Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on being Stanley Cup champions for the first time! As much was made of Cinderella story that were the Vegas Golden Knights, few have brought up just how far Washington has come where they still hold the record of futility back during their inaugural season in 1974-75 where they went 8-67-5 (ouch). Needless to say things have changed for the better for the Capitals. Changes are starting to take hold for the Minnesota Wild. With former Minnesota North Stars General Manager Jack Ferriera signed on as Senior Advisor to Wild GM Paul Fenton and the hiring of Dean Evason as assistant coach. John Anderson was dismissed, which is interesting because the Wild’s power play had operated at over 20% efficiency the last two seasons. But wanting a set of eyes he trusted implicitly meant he wanted that perspective from the coaching staff and Evason who had been Milwaukee’s head coach the last 6 seasons are those trusted set of eyes for Fenton.
Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and current assistant Bob Woods had worked together before when they were with the Washington Capitals. Boudreau was sad to see his best friend Anderson be dismissed, but felt Evason would be a good fit with the Wild. Still, that has to be pretty awkward. So with new eyes closer to the team, the one area where the team appears to be sticking with its ‘old’ eyes is the scouting staff. Assistant GM Brent Flahr and Director of Scouting Guy Lapointe are still at the helm so no doubt Fenton will be evaluating them as this draft unfolds.
With three 3rd round picks, two 5th round picks, and a 6th and 7th round pick the Wild could use a few quality selections later in the draft to help restock the prospect cupboard. If you want to read what the scouts say I’d recommend the 2018 International Scouting Services Draft Guide which can be had for a donation (with the proceeds going to charity) between $10-$50 or HockeyProspect.com’s Black Book which can be had for about $50.
So what are the Wild’s needs as I see them?
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. It would be wise to have a goaltender developing to replace him or at least push hard for the back up role.
So who is available? Check out my 2018 NHL Central Scouting Movement tracker for some ideas. This article is part 4 of 4 where we look at players who I feel would be great sleeper picks later in the draft that fit the needs of the organization.
1. C – Gabriel Fortier (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) born in LaSalle, QC
Height: 5’10” Weight: 170lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skater): #49 ISS: #89 Future Considerations: #89
HockeyProspect.com: #67 Hockey News: #83
Talent Analysis: What Fortier lacks in size he makes up for with quickness and a relentless motor as he pursues the puck. He is willing to take the puck to the high traffic areas of the ice, and doesn’t mind throwing his body around. He battles effectively on the wall for pucks, and has the versatility to be effective on both the power play and the penalty kill. Fortier is at his best on the forecheck where he uses his speed and quickness to deprive opposing skaters of time and space and forces turnovers in the process. He has good hands in around the net, but his offensive game is pretty simple. His shot is ok, but he could stand to add strength but he’s a solid, two-way forward who fits well as a 3rd line forward. The LaSalle, Quebec-native is ok on his draws but could stand to sharpen this skill to be more effective at the next level.
Bottom Line: A relentless forechecking forward who is pain to play against, who can chip in offensively and be responsible defensively. An ideal 3rd line forward.
2. C – Chase Wouters (Saskatoon, WHL) born in North Battleford, SK
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 177lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (NA Skaters): # ISS: #60 Future Considerations: #78
HockeyProspect.com: #114 Hockey News: N/A
Talent Analysis: A player that I’d best describe as a Swiss Army Knife, as a forward who can be used in a wide variety of ways rather effectively is matched by his strong compete level. He’s a player that is constantly in motion and uses his speed and quickness to chase down pucks in all 3 zones. He isn’t a big hitter, but he doesn’t shy away from contact either. The North Battleford, Saskatchewan-native anchored the Blades’ top line and learned to shoot more and has demonstrated that he has a heavy, accurate shot. His passing is ok, and is still a work in progress but he’s almost always the hardest working player on the ice during his shifts and his consistency will earn him the trust of any team that drafts him. He demonstrates good on-ice intelligence at both ends of the ice and can be used on the power play or penalty kill. Strong on the faceoffs and he hustles as much in the offensive zone as he does on the backcheck. His speed is decent, despite a somewhat inefficient skating stride but his work ethic and well-rounded skillset make him a great mid-round selection. He will need to add strength to his slight frame, but he has plenty of good tools to build upon.
Bottom Line: An ideal 3rd line center with the ability to be used on the power play or the penalty kill. He is a terrific forechecker and gives his all every shift. The ideal role player for any team let alone the Wild.
3. RW – Niklas Nordgren (IFK Jr., Fin. Jr.) born in Helsinki, Finland
Height: 5’9″ Weight: 165lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (Euro Skaters): #21 ISS: #62 Future Considerations: #61
HockeyProspect.com: #48 Hockey News: #93
Talent Analysis: A small, but compact winger, Nordgren brings a little swagger along with a nice collection of offensive skills. Fearless, he is not afraid to go to the high traffic areas to score and is more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker. Yet he has great on-ice vision and can thread the needle with his passes. He is very shifty with the puck, but he battles well for pucks and uses his low center of gravity effectively which makes him difficult to defend. The Helsinki-native crashes the net with a purpose and has great hands. He unleashes his shot quickly and picks corners consistently. His defensive zone play is ok, and his size may scare some teams off but his offensive skills translate very well to the NHL. His game reminds me a lot of the Predators’ Viktor Arvidsson. His right handed shot would be really handy for an organization that has so many lefties.
Bottom Line: Nordgren is a top six scoring winger who has the skill, speed and determination that could make him a nice offensive contributor. Only issue is the Wild may have to find a way to get a 2nd round pick to get him.
4. LW – Albin Eriksson (Skelleftea Jr., Swe. Jr.) born in Bollnas, Sweden
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 205lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (Euro Skater): #22 ISS: #81 Future Considerations: #79
HockeyProspect.com: #28 Hockey News: #56
Talent Analysis: A big power forward who moves well and has a smooth skating stride who’s game is somewhat raw and needs refinement. He is a power forward who can muscle his way to the net, but is also smart enough to find the open spaces on the ice to put himself in a good position to score. Eriksson likes to dish out the hits, sometimes even when he’s carrying the puck he’ll just bulldoze an opposing defender because he knows he can. He is a decent stickhandler and uses his frame effectively to protect the puck and is a monster in puck battles along the wall. He has a very heavy slap shot and his wrist shot is also potent and gives opposing goaltenders trouble. Defensively he’s keeps it simple and often works pucks out of the zone by using the boards. Some scouts believe he could be more assertive in the defensive zone; by being more willing to get physically engaged which is something he is less hesitant about the in the offensive zone. His agility could also use some work. Game and skillset remind me a lot of Joel Armia but perhaps a bit more assertive physically.
Bottom Line: 2nd or 3rd line power forward with some development who has ideal size who has skill, mobility and scoring ability that can help grind opposing teams down.
5. D – Tyler Tucker (Barrie, OHL) born in Longlac, Ontario
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 203lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skater): #171 ISS: #156 Future Considerations: #167
HockeyProspect.com: #180 Hockey News: N/A
Talent Analysis: Tucker is a excellent skating two-way defenseman who likes to play a physical style of game. His skating allows him to skate the puck out of danger and help lead the breakout either by carrying it up the ice or with quality outlet pass which is something coaches covet. He likes to step up and catch opposing forwards by surprise with an open-ice hit and keeps opponents from camping out near the crease area. While scouts give him credit for the ferocity of his checks, he does get near that line whether its playing tough or being reckless (dangerous). The Longlac, Ontario-native has just average height, but he’s solidly built and Tucker has some offensive skills as a set up man, but his shot is just average and he projects into more of a stay-at-home type defenseman at the next level.
Bottom Line: A physical, stay at home defenseman who moves very well making him an ideal 3rd pairing blueliner.
6. D – Juuso Ketola (Assat Jr., Fin. Jr.) born in Ulvila, Finland
Height: 5’11” Weight: 194lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (Euro Skaters): #116 ISS: N/A Future Considerations: #119
HockeyProspect.com: NR Hockey News: N/A
Talent Analysis: A mobile two-way defenseman who is certainly not the biggest defenseman but plays an aggressive, physical style that makes him a pain to play against. He loves to step up on opposing forwards in the neutral zone to deliver big, open ice hits and battles hard for pucks along the boards. Ketola has good gap control and competes hard all over the ice. He is a decent skater who has good lateral quickness. While he has the skill to be a decent stickhandler and the skating to move his way out of trouble he needs to work on his passing game. At times they lack accuracy and that can certainly get him into trouble. Offensively, he has a knack for working his way into shooting lanes and catching goaltenders by surprise with his hard wrist shot which is often on goal and causes havoc. Despite his mobility and skill, he’d probably be best served by simplifying his game but if he can improve in his decision making he could be a pretty nice diamond in the rough.
Bottom Line: An intriguing project defenseman who has some intangibles in regards to his physical play and skating that make him stand out, but needs to takes steps to improving his decision-making with the puck to bring it all together to be a bottom pairing NHL defenseman.
7. G – Jared Moe (Waterloo, USHL) born in New Prague, MN
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 205lbs Catches: Right
Central Scouting (NA Goalie): #10 ISS: N/A Future Considerations: #172
HockeyProspect.com: #97 Hockey News: #82
Talent Analysis: Another big bodied, athletic goaltender who uses his frame effectively to give shooters very little net to look at. He is reasonably quick post-to-post and has a terrific glove hand where he’s rare right-catching goalie like former Wild puckstopper Josh Harding. At times he’s known for flopping in his crease a bit, but part of that is tremendous compete level where he’ll contort his body to whatever shape he has to in order to stop the puck. Scouts noted that he seemed to be much more under control and structured than he was in high school. Overall he plays his angles very effectively but scouts do feel there is room for more development. The former Holy Family Catholic star had a decent season for Waterloo after being passed over in last year’s draft and took steps to improve his game that scouts seemed to notice, especially in regards to his core strength and fitness level. The Minnesota-commit will likely spend another season in the USHL before reporting to campus in the fall of 2019.
Bottom Line: A project goaltender, but one who has demonstrated he’s willing to put in the time and effort to make improvements. He may not have the potential of an NHL starter, but he could be a quality depth goaltender with more development.
8. Keegan Karki (Muskegon, USHL) born in Sartell, MN
Height: 6’4″ Weight: Catches: Left
Central Scouting (NA Goalies): #5 ISS: N/A Future Considerations: N/A
HockeyProspect.com: #117 Hockey News: #84
Talent Analysis: The former St. Cloud Cathedral star has prototypical NHL goaltender size matched with decent athleticism. He plays his angles well, recovers quickly during activity near his crease and has a great glove hand. He tracks puck well through traffic, and some scouts believe he might be the best American-born goaltender available in the draft. Where’s the catch? Character issues off the ice caused him to leave the U.S. National Development team and then eventually lose a commitment to North Dakota. However if he can get that worked out, any team that drafts him will have a talented, big-bodied goalie prospect on their hands that has the ability to compete with the top goalies available in this draft class.
Bottom Line: He checks off all the boxes teams want in a goaltender in this era, but if he is to have any chance at all he must takes steps to solve the off-ice issues otherwise he’ll squander his potential. A classic high-risk, high-reward that may seem pretty tempting if you have a late round pick and he’s still available.
What players who appear to be likely late-round selections intrigue you the most? Let us know on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!