Future Minnesota Duluth defenseman Joey Pierce could have seen his NHL draft stock take a tumble in 2021 after he missed a month of Hermantown’s season due to a foot injury.
Then, COVID-19 protocols kept him and many of his Hawks teammates from taking part in the Minnesota Class A state hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Pierce, 18, and originally from Ely, got another chance to prove to scouts what he was made of in April and May when he went to Cloquet to play junior hockey with the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League.
Now he hopes to hear his name called during the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which begins with the first round on Friday, July 23, followed by the second through seventh rounds on Saturday, July 24.
“Just getting those games where I was playing against better competition and just bigger and faster guys, I was able to perform well,” Pierce said of playing for the Wilderness in the spring. “I think that definitely helped my draft stock.”
Ranked No. 118 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Pierce is likely to go in the later rounds on the draft’s second day if he is indeed selected.
Pierce moved with his family from Ely to Hermantown after eighth grade to play in the Hawks hockey program. In three seasons on the Hermantown varsity, he totaled 43 goals and 73 assists, including 55 total points as a junior when the Hawks finished second at state.
Pierce only played 12 games for Hermantown as a senior, but got in 24 games with the Wilderness between the fall and spring, scoring two goals and seven assists.
While vacationing with his family in Maine last week, Pierce caught up with the News Tribune and The Rink Live for a Bulldog Insider Q&A ahead of the draft.
What expectations do you have for yourself heading into the NHL Draft?
Honestly right now I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve talked to quite a bit of teams. I’ve had some good interviews and I think there’s a good chance I get drafted. It’s still kind of up in the air.
Hermantown has had a number of alumni go through this process before. Is there anyone you’ve leaned on or looked to for advice on how the handle preparing for the draft?
Yeah, I’ve talked to Blake Biondi a lot. We’re pretty close and with him having to do it all over Zoom and everything last year too, he’s an easy person to talk to and ask question. He’ll give me whatever he can. That’s been nice to have.
How much did your move from Ely to Hermantown after eighth grade change the course of your hockey career?
That was huge. One of the big reasons we chose Hermantown is because we saw how many players they produced that could move on to college level. Also, it was a school that wasn't too big. My class in Ely was 35 people. Obviously Hermantown is a little bigger, but it's nothing crazy. That made the adjustment a little bit easier. The move is definitely the best thing I've ever done. Just with all the opportunities to skate and the coaches I've had at Hermantown, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today if that didn't happen. I think about that a lot and realize how lucky I am that I was able to do that and my parents were able to make that happen.
With the Bulldogs returning all but one on the blue line next season, what are your plans for the 2021-22 season and when do you expect to begin your college career?
So right now my plans are to be in Lincoln in the USHL this year. I got traded from Des Moines to Lincoln halfway through this year. I'm excited for that. I think it's only going to help me, that's for sure. Best case scenario is I come in the fall of 2022 to UMD.
What did you learn from Blake Biondi this past year, watching him make the jump right from Hermantown to UMD?
It just shows how good the NCHC is and this year that was magnified when it was conference only, and every single game was an NCHC game. College hockey is just a whole different animal. I was able to talk to him throughout the whole season and it was really good to have that perspective coming from him. It took a little bit, but he was able to figure out what his role was and is just like glad he got that experience. It's going to happen if he moves on to another higher level as well.
I’m also pretty close to Darian Gotz, another defenseman, who I was able to talk to. He was very happy playing in the USHL for a year. He talked to me and just said, “It's only going to make you better because how high the college level is.” It's nice to be able to get that from those guys.
If you could be drafted by any NHL team next week, who would it be?
Probably Vancouver. Vancouver is one of my teams. I’ve been there one time and it’s probably my favorite city. I love that area of Canada.
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