The UND hockey team -- most of it anyway -- has been on campus for six weeks now, competing in voluntary scrimmages three times a week in Ralph Engelstad Arena's Olympic Arena.
It could be perilous to read too much into the scrimmages.
They're informal. Defense can be optional. There's no hitting. They lack intensity. And often times, they played four-on-four, which allows for more time and space.
But they're not totally devoid of useful information.
They allow you to see some skill sets, skating abilities and, sometimes, you can pick out some little tells to how the season might play out.
It was last summer when Collin Adams was continually finishing off goals near the crease, a sign that he was ready to do that during the season. Sure enough, he had a major breakout year, jumping from two goals as a sophomore to 12 as a junior.
This year's skates have taken on some added emphasis.
After losing sports for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has brought some normalcy back to The Ralph. Even if they are just summer scrimmages, they're still more competition than we've seen virtually anywhere in the United States in the last five months. So, the Herald has opted to cover most of them this summer when it has not in the past.
Looking back at the last six weeks, there have been some big takeaways from the scrimmages. Here are the ones that most stand out.
1. Kleven's skill level is underrated
I've spoken to a number of NHL scouts in the last year about Tyler Kleven, and I've read plenty of reports online.
They're all pretty consistent when it comes to the defenseman from Fargo Davies: They say he's a throwback -- a big, punishing defenseman capable of game-changing hits. They say he has a big slap shot from the point, but outside of that, there's not much offensive upside. They say he's raw and is a project that's going to take some time.
I talked to one scout who questioned whether Kleven was ready to come to college this fall or whether he should be playing in the United States Hockey League.
So, arriving at summer skates, I was expecting to see a big, tall defenseman, who has impressive physical tools and great potential but needs work and is having a wake-up call arriving at college. There would be nothing wrong with that. We've all seen rookies who arrive like that but leave as stars four years later. It's part of the normal college hockey progression.
However, that's not at all what I've seen the last six weeks from Kleven.
Throw away the scouting reports. He's not just a brute. He's a skilled defenseman.
Kleven is a very good skater. He can use his edges to turn and separate from guys who are defending him.
He is very effective at walking the puck from the point up to a more offensive spot, because he uses his strength and size to shield defenders and keep them on the outside, while he uses his long stick and reach to keep the puck away.
He's not awkward. He has good hands. He can stickhandle and shoot in high-traffic areas.
And, yes, he does have a heavy shot. It's not just his one-timer or slap shot from the point, though. He has a good release on his wrist shot as well.
I do understand some of the scouting reports. In person, I saw Kleven play twice as a sophomore at Fargo Davies, once as a junior with the U.S. Under-17 Team and once as a senior with the U.S. Under-18 Team.
In those viewings, I felt he was a lot of what the scouting reports said: a strong, physical defender who can make Andrew MacWilliam-like hits on opponents, and as his college career progresses, he may develop some good offensive skills.
This summer, I've seen a different Kleven.
On an nearly daily basis, I've come away impressed with the skill and confidence. He has some Tucker Poolman-like attributes with his size, athleticism and skill level.
His role as a freshman might not be on the power-play, considering some of the other defensemen UND has on the back end. But he will, no doubt, be a power-play guy at UND -- and could do it this year if needed.
NHL scouting reports seem to put him in the second- or third-round range for October's draft. Based on what I've seen this summer, and considering what he could be in the future, he looks like a first-round type of player to me.
2. Kiersted looks like an All-American candidate
UND senior defenseman Matt Kiersted was an all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference second-team pick last season.
So, it may not be a huge surprise to hear that Kiersted looks like he's taken an additional step and could be an All-American this season.
Kiersted has quietly improved every year at UND. His game may not be as flashy as others. He's just extremely efficient. He gets pucks out of the zone. He makes good stretch passes. He puts teammates in great spots in the offensive zone. He has an accurate shot and can bury it when he gets good looks.
While still playing within himself, Kiersted has added some flash to his game this summer.
Every few years, UND has a defenseman with an elite skillset who can generate offense out of nothing by himself. Guys who come to mind are Chay Genoway, Jordan Schmaltz and Christian Wolanin. If UND was trailing in the third period, the coaching staff could tell those guys to, "go." They'd take a few more risks, but they could change a game.
Kiersted appears to have some of that in him this summer.
If UND gets behind, you might see him taking some more risks and showing off his ability to dangle opponents and walk through them.
3. Best center depth in a decade?
I remember having a few conversations with former UND coach Dave Hakstol about building a college hockey team. I know there were two areas he felt were extremely important: center and defense.
And those two positions will be the anchors of this UND team.
You can pencil in UND's top four centers, because they're the same as most of last season: Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby and Mark Senden.
Yes, there's a chance that Weatherby, who has been excellent this summer, could move to Pinto's wing, but my guess is that he starts the season at center and UND coach Brad Berry views his top three as scoring lines.
In 16 years on the UND hockey beat, I can only recall one team with a deeper stable of centers than Adams, Pinto, Weatherby and Senden. That was the 2010-11 team, which used Brad Malone, Corban Knight, Brock Nelson and Carter Rowney up the middle.
Yes, Nelson, a first-round pick, was the third-line center. And yes, Rowney, a Stanley Cup champion, was a fourth-line center. All four played in the NHL.
That crew is hard to top, but this year's centers have a shot to be in the conversation.
4. A tough call in net
After watching summer skates in 2018, I was confident that Peter Thome was the go-to guy in net for UND. However, it ended up being Adam Scheel.
After watching summer skates in 2019, I was confident that Scheel would be the go-to guy in net. However, it ended up being Thome by the end of last season.
I will not be attempting to pick who will end up being the go-to guy in 2020-21. Considering Thome's strong end to last season, I'd guess he will be in net for the first minute of the season, whenever that may be. Both Thome and Scheel have had their moments during summer scrimmages, but considering the heavy workload they face, it's too hard to gain too much information on the goaltenders.
Harrison Feeney will be the third goalie.
5. A logjam on the blue line
UND will be carrying nine defensemen this season.
Only seven, at most, can dress a night.
There are going to be some tough decisions for the coaching staff.
Right now, it appears that, of the rookies, Jake Sanderson, Kleven and Mitchell Miller are ahead of Cooper Moore, who has been better defensively than expected.
The one player who could throw a wrench into others' plans is senior Josh Rieger, who has been very good this summer. Rieger scored four goals during Thursday's scrimmage in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It remains to be seen where he'll be used this season. It could be both at forward and at defense. He's done both in the past.
No, Rieger hasn't played a ton his first three years at UND. He only suited up for six games as a sophomore and nine as a junior. But he's definitely pushing for playing time. Rieger's strong summer has made me think back to another player the Fighting Hawks recruited from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League -- forward Coltyn Sanderson.
Sanderson didn't play much his first three years at UND, but he carved out a regular role as a senior and ended up being a clutch player during the second half of his senior year, helping UND win the NCAA national championship.
Based on observations from this summer, expect Rieger to push hard for minutes this season.