College Ties: Minnesota Recruit Johnson Leads NHL Midterm Rankings

College hockey will once again make a major impact on the NHL stage, according to the NHL Central Scouting Service’s Midterm Rankings of 2006 Entry Draft prospects.

The top three ranked North American skaters all have college ties, with Minnesota freshman-to-be Erik Johnson leading the way. Johnson, a strapping 6-foot-4 defenseman, has scored 20 points in 29 games this season for the U.S. National Under-18 team.

Phil Kessel, a future teammate of Johnson’s at Minnesota, was second in the CSS rankings, followed by North Dakota rookie forward Jonathan Toews, who was third.

At the recent World Junior Championships, Kessel led the U.S. team, which finished fourth, in scoring with 11 points.

Though college hockey takes the top three spots in the rankings, there’s a sharp falloff immediately thereafter. Kyle Okposo (13th) and David Fischer (25th) are both committed to Minnesota. Michigan defenseman Mark Mitera ranked 15th, while Wisconsin recruit Nigel Williams (19th) rounds out the top 25 for college-linked players.

In net, Michigan’s Billy Sauer was the top-ranked collegian, ranking fourth. Miami’s Jeff Zatkoff was eighth, followed by Alaska-Fairbanks’ Chad Johnson 15th), Yale’s Alec Richards (20th), Maine’s Matt Lundin (23rd) and Colgate’s Marc Dekanich (24th).

The CSS Midterm Rankings are the second of three rankings distributed by the NHL. Preliminary Rankings, which break down talent according to individual leagues, were published in November 2005. The final CSS rankings are released between the close of the season and the draft.

The 2006 NHL Entry Draft will take place this June at General Motors Place in Vancouver, B.C.