May 28, 2010

Elite 2012 forward A.J. Michaelson has an early leader

A.J. Michaelson had no problem turning down the U.S. National Team Development Program so it wasn't hard for him to tell Waterloo management they'd have to wait at least one more year before he considered playing in the USHL. The state of Minnesota's No. 1-ranked sophomore, Michaelson returns to Apple Valley next season with the goal of winning a Class AA title …

"I was very excited to be drafted by Waterloo [in the Futures Draft May 18] and I'm thinking about playing there my senior year but I don't want to leave yet, not before getting another crack at the state tournament," he said. "I have great friends in Apple Valley and I'm not ready to leave them and I have so much fun playing for our team and we all want to win the championship."

The Eagles fell 2-0 to Edina in the semifinals of the 2010 state tournament as Michaelson went without a point. That didn't happen often. The 6-0, 185-pound center recorded 35 points in 24 games for Apple Valley, including 19 goals.

"I consider myself a playmaker," he said. "I think I use my speed well. I see the ice, I play with passion and intensity, and I always want to win so I'm very competitive. I think of myself as a leader."

Minnesota Hockey Hub ( ranked Michaelson the No. 1 sophomore in the state and he will very likely earn a five-star ranking from when we reveal our ratings for the Class of 2012 next spring. He was offered a roster spot with the NTDP Under-17 team, but declined.

"Just watch him skate and you'll understand why he's so coveted," Apple Valley head coach Jerry Hayes said. "He has a special strength, a presence on his skates, with great balance and agility. He's one of those kids where you don't even need to see the number on the back of the jersey because you can recognize him as soon as he's on the ice.

"There are some guys that are quick but if you put a man in their way, they're a train wreck. A.J. has good maneuverability, the ability to change direction, stop and start, accelerate to get to a puck first. He's an elite-level skater."

But maybe not an elite-level scorer yet.

"I wouldn't call him a finisher quite yet," Hayes continued. "There are a lot of reasons for A.J. to come back to school here and among them is the chance to really improve his ability to handle the puck, shoot and score. When you play either at the USA program or if he made the Waterloo team, your opportunity to touch the puck is limited because of the competition, the physicality and your own role on the team.

"We want to get A.J. to the point where every time he gets the puck in the slot uncovered, it hits the back of the net, and he's not there yet. I think that ability will come with more opportunity and more confidence because he has the shot. He's accurate. He's skilled, but he just has to get the repetition down and just get that presence where he knows he's going to score when he has the puck."

Only 16, Michaelson has time to develop that killer instinct. But he's already catching the attention of college programs, drawing heavy interest from Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota.

"I visited Wisconsin during the season and liked it a lot," Michaelson said. "My dad has talked to a few other schools, but Wisconsin is at the top for me right now. I like the school, I loved the atmosphere at their games and I like Coach [Mike] Eaves a lot.

"I, of course, grew up a Gophers fan, but I haven't really looked at them too much yet. I sort of lost interest in seeing anyone else after seeing Wisconsin but I'm sure if I go visit, my interest will go back up."

Michaelson does not anticipate making a decision until well into his junior year, or after his junior season ends.

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