2016-17 Team: U.S. National Development Team (#5)
Date of Birth: April 8, 1999
Place of Birth: Farmington, Minnesota
Ht.: 6’3” Wt.: 201 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2017 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 79th (NA, Final)
- NHL Central Scouting: 106th (NA, Mid-term)
- Craig Button: Unranked (March)
- Jeff Marek: Unranked (October)
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (Mid-season)
- ISS: Unranked (May)
One word best describes U.S. National Development Team (USNDT) defenseman Nate Knoepke – big. Not only is he naturally large, but his game matches his size. He can skate and react to game situations with uncommon composure and mobility. Capable of playing big minutes and unloading big checks, the University of Minnesota commit is poised to become property of an NHL franchise.
A number of NHL general managers seek big, slick-skating blueliners. They can be a rare commodity, indeed. Knoepke collected four goals among 16 points in 55 games this past season. At Minnesota, he will be joined by NDTP teammate Scott Reedy, a potential first-round draft pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
— South Cougars Hockey (@LSHSBoysHockey) April 24, 2017
Internationally, Knoepke played roles in Team USA capturing a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship and placing first at the 2017 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament. In four games at Five Nations, he registered one goal and four assists and a plus-6 rating.
Possessing a powerful shot from the blue line, Knoepke takes pride his all-around game. His long reach enables him to deflect opposing shots and passes and his big frame is utilized to knock rivals off the puck on rushes. As he advances through the college and professional ranks, Knoepke could develop into a defender who can be trusted in all phases, including special teams.
NHL Draft Projection
A do-it-all defenseman, Knoepke gained invaluable international experience with NDTP over the past two seasons. Likely beginning at Minnesota next season, he will continue to develop his diverse skill-set on a bigger stage. Large and athletic, Knoepke is expected to be selected in the middle rounds of the 2017 NHL Draft.
“There’s some rough edges that need to smoothed out, but he skates really well for a player of his size. He’s the type of high-potential player the NDTP loves, especially on defense.” – Chris Dilks, following the NAHL Showcase Tournament
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Refining all-around skills
NHL scouts see a big blueliner who can move the puck, lead a charge in transition and drop back to disrupt potential scoring chances. Insiders project him to evolve into a top-4 defenseman.
Risk – 3.5/5, Reward 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 7/10, Defense – 7.5/10
Knoepke appeared in the 2016 U17 Five Nations Tournament and 2015 U17 Four Nations Tournament. He also dressed for Team USA at the 2015 World Under 17 Challenge.
Jeff Hawkins is a career sportswriter who has collected eight industry awards, including two Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) honors. Hawkins has served as a beat writer for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and UHL’s Adirondack IceHawks. A husband and father, Hawkins enjoys live music, hiking, New York-style pizza with Dr. Pepper, and writing with his golden Labrador retriever “mutt” cuddled around his feet.