The Minnesota Wild announced on Tuesday they had hired former Nashville Predators Assistant General Manager, Paul Fenton to be their next General Manager, replacing Chuck Fletcher whose contract was not renewed at the end of the season. Fenton inherits a team that has a very shallow pool of prospects due to years of trading away picks in deadline day trades trying to get the team to win now. In his press conference, Fenton repeatedly stated that he was going to be ‘tweaking’ the Wild lineup and a big part of that is taking steps to rebuild its gutted prospect pool and develop an improved system to develop young players.
While Fenton’s draft and development credentials earned him kudos from plenty of Wild fans, many are unsure if ‘tweaks’ will be enough to really change the trajectory of this franchise. The NHL draft is where Fenton’s expertise and history should be most helpful and the Wild need to add depth at every position. With a 1st round pick, three 3rd round picks, two 5th round picks, and a 6th and 7th round pick to work with its a fair opportunity to start the restocking of the prospect cupboard.
Just take a look at Nashville to realize how successful their drafting and development model has been; last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up team had 17 players that were drafted by the Predators. Many of those drafted players were fixtures on the Nashville blueline included Roman Josi (38th Overall, 2008), Ryan Ellis (11th Overall, 2009), and Mattias Ekholm (102nd Overall, 2009) and they’ve had valuable assets to trade in Shea Weber (49th, 2003), Seth Jones (4th Overall, 2013) and Sam Girard (47th Overall, 2016) which they’ve flipped to bring in P.K. Subban, Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris. Up front, the Predators knew how to find good talent beyond the 1st round in Viktor Arvidsson (112th Overall, 2014) and Craig Smith (98th Overall, 2009) are good examples of this. Pekka Rinne (258th Overall, 2004) and Juuse Saros (99th Overall in 2013) show you the Predators were keen for finding solid goaltenders as well.
Fenton has stated that the Predators always sought the ‘best player available’ but many have felt Nashville was built from the blueline on out. The Wild’s top priorities as I see them on an organizational and prospect level should be at the following positions.
1. A mobile, but physical defenseman that will eventually play in its top 4 ~ The Wild blueliners are mobile and decent puck movers but the playoffs demonstrated their inability to prevent shots and win battles for pucks along the wall. Minnesota has not had a true physical defender since Willie Mitchell. The Wild need a player that makes them more miserable to play against and be used in key defensive situations like the penalty kill. Iowa farmhand, Nick Seeler performed admirably, but he’s not skilled enough to be on the team’s Top 4 on a regular basis.
2. A skilled, speedy scoring forward – Shoot-first players have not been a common sight in an organization that traditionally demanded two-way play. That has meant the Wild have at times passed on adding skating and skill as they chose to draft character players instead. That needs to change, Pittsburgh and Vegas are great examples of how a great skating team can overcome teams that choose to play a heavy game and the Wild who are not known for physical play would be wise to embrace that approach. That means they’ll have to draft speedy, skilled guys to make it happen. A Jonathan Marchessault-type would be very welcome here.
3. Drafting a long-term back up or replacement of Devan Dubnyk ~ Dubnyk isn’t going to last forever, and he’s still under contract until 2020-21. I am not clamoring to have him leave but the Wild must start preparing a potential replacement for him. Good thing for the Wild is Fenton and the Predators have been outstanding at drafting goalies as Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros prove. Alex Stalock played well as Dubnyk’s back up this season, and the team signed Kaapo Kahkonen but another candidate two would probably be a smart move.
So who is available? Check out my 2018 NHL Central Scouting Movement tracker for some ideas. This article is part 1 of 4 where we look at what defenseman are out there that fit the needs of the organization.
1. D – K’Andre Miller (USNDT, USHL) – born in Hopkins, MN
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 205lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skaters): #23 ISS: #32 HockeyProspect.com: #16
Future Considerations: #20 Hockey News: #26
Talent Analysis: The former Minnetonka-star is a big, mobile two-way defenseman who gets high marks for his athleticism and skating ability. He has the skill to make a great first pass but if that’s not available he is equally comfortable moving the puck up the ice himself. Miller has good gap control and isn’t afraid to deliver a big hit to stop an oncoming skater and does a nice job of clearing bodies away from the crease. The U.S. National Development team product has a big shot and has the lateral quickness and elusiveness to open up shooting lanes from the point but he’s not expected to be a big offensive producer. He gets good reviews for his on-ice decision making and appears to be a player with solid Top-4 potential. He is also a Wisconsin commit.
Bottom Line: K’Andre Miller combines athleticism along with size and a willingness to be physical which the team has been missing in its top 4 for years. In my opinion he is the ideal choice for the Wild but the only question is will he be still available when we pick 24th in the draft.
2. D – Jett Woo (Moose Jaw, WHL) born in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 205lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (NA Skater): #28 ISS: #51 HockeyProspect.com: #30
Future Considerations: #26 Hockey News: #21
Talent Analysis: A mobile, right-shot defenseman who plays with a physical style despite being slightly undersized is how most scouts describe Woo’s game. While the highlights often focus on his offensive contributions, he gets rave reviews for his willingness to dole out hits but still has the skill to make a nice accurate pass to start the rush out of his own zone. On the man advantage, he demonstrates excellent on-ice vision and the ability to set up teammates. Woo often will move with the puck on the man advantage to open up shooting or passing lanes and if he does pull the trigger often uses a wrist shot as opposed to a slap shot. Defensively he makes good reads and consistently angles on-rushing forwards to the boards where he’ll finish them off with a solid check. The Winnipeg-native has that Niklas Kronwall edge where he’ll step up and catch an opposing forward off guard with an open ice hit, and picks the right time to join the rush. Woo gets high marks for his on-ice leadership and being in tremendous shape with the only real question mark is can he play the same style against bigger players at the next level.
Bottom Line: He’s a skilled, two-way right-shot defenseman who likes to play physical despite having a 6’0″ frame. His size does make him more of a risky pick, but based on his smart, poised game he has the makings of a solid top 4 defenseman.
3. D – Mattias Samuelsson (USNDT, USHL) born in Voorhees, New Jersey
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 216lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skaters): #21 ISS: #31 HockeyProspect.com: #17
Future Consideratons: #38 Hockey News: #31
Talent Analysis: The son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, Mattias already possesses an NHL-ready frame and who is a strong defender. His ability to win 1-on-1 situations with forwards has great gap control and finishes his checks consistently. He reads the play well and is rarely caught out of position. His quickness could use a little work, but its far from being a liability and when he gets up to speed he can stay with just about any forward. The Voorhees, NJ-native is not all defense. He makes good plays with the puck and while I would say his offensive game is fairly simple he takes his opportunities to pull the trigger and has a big shot. The National Development team star also is a natural leader and carries himself with a maturity that separates himself from a lot of players his age. He reminds me a lot of the Blues’ Joel Edmundson, a big mostly stay-at-home defenseman who is miserable to play against. He is committed to play at Western Michigan.
Bottom Line: A big, strong defenseman who plays very well in his own end who also has the ability to chip in occasionally offensively making him another solid Top 4 pairing defender who has an NHL pedigree to boot.
4. D – Jared McIsaac (Halifax, QMJHL) born in Truro, Nova Scotia
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 194lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skaters): #13 ISS: #21 HockeyProspect.com: #22
Future Considerations: #27 Hockey News: #34
Talent Analysis: Scouting reports differ on McIsaac as some see him as more of an offensive defenseman and others as more of a two-way defenseman. He is very mobile and skates backward very well and before anyone starts comparing him to former Wild draft pick Tyler Cuma, he is agile and is an effective puck mover. The Truro, Nova Scotia-native gets mixed reviews on his physical game and while the highlights indicate he likes to dish open ice hits, most say he’s more apt to use a decent gap and filter opposing forwards to the perimeter. At times he seems almost too comfortable in his own end and some would like to see him speed up is play a bit considering he’s a good skater. At full speed, he’s shown the ability to make an accurate pass and help press the attack but doesn’t actively seek out opportunities to do this. He has a reasonable shot but doesn’t excel in any single facet of the game.
Bottom Line: A stable two-way defenseman who may or may not be a physical player at the next level. While I think he has top 4 potential; that is more of a best case scenario but he might have a more realistic projection as a solid 3rd pairing defenseman. Probably more of a 2nd round pick than a 1st rounder.
5. D – Adam Ginning (Linkoping, Eliteserien) born in Linkoping, Sweden
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 196lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (Euro skaters): #5 ISS: #17 HockeyProspect.com: #??
Future Considerations: #73 Hockey News: #40
Talent Analysis: Ginning is a big defenseman who plays a big man’s game, using his size and strength to physically dominate players in battles for the puck along the boards and clearing the area around the crease. He has excellent balance on his skates and rarely seems to get knocked down. While his strength and NHL-frame are best attributes he has to work on his quickness and lateral movement in order to be able to perform well at the next level. Another area he must improve is to be less mistake-prone with the puck in his own end where he’d probably be best served by playing a simple game. Ginning does possess a decent on-ice IQ, and anticipates the play well and uses is reach to intercept and deflect dangerous passes. He has a big shot, but its not overly accurate which means he’s not likely to earn much time on the man advantage at the NHL level. He’s already playing in Sweden’s top league, so he’s had good (older) competition to work against compared to most other prospects his age.
Bottom Line: He’s probably ideally suited to be a solid 3rd pairing defenseman with some ability to be used on the penalty kill. Ginning is physical and plays a strong game which fits his 6’3″ frame but is more of a 2nd or early 3rd round pick (which the Wild have).
Which NHL prospect defenseman catches your eye? Tell us @CreaseAndAssist on Twitter or in the comment section below!