Two summers ago, Minnesota Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich had high hopes for his first year of NHL draft eligibility. He had just completed his junior season with Hibbing-Chisholm, was already committed to the Bulldogs and a few teams had reached out to him in the lead-up to the 2016 entry draft.
He watched 211 names get rattled off in 2016, none of which were his. The same thing happened for Perunovich in 2017 after playing a season for Cedar Rapids in the USHL.
Things have changed a lot for the Hibbing native over the last year, however, and now he's perceived to be a lock to not only be among the 217 names read this weekend at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, Texas, but one of the first 100 to go off the board.
The first round gets underway at 6:30 p.m. Friday, while the second through seventh rounds take place Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.
Despite being highly touted, Perunovich and his family are heading to the home of the Dallas Stars with tempered expectations. He won't be fooled by the hype again.
"My junior year of high school I talked to some teams and I thought a little too much about that type of stuff. I was younger," Perunovich said. "I'm really excited about it all now, but I have a better idea having gone through it a few times. I'm not going to be as invested or let down if I don't go or (don't go) where I thought I was going to go.
"I don't care if I go last round or last pick, as long as a team is willing to draft me and give me a shot. That's what I care about."
Two years ago only a few teams had reached out to the Hibbing junior. Now, as the reigning NCAA and NCHC Rookie of the Year who just completed an All-American and all-conference season for the national champion Bulldogs, the 5-foot-9, 172-pound blueliner who posted 11 goals and 25 assists has heard from over 20 NHL teams leading up to the draft.
The NHL Central Scouting Service has Perunovich ranked No. 102 among North American skaters, while TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie - whose rankings are based on a survey of 10 NHL scouts - has Perunovich 78th among all draft-eligible prospects.
The two men who coached Perunovich in the past year see the 19-year-old getting drafted pretty high. UMD coach Scott Sandelin doesn't think Perunovich gets out of the second round, while 2018 U.S. National Junior Team coach Bob Motzko said not to "be surprised if he goes in the first round."
"He's got great hockey sense, he has a great feel for the game," said Sandelin, who also thought Perunovich had first-round potential. "He's got great offensive instincts as we saw. I think his defensive game was really good. He's the way the game is going a little bit. You need those guys who are mobile and elusive with really good feet."
Motzko not only coached Perunovich at the 2018 World Junior Championship, but had to face him as head coach of NCHC-rival St. Cloud State four times last year. Now at Minnesota, Motzko will see Perunovich the opening weekend of the 2018-19 season.
What Perunovich does to break the puck out of the defensive zone, what he does in transition and how he handle the puck at the blue line to create offense, that's elite, Motzko said.
"He's a puck-moving defenseman that can get you in transition. That's as valuable as you get," Motzko said. "He's an elite defenseman at transitioning the puck and how he can control the (blue) line and find people. He's elusive. You can't forecheck him. His feet are outstanding. What he did this year was remarkable."