High-end skating ability makes UND commit Jake Livanavage an NHL Draft prospect
The 2023 Fighting Hawks recruit, who works with the same skating coach as Auston Matthews, is expected to be a mid-round selection Friday.
GRAND FORKS — Jake Livanavage was just 6 years old when he began tagging along with his older brother, Johnny Walker, and his friend, Auston Matthews, to train with skating coach Boris Dorozhenko.
Those sessions occurred near their homes in Scottsdale, Ariz.
But as Dorozhenko traveled the country — and the world — to coach, Livanavage followed.
The UND defenseman recruit once even traveled to Japan with Dorozhenko to help demonstrate drills for a camp. He's also gone to the Twin Cities and Fargo-Moorhead.
"From when I was 10 to 16 years old, it was, 'wherever Boris is, Jake is,'" Livanavage said. "He's gotten my skating to where it is today. He's made it my biggest asset today. He's been a huge part of my career and everything I've done to this point."
Livanavage, who will come to UND in 2023, is expected to be selected in the NHL Draft on Friday. Most projections have him going between the fourth and sixth rounds.
"He will probably get drafted mid to late (rounds) because of his skating and USHL production," an NHL scout said. "He's a really dynamic skater. His skating would be his NHL asset."
At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Livanavage is an undersized defenseman, but he's proven to be effective with the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League.
As one of the youngest blue liners in the USHL in 2020-21, Livanavage carved out a role as a regular and was on the ice when the Steel won the Clark Cup over the Fargo Force.
Last season, Livanavage had 45 points in 61 regular-season games, ranking ninth among all league defensemen. Of the USHL's top 30 defenseman scorers last season, Livanavage was the youngest.
"I felt my first year (in Chicago) was more of a get-your-feet-wet year and see how everything works," Livanavage said. "I feel like the second year was a take-control-of-everything year. Now, it's doing more stuff on the power play, penalty kill. Your role has increased. Honestly, it was amazing, just the way the coaching staff took care of it, put me in that role and helped me succeed in that role."
Livanavage will head back to play for the Steel this upcoming season as he completes his senior year of high school. Then, he'll join the Fighting Hawks in the fall of 2023.
A dream of playing at UND
It has long been a dream of Livanavage's to play at UND. That may seem strange for someone who grew up in Arizona, but one of those camps with Dorozhenko led him to UND.
A decade ago, when Livanavage was 8 years old, he traveled to Fargo-Moorhead to work with Dorozhenko. Livanavage took a day trip to see Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"It gave me the chills when I walked in there," Livanavage said. "I told my dad right there that's where I want to play college hockey. Obviously, you dream of playing in the NHL, but that's where I dreamed of playing college, for sure."
Livanavage had another connection: former UND alternate captain Colten St. Clair played for Livanavage's father, Jim, as a youth player in Arizona.
The first day UND was allowed to offer Livanavage a scholarship was Aug. 1, 2021. Livanavage was in Slovakia to compete in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup for Team USA on that day. UND associate coach Dane Jackson called him and offered him a scholarship.
Livanavage responded: "You don't have to say any more. I'm coming. Lock me in."
"It's one of those things I've dreamed about since I was 8," Livanavage said. "It was a no-brainer. With a school like that, you can't say no."
Several of Dorozhenko's old pupils have gone on to star in the hockey world.
Matthews, who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the reigning NHL MVP. Walker was a standout at Arizona State, where he scored 70 goals and 123 points.
Livanavage's career path is still up in the air. While the blue liner separates from the pack with his skating, NHL scouts debate if he has a high enough skill level to reach the world's top league.
"He probably can't play power play in the NHL," an NHL scout said. "He's small and will have to become more competitive in the defensive zone to have a chance at playing in the NHL."
Livanavage knew this was his NHL Draft year, but he didn't spend much time focused on it. Instead, he tried to improve on his play in the defensive zone and on the power play, while aiming at bringing Chicago another Clark Cup.
"I don't really focus on the individual achievements much," Livanavage said. "I would trade anything for another Clark Cup. I felt like no matter what, all the guys came to work every single day to put their heart into winning.
"At the end of the day, that's what you want to do as a hockey player. You want to win. It would be unfair to my teammates if I was more worried about myself and getting drafted. I wanted to come to the rink, work hard, set a good culture for the new kids and, at the end of the day, I just want to win."
Size: 5-9, 160.
Current team: Chicago Steel (USHL).
UND arrival: Fall 2023.
Draft projection: Mid to late rounds.
First round: 6 p.m. Thursday, ESPN.
Second-seventh rounds: 10 a.m. Friday, NHL Network, ESPN Plus.
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal.