Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gardiner Becomes First NHL Draft Pick to Commit

As first broken by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and confirmed by Lions 247's Andrew Dzurita, Max Gardiner of the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints is Penn State-bound next season.

Max Gardiner

Center/Left Wing
Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
6'2", 175 pounds
Minnetonka, MN
DOB 5/7/1992

Season   Team                   Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM

2007-08  Minnetonka High        MN-HS  27    9   12   21   16
2008-09  Minnetonka High        MN-HS  25   15   25   40   --
2009-10  Minnetonka High        MN-HS  17   17   26   43   14
2009-10  Team South West        MN-HS  22    6    6   12   --
2010-11  Univ. of Minnesota     WCHA   17    1    2    3   24
2011-12  Dubuque Saints         USHL   21    6    5   11    6

First, probably the most exciting part: Gardiner will become the first Penn Stater ever to be an NHL draft pick. He was selected 74th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2010. Just in case you were wondering why a good Minnesota boy (said in my Don Cherry voice) is wearing a bluenote in that picture at the top.

Since I know you're wondering on the back of that news...

Hockey's Future rates Gardiner's NHL potential as a 7.0 D. The 7.0 part of that translates as "second-line forward." However, the D part indicates that he's seen as unlikely to reach his full potential and could drop three slots on the numeric scale (4.0 represents a top minor-league forward who gets recalled occasionally).
Gardiner has offensive skill combined with a good compete level. He is more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. It remains to be seen if his offensive game will advance at the pro level, but he has some potential as a power forward if he improves his overall strength.
Generally, he's seen as a sturdy power forward (in spite of the strength issue cited by HF) who works hard, isn't afraid of the front of the net and can play the body, but one whose skating is questionable.

Here's a taste of the career with the Minnetonka High School Skippers that got him drafted. The Skippers were state runners-up in Class AA in 2010, and Gardiner was a finalist for the state's prestigious Mr. Hockey award.

Outside of his high school career, the Blues had to be pretty impressed with Gardiner's genetics. By that 2010 draft brother Jake, a defenseman, had his own stellar career at Tonka in the books, was drafted 17th overall by the Anaheim Ducks (in 2008), had 34 points in two seasons at Wisconsin (he ended up with 75 in three) and had won gold at the World Junior Championships. Jake is now with the Toronto Maple Leafs and enjoying a nice rookie season with 10 assists in 38 games.

From the time he was drafted though, the Gardiner story takes a little bit of a turn. He joined the Minnesota Golden Gophers (a future conference rival, of course) last season, but only got into the lineup 17 times. In a 3-3 tie with Wisconsin on November 6, 2010, he struck a blow for younger brothers everywhere by handing Jake a minus on his first collegiate point, an assist 4:18 into the game. He scored his first/only goal 13 days later at Michigan Tech but started wearing a suit during games shortly after, appearing in only four games after New Year's.

Gardiner abruptly departed Minnesota after that one season. Not surprisingly, playing time was his concern.
"We had a good conversation," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, "and he was disappointed in the ice time he received last year and was concerned about playing time in the upcoming season. "Leaving assures him of the ice time he is looking for. I am disappointed he is leaving, but I understand his decision and wish him all the best."
Here's the player's perspective:
"It's just what's best for me...[Lucia is] disappointed, but he said he supports whatever I think is best for me...I've been in touch with [the Blues organization] a lot. They said they'd support it either way if I stayed or not."
Dubuque, the USHL's defending champion, snapped Gardiner up in that circuit's draft last spring in case things went south at Minnesota. They did, so the ninth-largest city in Iowa is where he's spending his transfer year this season. After a slow start, he's picked things up of late with six points in his last five games, including two-point efforts in two of his last three. The Fighting Saints do have some college player reclamation success in the form of Vinny Saponeri, who was kicked off of Boston University's team in 2010, won the Clark Cup with the Saints last season, and is now at Northeastern and third on the Huskies in scoring.

The left-handed shot received recent interest from programs like North Dakota and Western Michigan but chose Penn State, where he'll presumably join Justin Kirchhevel, Bryce Johnson, Taylor Holstrom and Nate Jensen as a player with more NCAA experience than Penn State's program. And get multiple chances to stick it to Lucia and Minnesota.


  1. Awesome news. Hopefully Max can get back on track at Penn State. He sure has played for some big time hockey programs.

  2. How many years of eligibility will he have?

    He probably shouldn't have ever gone to Minnesota when he did. It's hard to go right from high school, even in Minnesota, to the WCHA. Oh well, it works out for us.

  3. He'll be a sophomore next year eligibility-wise, since he put a full year in at Minnesota.

    Minnesota/Lucia are frequently criticized for taking players straight out of Minnesota high schools without any junior you implied, Minnesota's an exception to high school hockey in just about every way, but it's still a tough thing to do. Well, he now has a year taking lumps in the WCHA and will have another in the USHL. Their loss, our gain I guess!

  4. Is there a rule preventing him from going back to Minnesota after leaving for the USHL? Or is he just not interested in them because he's just not a Lucia fan anymore?