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Pace Setter

By Loren Nelson, 01/07/21, 8:45PM CST


St. Thomas Academy speed demon Jackson Hallum is eager to go the distance

Jackson Hallum, a thrid-round NHL draft pick by the Vegas Golden Knights, is among the frontrunners for this season's Mr. Hockey award. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media

On-ice attempts at chasing down Jackson Hallum come off as comically inept.

The St. Thomas Academy senior’s speed advantage over any and all opponents is so cartoonishly lopsided that it conjures up images of Wile E. Coyote’s forever futile attempts at catching the Roadrunner. Or the ridiculousness of, say, a KIA lined up against a Lamborghini.

Fastest player in the state?

“Oh yeah, without a doubt,” Cadets senior Jared Wright said about Hallum, his longtime linemate.

Wright’s reply came without a nanosecond of hesitation. Sure, as one of Hallum’s best buddies, Wright is inherently biased. But, really, there’s not a lot to think about. It’s a silly question, like asking if Babe Ruth was any good at baseball.

Hallum’s speed is so exceptional it played a large part in him being one of the most surprising picks in this year’s NHL draft. Surprising because he was selected in the third round by the Vegas Golden Knights after not even being listed as a potential pick by NHL Central Scouting.

“You know the old saying, ‘Right church, wrong pew,’ ” St. Thomas Academy coach Trent Eigner said about Hallum’s off-the-radar pre-draft prospects. “He wasn’t even in the right county.”

Hallum, figuring he might be a late-round pick at best, paid only token attention to the early-October draft. He checked in on the first couple rounds of picks on his phone mostly out of curiosity. He was walking from english to economics class when he received an initially confusing congratulatory text from his school advisor saying, “Vegas is a great spot. That’s awesome!”

“I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, then all my friends started texting me, and I turned (the draft) on and saw my name,” Hallum said.

Jackson Hallum

This winter Hallum will join Eden Prairie defenseman Mason Langenbrunner (chosen in the fifth round by the Boston Bruins) as the state’s two NHL-drafted players still suiting up for their high school squads. While it’s not uncommon for top Minnesota high school players to be picked in the draft, the vast majority are chosen after they graduate (to be NHL draft eligible, players must be 18 years old on or before Sept. 15). 

More unlikely are unheralded players, at least in terms of pre-NHL draft steam, skyrocketing to top-round selections, seemingly out of thin air.

“Every year there are kids who aren’t on Central Scouting’s list that are drafted,” Boston Bruins scout and longtime state tournament broadcaster Mike McGraw said about Hallum’s sudden rise to prominence. “But those players usually aren’t picked that high. It was quite a surprise.”

The 6-foot, 170-pound Hallum scored six goals and added two assists in an impressive nine-game stint with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League that ended last weekend. He drove home to Eagan after Saturday’s road game against the Chicago Steele and was on the ice for the Cadets’ first day of practice on Monday.

“It was pretty hard for me to leave Green Bay because I was doing well and helping them win games,” said Hallum, who registered a hat trick in his first game for the Gamblers. “But I’ve always been committed to STA. I’m looking forward to trying to get to the state tournament and win a championship with my teammates. It was a lot of fun to see them all again.”

Hallum had team highs of 18 goals and 40 points in 31 games last season as the driving force behind St. Thomas Academy’s improbable run to the state Class 2A semifinals. The Cadets won Section 3AA as the fifth seed, then knocked off prohibitive state tournament favorite Andover in the quarterfinals. The Cadets lost to eventual state champion Hill-Murray in overtime in the semis.

Hallum’s game-altering presence (he's among a handful of frontrunners to win the Mr. Hockey award) gives St. Thomas Academy a legitimate shot at another deep playoff run. He’ll return as an improved, more confident player after spending the summer and fall working out, studying video and, most peculiarly for hockey’s equivalent of a gold medal sprinter, attempting to run a sub-5-minute mile.

An avid distance runner, St. Thomas Academy coach Trent Eigner didn’t list breaking mile barriers among the offseason goals for Hallum. Eigner did stress at least one skill that Hallum didn’t need to work on improving.  

“I had to tell him, ‘Look, you do not need to work on your skating any more. You are an elite, elite skater,’ ” Eigner said. “ ‘Let’s knock that off the list of things you need to work on and focus on some other areas where you really need to work on your game.’ ”

Developing a full commitment to defense and ramping up film study habits have been among Eigner’s game-improvement suggestions. Hallum took them to heart. He studies NHL players he would like to emulate, then looks at his own video to see how he could improve his decision making in specific situations. As for defense, Hallum, who has committed to play at Michigan, said he’s watched footage of NBA legend Michael Jordan and came away with a renewed respect for a player who was considered one of the best offensive and defensive players of his era.

“You can be really good at offense, but if you don’t have defense you aren’t going to win anything,” Hallum said. “It’s something I really had to work on at the beginning of last year.”

By the end of last season, Hallum, the speed demon with a deft scoring touch, was leading his team not only in scoring but in his willingness to sacrifice life and limb to keep pucks out of the Cadets’ net. It was only fitting, then, that in St. Thomas Academy’s greatest victory of the season, it was Hallum dropping to one knee and blocking a shot from the blue line with his right skate during the waning seconds of the unseeded Cadets’ 3-2 victory over top-seeded and top-ranked Andover. 

That Hallum takes great pride in that moment is, in itself, a testament to his defense.     

“It’s the last shift of the game when they pulled their goalie, and I probably made my best defensive play of the year blocking a shot and us chipping it out,” Hallum said. “You want to be the guy scoring all the time, but those are the plays that win games.”

Hallum’s relentless commitment to defense and overwhelming speed were on full display this fall during the Upper Midwest High School Elite League season. He finished in tie for second in league scoring with 38 points in 23 games and was selected to play in the season-ending International Invitational Tournament. With most other leagues across North America shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Elite League became a gathering spot for top NHL scouts with nowhere else to go. Hallum’s stock rose as he dominated play at both ends of the ice.

“Every time he was on the ice something explosive happened with that shift,” Sanford Power coach Scott Oliver, also an assistant at East Grand Forks, said about Hallum. “He’s got great vision, great hockey IQ, and it just isn’t him doing it on his own. It’s him moving the puck and moving with the puck.”

Hallum’s speed puts him in an all-time conversation with the likes of former high school stars such Edina’s Bobby Krieger, Mike Lauen and Sammy Walker and former St. Thomas Academy standout Jordan Schroeder. Hallum’s stamina, although less obvious, gives him another edge, thanks in part to all those fast-paced mile runs over the summer.

Eigner recalls getting daily texts from Hallum sharing the progress of his quest to run a 5-minute mile — “I just ran a 5:20!” or “Ran a 5:18 today!” and so on. 

“He was just setting very difficult goals and working to attain them,” Eigner said. “He showed a level of discipline I rarely see, the discipline to work toward something he knew would be very difficult, both mentally and physically.”

Wright, who recently committed to Colgate, wasn’t surprised to hear about Hallum's high intensity workouts. 

“I’ve played with him for a while now and the thing that makes him different is just his level of compete,” Wright said. “Every day during practice you know he is going to be the one pushing the pace.”

McGraw said speed such as Hallum's is, more and more, becoming a treasured commodity for NHL teams.

“It’s a very high priority,” McGraw said. “The game is played at a breakneck pace. You’ve got to have speed. It is like being a dash man who runs a 10 flat and everyone else is running 9.7 (seconds). You aren’t winning anything. The next attribute you look for is which kid can make a play at top speed.”

Eigner said Hallum revealed his humble nature after being drafted by the Knights. 

“He was digesting what had just transpired and he said, ‘I hope Vegas likes me,’ ” Eigner said. “I said, ‘Jackson they just took you in the third round, of course they like you. You want them to send you a card?’ ”

As for that 5-minute mile, Hallum said his best time over the summer was a 5:15. Like his insistence on helping the Cadets in their goal to win a state title, it’s a quest he doesn’t figure to abandon.

“I’m still working on it,” he said.

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