Casey Mignone was in Rochester on the day of the North American 3 Hockey League player Draft last spring.
“When I was here on my interview, it was draft day,” he said. “So I at least saw what it looked like.”
That interview went well, and Mignone was named the Grizzlies’ first head coach just days later.
But the Draft had come and gone by that point, the Grizzlies’ research and selections done by coaches Steve Howard and Keenan Kelly of the Austin Bruins, the Grizzlies’ parent franchise in the North American Hockey League.
Rochester Lourdes grad Logan Olson was the lone draft pick that stuck with the Grizzlies last season, but he was an important one.
Olson was a top-four defenseman all season and was the Grizzlies’ second-leading defenseman scorer, with two goals and 28 points in 48 games.
Now fully entrenched in Rochester after leading the Grizzlies to a 31-15-1 record in their inaugural season, Mignone will have his first opportunity to run the team’s draft room on Thursday, when the eight-round NA3HL Draft begins at 5 p.m.
The draft order is set, as well.
Teams will draft in reverse-order of their regular-season winning percentage from the 2018-19 season.
That means the Grizzlies will draft 24th out of 36 teams in each round.
“It’s relying on people you know, whose opinion you can trust,” Mignone said of the Grizzlies’ draft strategy. “We have friends who are coaches in different parts of the country who we talk to. And I like to at least see the kids a couple times to get a feel for them.
“It’s difficult with a smaller staff to see everyone. You just have to make sure, with the kids you bring in, what their character is about. That’s a huge point of emphasis for us.”
Mignone and assistant coach Mike Aikens have already solidified a portion of the roster for the 2019-20 season by signing 10 players to tender agreements, meaning Rochester holds their NA3HL rights for the season.
That group includes Seth Karsell and Paul Hofbauer from Rochester Lourdes, and dynamic forward Hunter Wilmes from the Section 1A champion Minnesota River Bulldogs.
The list of tenders also includes a handful of players from some powerful programs — forward Garrett Smith and defenseman Clayton Schultz from Eden Prairie, and forward Chase Bill from White Bear Lake.
Bill’s signing became official on Tuesday.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder had 13 goals and 33 points for the Bears last season, including scoring the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory against Hill-Murray in the Section 4AA title game.
And Mignone said the Grizzlies are close to signing a couple more tenders from prominent high school programs. The process of building a roster has been much different this offseason from a year ago, when Mignone and Aikens were building a brand new team.
“We finally have a leg to stand on with (potential players) on what it’s like to play here,” Mignone said. “Last year it was all promises and ‘we’re going to do this or that.’ Some guys believed us and were rewarded for that.
“Now we have factual evidence of what it’s going to be like here. For me, a main focus was, (getting players from) good programs with winning traditions. That’s important to get your culture to where you want it to be. These guys expect to win, expect to do things a certain way.”