In the last year, one of the most normal parts in the life of Jack Peart has been taking place in the last few weeks.

Peart has been working four days a week at a Grand Rapids hockey camp that is for players from third grade through ninth grade.

"It's fun. I enjoy being on the ice with the little guys and trying to teach them something," Peart said.

There is no manual for the type of year that Peart has had and some more new experiences are going to take place this week. Peart leaves Thursday, July 22, for Plymouth, Mich. He is one of 44 player invited by USA Hockey to take part in the World Junior Summer Showcase. The event is part of the process to select the national junior (20-and-under) team that will compete in the IIHF World Junior Championships, which will take place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

Peart will barely be unpacked for that camp when he and several players in the camp will go and watch the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The first round of the draft will be held on Friday, beginning at 7 p.m. (ESPN2). The second through seventh rounds begin at 10 a.m. Saturday (NHL Network).

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Peart, a St. Cloud State signee who turned 18 in May, is projected to be taken in either the first or the second round of the draft. He is ranked No. 27 among North American skaters eligible for the draft by NHL Central Scouting. Pre-pandemic, the draft has taken place in an NHL arena and players have had the opportunity to attend the event, go on stage after their name is announced, have photos taken with the team that drafts them and answer questions from the press.

But for the second straight year, the draft will take place virtually this weekend from a studio in New Jersey and players will appear on-screen. The draft is being held a month later than normal and most of the top Americans eligible for the draft will be in Michigan.

"It's going to be cool," Peart said. "They're putting something together for the guys who are draft eligible. It'll be special. A couple of the guys who are going there are projected to get drafted pretty high. It will be pretty cool and special to spend the day with them and see what happens."

In non-pandemic years, most of the top players are invited to an NHL Combine event where they go through various physical tests before the draft. That also is not happening again this year. But Peart said that he has talked to all the NHL teams, who are doing their typical homework on the players that may get drafted in the first few rounds.

"Just questions to try to get to know you better," he said. "I was definitely really nervous at the start. As you do more of them, you get more comfortable with them. It's sort of a skill and I feel like I've gotten a lot better at it. I'm thankful because it will probably help me in job interviews in the future because that's pretty much what it is."

Stock moved up

Before last season, in the preseason NHL Central Scouting ratings, Peart received a "C" rating among North American skaters. A "C" rating for skaters typically projects them to be taken between the fourth and sixth rounds of the draft.

After his junior year of high school, Peart had played five games in juniors for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League. He decided that he would start the 2020-21 season with the Force and then, depending on how things went and if there was a high school league season, decide whether he would leave the team to rejoin the Grand Rapids High School team for that season and then return to the Force after the high school season ended.

Peart ended up on Fargo's top defensive pairing, was on the power play and penalty kill, led USHL rookies in assists with 11 in the team's first 16 games and his NHL Draft stock soared. But when the high school season started, Peart returned to be the Thunderhawks captain and led the team in assists (24), points (35), power-play goals (5), power-play assists (7), short-handed assists (3) and tied for the team lead in game-winning goals (3).

Grand Rapids reached the Section 7AA championship game (a 3-2 loss to Andover) and Peart had an assist in that game. He ended up becoming the third Grand Rapids player to be named Mr. Hockey in the state (Aaron Miskovich, 1997; Avery Peterson, 2014).

"That was probably one of my coolest experiences ever," Peart said of winning the honor. "To be nominated for the award was really special. To go down there and win it was surreal and awesome. I got to share that day with my family and my high school coaches. It was a really special day for me, my family and the community of Grand Rapids.

"All the support and help I've gotten from the community — I can't thank everyone enough."

After his high school season ended, he went back to the Force and played the last eight games of the regular season and had one goal, three assists and was a minus-3. In the playoffs, he had two goals, five assists, 21 shots on goal and was a plus-2 in nine games, helping the Force reach the Clark Cup Finals.

"That was awesome to get that experience in the playoffs," Peart said. "We had a really good group of guys. We started playing really good hockey at the right time. We went on a run, fell short of what we wanted to do, but it was a really good experience."

"He just continued to develop throughout the year and got better and better," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "By the end of last year, he was in a situation with the two best teams in the USHL and, boy, that's as close to college hockey as you can get. Those were two really good teams, most of those kids going on to play Division I hockey after they leave. I think that experience he got and the development he got in those games in making that run were invaluable."

Fargo Force defenseman Jack Peart (4) skates with the puck with Sioux City's Gabe Blanchard (77) and Joel Maatta (16) defending on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, at Scheels Arena. (Dave Samson/The Forum)
Fargo Force defenseman Jack Peart (4) skates with the puck with Sioux City's Gabe Blanchard (77) and Joel Maatta (16) defending on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, at Scheels Arena. (Dave Samson/The Forum)

And the next experience is also going to be valuable for Peart in his development. The Showcase this week will also include teams from Finland and Sweden and there will be games between all the teams. As an assistant coach two years ago, Larson took part in the evaluation of the Team USA players.

"He will be fresh off that camp when he gets to campus," said Larson, whose team reports to campus on Aug. 9. "I have talked to him about the World Junior Camp and how competitive it is. It's certainly not just a summer skate.

"You play those games and they're intense. You better have your winter hockey hat on and be ready to go. I'm letting him take one thing at a time, but it will also help prepare him to come in here."

As for the draft, it will be another big moment in his year and in his career.

"It's definitely pretty crazy, even to think that I've been talking to NHL teams this year," Peart said. "It's a dream come true. I don't know if I've really realized what's happened this year. It's been really special."

Could Peart be the 3rd SCSU player to be taken in 1st round?

We will find out soon if Peart is the third St. Cloud State player to be taken in the first round of the NHL Draft. The first two were defenseman Dennis Cholowski (2016, 20th, Detroit) and forward Ryan Poehling (2017, 25th, Montreal).

Poehling, who is now 22, was drafted after his freshman season at St. Cloud State and signed after his junior season with the Huskies. Last season, he played in 28 AHL games for the Laval Rocket and had 11 goals, 25 points, 2 penalty minutes and was a plus-5 in 28 games for Montreal's top farm team. In his one NHL game in 2019, he had a hat trick on April 16, 2019, against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cholowski, who is now 23, was taken before his first season with the Huskies after playing the previous season in juniors for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League. Cholowski split last season between the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL, 10 points, 6 penalty minutes, minus-5 in 13 games) and the Red Wings (NHL, 3 points, 4 penalty minutes in 16 games). He has played 104 NHL games and has 27 points, 26 penalty minutes and is a minus-47.

SCSU players taken in the 2nd round

While Poehling and Cholowski are the two Huskies who have been taken in the first round of the draft, there have been four Huskies taken in the second round of the draft.

The four Huskies taken in the second round have been forward Matt Cullen (35th overall, Anaheim, 1996), defenseman Josh DeWolf (41st, New Jersey, 1996), defenseman Brian Gaffaney (44th, 1997, Pittsburgh) and forward Andreas Nodl (39th, 2006, Philadelphia).

Of the Huskies taken in the second round, Cullen had the most success. He played 21 seasons in the NHL with eight teams (Anaheim, Florida, Carolina, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville and Pittsburgh). In 1,516 regular season games, he had 266 goals, 731 points and 592 penalty minutes. Cullen was picked after his freshman season and signed with Anaheim after his sophomore season.

DeWolf was drafted before he joined St. Cloud State and after playing the season before in the USHL for the St. Paul Vulcans. He signed a pro contract after his sophomore season and played six seasons in the minor leagues before retiring.

Gaffaney was drafted before he joined St. Cloud State and after playing the previous season in the USHL for the North Iowa Huskies. He played four seasons for the Huskies and then two seasons in the minors before retiring.

Nodl was drafted before he joined the Huskies and after playing the previous season in the USHL for the Sioux Falls Stampede. He played 183 NHL games with the Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes and had 15 goals, 36 points and 28 penalty minutes until 2013. He then played professionally in Austria before retiring in 2019.

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