Fifty American players were selected in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Only one had a weight listed at less than 160 pounds — UND commit Jackson Blake.
No, it wasn't size that drew the Carolina Hurricanes to select Blake in the fourth round with the No. 109 overall pick last month. Carolina assistant general manager Darren Yorke said it was Blake's hockey sense.
"Jackson is incredibly smart," Yorke said. "When he's transitioning from the neutral zone to the offensive zone, he's got that problem-solving ability to buy time and he can hit the weak side. To do all of this when he's not fully developed, in a hard league, is what really gravitated (us toward him). It probably doesn't shock anyone here that we're going for smart players and this kid fits that build."
Blake started the season with the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League. When the Minnesota prep season started, he returned to Eden Prairie High School to play his junior year. Blake led Eden Prairie to the state title, scoring the overtime winner in the championship game.
Then, he went back to Chicago to end the season. He won a second title there, scoring the game-winning goal in the Clark Cup clincher against the Fargo Force.
The Hurricanes scouted Blake at both levels and noticed traits he carried from one league to the next. Yorke, who said the Hurricanes were particularly impressed with Blake's five-on-five play, predicted the dynamic forward will excel at UND because of that.
"Hockey sense is something we value quite a bit and I think when you have players that are very smart, such as Jackson, you can see some of the little things they take from Minnesota high school hockey and it shows up in the USHL," Yorke said. "The ability to buy time and problem solve is so imperative for a young player when they start graduating to the next level.
"In Jackson's case. . . when he goes from the USHL to the college level, the game is almost slowing down because of how fast he reads it."
Blake is scheduled to come to UND in the fall of 2022 after playing the upcoming season, his senior year, with the Steel.
After being selected, Blake participated in a Zoom press conference with Carolina media.
"This moment is crazy," he said, wearing a UND polo. "It hasn't really kicked in yet that I've been drafted to such a great organization. I'm at a loss for words right now."
Blake said his father Jason, a former UND and NHL star, spoke highly of Carolina's organization.
"He said Rod Brind'Amour is one of the greatest coaches he's seen and he wishes he got to lace them up for him," Blake said.
Blake was one of three UND-bound players picked in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Incoming freshman defenseman Brent Johnson went in the third round to the Washington Capitals and defenseman commit Nate Benoit went in the sixth round to the Minnesota Wild.