When Jimmy Snuggerud allows himself to daydream about potentially jumping straight from the University of Minnesota into the NHL with the St. Louis Blues later this year, he admits that the feeling he gets is “pure excitement.”
The Blues’ 2022 first-rounder is also excited about the Gophers’ chances in the NCAA Tournament, though, and that’s why he told The Athletic recently that he still plans to wait until after his sophomore season to decide what comes next.
“Thinking about the future can only create anxiety,” Snuggerud said. “It’s something you don’t need. That’s extra anxiety that I don’t want in my life right now.”
Snuggerud’s decision has become highly anticipated after he helped take Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship last month, after which Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of the 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward, “He’s going to get every opportunity to make the jump right now. Hopefully, we’ll talk to him and his family and see what they think is best for him.”
Minnesota has six games remaining in its regular season, which ends in early March and will be followed a few weeks later by the NCAA regionals. The Gophers (15-7-4, No. 9 in the country), perhaps don’t have as good of a chance of advancing to the Frozen Four as they did last year, when they lost to Quinnipiac University in the championship game, but should they move onto the semifinals, that tournament isn’t until April 11-13. So Snuggerud’s official decision could still be a couple of months away.
“It’s comforting (that the Blues are receptive to turning pro), but there’s still a ton of work to be done,” Snuggerud said. “The end of the year, you know, will come, and I think that decision will be made when it comes. But right now, my focus is set on that, making the Frozen Four. We’ve got a championship to win here in college.”
Matthew Knies was Snuggerud’s teammate for two seasons at Minnesota and part of one of the best lines in college hockey last season with Snuggerud and Logan Cooley. A second-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021, Knies was faced with the same decision last April. He joined the Maple Leafs late in the season, posting one goal and three assists in seven playoff games.
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After successfully making the transition, Knies, 21, believes Snuggerud, who will be 20 in June, could do the same.
“He’s definitely ready, right?” Knies said. “I’ve watched a few of his games this season. His shot is pretty incredible, and I think his shot is going to translate here. I think it’s going to be a top, top NHL shot. I think he’s ready for it. I think it’s just a matter of whether or not he’s matured a lot this year, and whether he thinks he (is ready).
“I’m going to try and give him some advice when it comes to the time. But it’s all preference and what he’s feeling. There’s no rush.”
There is for Blues fans, especially after seeing that shot that Knies referenced at the world juniors. One shot, in particular, in Team USA’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Finland in the semifinals, which would send them onto the gold medal game against Sweden.
The Americans were trailing the Finns 2-0 when Snuggerud let loose a one-timer on the power play that lit up social media in St. Louis.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) January 4, 2024
Snuggerud said that before the play, teammate Gabe Perreault told him his chance was coming.
“He said, ‘Put this one through the net and silence the crowd,’” Snuggerud recalled. “I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll see what I can do.’”
As it unfolded, teammate Seamus Casey moved the puck to the weak side and put it in Snuggerud’s wheelhouse.
“It came off pretty good, came off strong,” he said. “But if you watch it in slow motion, honestly, I didn’t really get all of it. I’m not going to say that I whiffed on it completely, but it was a little fluttery. But luckily, it went in the spot that I tried to put it in. It felt good to score one of those goals in a situation like that.”
The reaction of those watching the goal was over the top.
Well, except from his father, Dave Snuggerud. Dad, who played at Minnesota and in 265 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers in the late 1980s and 90s, was a little more subtle.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 4, 2024
Snuggerud laughed when he eventually saw the video of his dad’s reaction and heard about it from teammates.
“A lot of guys were coming up to me and just calling it the ‘normal dad celebration,’” he said.
There would be more celebrations for the Americans after they topped the host Swedes, 6-2, in the championship game.
“That’s a special moment that I’ll never forget and, watching the highlights, I still think about it every day,” said Snuggerud, who had five goals, including a hat trick, and three assists in six games.
Afterward, he received a congratulatory text message from a couple of Blues players, including captain Brayden Schenn.
“He said it was fun to watch,” Snuggerud said. “That was a really cool text to get, just knowing that he took time out of his day, and knowing that those guys were watching was really cool.”
It wasn’t lost on Snuggerud that he was one of seven prospects from the organization participating at the world juniors, along with Dalibor Dvorsky (Slovakia), Otto Stenberg (Sweden), Theo Lindstein (Sweden), Aleksanteri Kaskimaki (Finland), Jakub Stancl (Czechia) and Juraj Pekarcik (Slovakia). The group combined for 22 goals and 44 points, and along with Snuggerud’s gold, also took home silver and bronze.
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“To see the talent that the Blues have, it’s really special because that’s what the future holds,” Snuggerud said. “But to see that they put up really good numbers at the world juniors, too, is way more exciting.”
Snuggerud was bummed out he didn’t get to play Dvorsky at the tournament, missing the Americans’ game against Slovakia with an illness.
“I talked to him a little bit over the phone,” he said. “I wish I would’ve been able to play against him, but an unfortunate situation there. He had a really special tournament. He stood out in most of the games, and it was really cool to see what he could do on the ice.”
Stenberg and Lindstein were also impressive for runner-up Sweden.
“They’re studs,” Snuggerud said. “Stenberg is a good playmaker, and he can rip the pill. Lindstein was a late add-on, and he made such a huge impact on their team. Those two were hard to get past in that gold-medal game.”
After the tournament, Snuggerud returned to Minnesota and picked up where he left off. He has seven goals in 10 games since his return to the Gophers, and with 18 goals in 28 games this season, he’s tied for sixth in college hockey. He’s also tied for the Gophers lead at 29 points and has a team-high 140 shots.
“I love to shoot and I love to get the puck on net,” he said. “It’s just something that I really like to do in any situation.”
A quick compilation of Snuggy’s goals this weekend 🚨
All 5⃣ were absolute LASERS pic.twitter.com/d2zRMgCl7V
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 9, 2024
Armstrong loves hearing that, as will Blues center Robert Thomas, one of the NHL’s best passers.
“Robert will enjoy all the (assists) he can get if this guy can do this at the NHL level,” Armstrong said.
Told of Armstrong’s comment, Snuggerud blushed and then tried to keep things in perspective.
“(Thomas) is an All-Star this year, so that’s awesome,” he said. “But I think they’ve got a guy there right now in (Jordan) Kyrou. He’s a great goal scorer himself. He’s got the speed, he’s got the shot, and he’s putting the puck in the net. The Blues have some really talented players, and I have plenty of work to get there.”
In the meantime, Snuggerud is watching Knies in Toronto and Cooley with the Arizona Coyotes, as well as former Gophers defenseman Brock Faber, who’s played his way into the conversation for the NHL’s Norris and Calder Trophies with the hometown Wild.
“I think seeing what they’re doing at that level is so cool,” Snuggerud said. “I’ve been in contact with them, and it’s exciting. I don’t ask too many questions, but I like to see what they have to say and learn from them.”
According to Knies, the biggest difference is the schedule.
“This is the longest season of my career,” he said. “I knew coming in that it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s a different animal when you’re in it, and your body starts to get exhausted and you have to keep going.
“I think he understands that, but I’m going to let him know how my first year has felt. I didn’t have anyone to tell me when I was deciding. I think it’ll be useful for him to know what the day-to-day is like.”
But for now, Snuggerud isn’t saying whether that life change will happen later this year as part of the Blues’ retool or after another season at Minnesota.
If he turns pro at the end of his Gophers season, he could sign a three-year, entry-level contract (ELC) and play with the Blues, though it would burn one year of that contract. His other option is agreeing to an amateur tryout, finishing the season with the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds, and starting his ELC with the Blues in 2024-25.
“I’m just living in the present,” Snuggerud said. “Obviously it’s in the back of my head, but that’s strictly excitement.”
(Photo: Adam Ihse / AFP via Getty Images)