Bob Motzko says he usually tries to keep a "low profile" when discussing freshman hockey players entering his program, but the Gophers men's coach did nothing to shield his excitement over what took place at the NHL draft this past week.
Five future Gophers were drafted — four in the first 37 picks — and that number expands to seven when including 2021 draft picks Cal Thomas and Brody Lamb, who will be incoming freshmen this fall.
"This is a special group," Motzko said Friday morning after returning from Montreal, which hosted the draft.
The best class he's ever signed in his career?
"I'd like to answer that in two or three years," he said. "But how it's playing out and how these guys have performed over the last couple years, it looks like a very special group."
So much for tempering expectations.
"You can't avoid expectations at the University of Minnesota hockey program," Motzko said. "You want that. The biggest thing these guys have to do is they have to start shaving."
"As talented as they are," Motzko said, "they don't shave yet."
Aha. Yes, they're still young and need to develop physically and mature on the ice, but the starting point gives the Gophers reason to be upbeat.
Motzko didn't have to wait long to see his first player picked when Logan Cooley went No. 3 overall to the Arizona Coyotes.
Cooley, a center, played for the U.S. national development U-18 team and NHL Central Scouting ranked him No. 2 among North American skaters. He became the second-highest draft pick in Gophers program history (defenseman Erik Johnson was first overall in 2006).
Motzko first saw Cooley at the development program, not knowing if he would have a shot at signing him.
"You just know that you're seeing one of the top players in the world," he said. "It was a Christmas wish: Boy, I'd really like to have that."
Continued Motzko: "He's got that — gosh, I hate throwing it around but sometimes it's fun to do — but he's got that Neal Broten-type playmaking ability. The rare combination of the guys that can make plays and score. Generational players that don't come around too often."
Cooley's teammate, roommate and linemate on the U.S. team, Jimmy Snuggerud of Chaska, was drafted No. 23 overall by the St. Louis Blues. He fits the mold of a power forward, but the thing that grabs Motzko's attention is Snuggerud's effort.
"He just plays hard," he said. "Of course, he has the talent to go with it, but he just plays so bloody hard night in, night out."
Cooley and Snuggerud thrived as linemates. Both produced impressive offensive stats, and their chemistry just clicked, something Motzko heard repeatedly from scouts.
So, easy decision to keep them together on the same line as Gophers freshmen?
"I never make lines in the summer," Motzko said, "but I'd be foolish not to try it. When it works, it works."
The third Gophers recruit selected in the first round, Chanhassen's Sam Rinzel (No. 25 by Chicago Blackhawks), isn't joining the program until 2023. Motzko cannot comment on him until he signs in November.
There was speculation that defenseman Ryan Chesley of Mahtomedi, another member of that U.S. development team, might land in the first round too, but he slid to pick No. 37 in the second round. Motzko referred to Chesley as a "captain-in-the-making" while praising his leadership and toughness.
"He brings nastiness to the rink every day," Motzko said.
This is all hype for now, of course. The draft picks haven't played a college game yet. A roster littered with draft picks doesn't guarantee a parade in college hockey.
The Gophers have the most draft picks ever by any NCAA program but haven't won a national title since 2003. Michigan had four players drafted in the first five picks overall a year ago, but the Wolverines did not advance past the national semifinals.
Motzko's staff has a lot of work ahead melding that ballyhooed class with a returning core that also lost in the national semifinals. That group includes new Wild prospect Brock Faber, whom Motzko calls "tougher than snot."
"He does shave now," Motzko noted. "But just barely."
Can you tell the ol' veteran hockey coach is giddy about his team?