added two goals in the Tauros run to the Robby Cup final as well, first a goal in the decisive Game 5 victory over Aberdeen in the first round, and then the overtime game winner against Fairbanks in the Robertson Cup Semis, perhaps the biggest goal in Tauro history.
The Tauros also nabbed Spencer Kimball in the 10th round of the 2017 draft. Kimball played 72 games over a season and a half with the Tauros netting a goal and 13 helpers before being traded to the Austin Bruins.
The Tauros 2018 draft class had perhaps the most difficult task of any prior class. Having fallen one win short of hoisting the Robertson Cup the team they would join had higher expectations than any before. While their playoff run would eventually fall shy of it’s goal the draft class had a ton of success.
First rounder Didrik Henbrant posted 19 goals and 21 assists in his only season as a Tauro before heading to NCAA DI Alaska-Fairbanks to join 2015 Tauro draftee James LaDouce. Second rounder Nicolas Petruolo was off to a strong start with four points in eight games before personal reasons led the Tauros to trade him closer to home and the Jamestown Rebels.
The Tauros next two picks Brocton Baker and Luke Manning both made USHL teams and never played for the team. The fourth round produced Jospeh Harguindeguy who has two years of eligibility remaining but has put up 32 points through 89 games so far in his career. If he remains a Tauro and continues to grow he has a legitimate chance to leave Minot as the programs all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and naturally points.
Next up were a pair of Tauros who were eventually traded to the Minnesota Magicians. Matt Gellerman (5th round) posted seven goals and 15 assists over a season and a half before being traded and Parker Larson lasted only five games before being dealt.
In the seventh round the Tauros drafted Daniel Russell, who in the second round in 2019 became the only player the Tauros have drafted twice. He spent 2018-19 with the Fargo Force in the USHL and did not play for the Tauros which is why he had to be drafted again the next summer. It is fair to say that former Tauros’ Head Coach Marty Murray is a fan of Russells as he has now drafted him for the third summer in a row, taking him in the USHL draft earlier this week.
The eighth round saw Sam Skinner selected and though his rookie year saw him in and out of the lineup he still produced 14 points in 33 games. It was his second season, in which he rewrote the Tauros record book with 38 points as a defenseman that earned him a place at NCAA DI Ferris State next season.
Then after the ninth round saw Darian Gotz selected and eventually traded to the Minnesota Wilderness for futures the Tauros found Wilmer Skoog in the tenth round. Skoog posted 18 goals and 29 assists along with a commitment to NCAA DI Boston University in his first season as a Tauro. He was supposed to go to school a year early but when that opportunity fell through the Tauros traded him to Maryland for futures, Skoog played there for the first half of last season before enrolling at BU for the second semester and joining the Terriers for whom he posted five goals and two assists in the final 17 games of the college season.
Amazingly the most recent draft class is already the most prolific in terms of scoring, their combined 72 career goals is more than any other class narrowly passing 2018’s 71 goals despite having had one fewer season to reach that number. It becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that the group was limited to 50 games as the final 10 were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jay Buchholz was taken in the first round and posted 8 goals and 33 assists in his first year in Minot. As mentioned earlier Russell was the Tauros second round pick, and skated most of the season on a line with Buchholz scoring 21 goals and setting up another 13. NCAA DI commit Max Bronstine was the third round pick but only played nine games with the Tauros, he joined the club late after starting the season with Fargo in the USHL and was unable to find a role before being released.
The Tauros used a pair of fifth round picks on forward who would finish the year as Tauros despite starting in the USHL. Cade Stibbe arrived early playing 41 games for the Tauros despite a couple of call ups to Fargo. He posted 16 goals and 17 assists and had a chance at reaching the 20 goal mark before the season was canceled. Cody Sherman posted two goals and four assists in 17 games after joining the Tauros in January from Tri-City.
In the eighth round the Tauros nabbed one of their all-time draft steals in Andranik Armstrong-Kingkade. A 20 year-old with junior experience Armstrong-Kingkade posted 32 points for the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL the year before the Tauros drafted him. He came to Minot and posted 25 goals and 19 helpers driving the Tauros offense early in the season. While his scoring pace slowed later in the year he still was on pace to pass Miroslav Mucha’s Tauro record of 30 goals in a season.
Looking ahead to this summer it maybe the most difficult draft the Tauros staff faces yet. Unable to hold camps to evaluate players to this point means the Tauros, and every team, will be drafting based on in season scouting and relationships built over time. For that reason the NAHL has split the draft with a Supplemental Draft to take place next week allowing each team to add three players early in the offseason and replace players like Kyler Kleven and Dan Russell who were taken in the USHL Draft. Then the NAHL Entry Draft will take place on July 21st after teams have hopefully had time to evaluate more players in a camp setting.
For a full Supplemental Draft preview come back to gotauros.com on Monday and of course stay tuned to our social media channels on Tuesday for our NAHL Draft coverage brought to you by Applebees, Farmers Union Insurance, First International Bank and Trust, and Trinity Health.