The NHL is a copy cat league. If one team wins the Stanley Cup with grit and toughness, then teams across the league try to address that trait in the next draft. The Minnesota Wild have been more of a follower than a trendsetter. At times that hasn’t worked out too well. Case in point, after being outmuscled by Anaheim in the first round of the 2007 playoffs the team felt it needed more grit and it traded up to draft Colton Gillies 16th Overall. Gillies played just 87 games with Minnesota, notching 3 goals during that time before being put on waivers and picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
From an organizational perspective, the Minnesota Wild are probably deepest at forward. With young players like Joel Eriksson Ek ready for prime time and Luke Kunin, Alex Tuch, Jordan Greenway and Kirill Kaprizov close there is a fair amount to be excited about on that front. Yet, there are also reasons to want to stock up when you have a team with so much of its core forward group who are 30-somethings like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominvile, Eric Staal and Chris Stewart is 29 you can understand the need. With the Wild being so near the cap ceiling and with some tough decisions on restricted free agents like Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula the team needs cheaper options and the best way to do that is to acquire and develop them through the draft.
Here are the Wild’s most pressing needs as I see them.
- The Wild need a big, strong defenseman – The playoffs always have a way of serving as a crucible for teams and exposing their weaknesses in dramatic fashion. A major issue with the Wild on an organizational level is that it basically has a cupboard full of weaker, finesse defenseman and that weakness was exposed in the playoffs where the physical battles for the puck become more intense. The Wild need to start drafting some bigger, but still mobile defenseman that have more of physical aspect to their game to work alongside their core of smaller puck movers.
- The Wild need more players that are tough to play against and finishers up front – I have consistently lobbied for speed and players with finishing ability for years. The Wild finished this season with the 2nd best offense in the NHL in the regular season at least. In the playoffs the goal scoring dried up and they were bounced from the playoffs in the 1st round by the St. Louis Blues. The Penguins and Predators continue to demonstrate how the NHL is a speed game and the Wild must embrace this as well for all 4 of its lines so it means it should look to add more of it in this year’s draft. Speedy centers with scoring ability should be the priority. Yes the team does have some good forward prospects in its system, but most of them are ideally suited to being wingers.
- Minnesota needs to add goaltending depth – the organizational goaltending depth for the Minnesota Wild is woefully thin. Steve Michalek, Kaapo Kahkonen and Adam Vay are about all that is in the system for the team right now that Kuemper isn’t likely going to be with the big club next season. The Wild should look to add at least 1 or more goaltenders from this year’s draft and since their first pick isn’t until the 3rd round, it just might be the first selection they make.
In the first prospect article I focused on the defenseman, in this article I will examine the options up front. The truth is, the lacked the will and the strength to work themselves into the tough areas on the ice. After the Wild were eliminated by the Blues in the opening round, a few players were revealed to be playing through injuries but that seems to be the case with any playoff team yet those successful clubs didn’t shy away from the area in an around the blue paint. So the Wild need to keep adding speed but perhaps with a dose of players who have no shortage of ‘want to’ to their game. Let’s begin.
1. LW – Jonah Gadjovich (Owen Sound, OHL) born 10/12/98 in Whitby, Ontario
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 209lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #39 (NA Skater) ISS: #62 The Hockey News:
Talent Analysis: Gadjovich is a power forward who does not shy away all from the tough areas of the ice and has excellent scoring touch from in close and doesn’t mind screening the goalie. While scouts admit his skating could use some work, he moves efficiently enough to win battles along the boards and has shown considerable movement in his 3 seasons in the OHL. The Whitby, Ontario-native loves to shoot the puck and he likes to follow up his hard and heavy shot looking for a rebound. He plays a physical style but scouts believe he could be even more active in regards to doling out hits. His defensive game is ok, but also could be an area he’ll must improve (along with his skating) in order to be a serviceable NHL player.
Bottom Line: he has a lot of qualities you want to see in a bottom 6 energy winger with some ability to contribute on the power play whose game is reminiscent of Scott Hartnell or Bryan Bickell.
2. C – Morgan Geekie (Tri-City, WHL) born in 7/20/98 in Strathclair, Manitoba
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 178lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #45 (NA Skater) ISS: The Hockey News: #96
Talent Analysis: Passed over in last year’s draft hasn’t gotten the Tri-City Americans’ scorer down. Geekie used that snub as motivation and had a rock season. He has good height in a lanky frame that could stand to fill out some more. His acceleration needs work, but once up to speed he makes smart plays with the puck and is just adept at scoring as he is at setting up teammates. The Manitoba-native is not a one-dimensional player and he has good defensive awareness which makes him an asset on the power play or the penalty kill. He could be more physical but when he does look to make a hit he finishes his checks with authority that makes him a natural fit for the 2nd or 3rd line. He’s decent on his draws but like his acceleration could use some improvement.
Bottom Line: A center with an ideal NHL-frame who plays a strong two-way game with ability to kill penalties and contribute on the power play.
3. C – Zach Gallant (Peterborough, OHL) born in 3/6/99 in Oakville, Ontario
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 188lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #64 (NA Skater) ISS: #89 The Hockey News: #81
Talent Analysis: Gallant is not a flashy player, but he’s a reliable workhorse that any team’s 3rd line could use. He’s tremendous on his draws and plays a simple style where he takes the puck into the scoring areas without hesitation. Gallant performs well in puck battles along the boards and while his quickness could use some improvement, he anticipates the play well to make that shortcoming mostly a non-issue. His shot is ok, but he puts himself in a good position to score and converts most of his chances. His ability to win draws make him a natural for use on the penalty kill and he’s probably best suited to being a 3rd line center in the Kyle Brodziak sort of mold.
Bottom Line: If he can improve his footspeed, any team that drafts him could have a superb two-way forward on their hands that could anchor their 3rd line or 4th line and contribute on the penalty kill for years.
4. C – Scott Reedy (USNDT, USHL) born 4/4/99 in Prior Lake, MN
Height: 6’1.5″ Weight: 204lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #40 (NA Skater) ISS: #70 The Hockey News: #100
Talent Analysis: The Minnesota-commit brings an element of versatility to the table in his ability to play all 3 forward positions even though most believe he’s at his best as a center. He is a gifted stickhandler and can make plays in tight places. Reedy is more of a playmaker but has decent finishing ability as well. He finishes checks well and is a solid forechecker. His skating lacks jump, but his overall mechanics make that appear to be a solveable issue. His defensive play is just average which is something he’ll have to improve in order to have a chance at the NHL.
Bottom Line: A skilled center with great hands who could morph into a solid 2nd line center if he improve his skating and quickness, but a bit more of a boom / bust type of selection.
5. C – Evan Barratt (USNDT, USHL) born 2/18/99 in Morrisville, Pennsylvania
Height: 5’11” Weight: 187lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #65 (NA Skater) ISS: #76 The Hockey News: #73
Talent Analysis: Barratt is a swift, quick forward who prides himself on shutting down the opposition’s best player. He may not be the biggest player, but he makes up for it with sheer determination and work ethic with a style that endears himself to teammates, coaches and fans. Committed to Penn State he’ll fit in with his blue collar (no pun intended) approach and is more often a set up man than a goal scorer. He played well both on the power play and the penalty kill and does have some finishing ability. While he’ll need to add strength to his small-ish frame he isn’t afraid to go into the corners or the high traffic areas for the puck. He may be the best pure defensive forward in the draft.
Bottom Line: He’s an ideal replacement for Erik Haula, as a puck-hounding 3rd line center who has the ability to contribute offensively while shutting down the opposition’s top line.