The Minnesota Wild’s season may have come to an end, but they still have had players and prospects playing meaningful hockey in the last few days and weeks. A few of them, have been fortunate enough to have been a part of championship squads. Swedes Jonas Brodin and Joel Eriksson Ek were a part of their IIHF World Championship squad as they managed to outlast Canada in the final, 2-1. The loss denied Canada a 3-peat at the World Championships and both players had strong tournaments.
Brodin had a goal, 2 helpers and 6 PIM’s and finished the World Championships with a +6 rating in 10 games. The defenseman played on Sweden’s 2nd pairing and was a big reason ‘Tre Kroner’ was so efficient at working the puck out of their own end. Eriksson Ek, the youngest player on Team Sweden’s squad did not look out of place as he also had a goal, 2 assists and 4 PIM’s and was a +5 in 10 games. He primarily played on Sweden’s 4th line and demonstrated a penchant for pulling the trigger whenever he had the chance as he had 20 shots on goal. Stick tap to them and Team Sweden on a tremendous tournament!
Even though the Wild were bounced early in the 1st round, the Wild did not send many participants for this year’s World Championships. Part of that may have to do with the injuries some of their players have sustained, but maybe their still sour at how their season ended.
Stezka leads Chicago Steel to a Championship
In other Wild news, the organization had another champion in its midst as goaltending prospect Ales Stezka who helped the Chicago Steel win its first Clark Cup victory as USHL champions. Stezka, who has still not committed to any U.S. college / university yet had a very strong 2016-17 regular season for the Steel with a 22-10-1 record, 2.28 goals against average and an .916% save percentage with 4 shutouts. As good as he was in the regular season, the Brno, Czech Republic-native had an even better post season where he was 9-4, 2.04 goals against average and a super stingy .936% save percentage with 3 shutouts.
For an organization where goaltending depth is certainly an issue of concern for the Wild, it is good to see Stezka rally back from what was a challenging season last year where he found himself supplanted with the Sioux Falls Stampede. The Wild drafted the 6’4″, 201lbs left catching Stezka in the 4th round (111th Overall) in 2015. It will be interesting to see if he gets a Division 1 offer in the next few months or he returns to Europe to hone his game. The lack of an offer from a Division 1 program is problematic for the Wild who must decide to sign him to a professional contract or he could potentially re-enter the draft. Sioux City Muskteers’ (the team Chicago beat in the Clark Cup finals) Matiss Kivlenieks, another unsigned USHL goaltender just signed a 3-year entry level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. So Wild general Manager Chuck Fletcher must act soon or he can watch a promising goaltending prospect walk away.
Barring him being taken from us in the expansion draft, its likely Alex Stalock‘s job to be the new back up for Devan Dubnyk while Steve Michalek gets the lion’s share of starts in Iowa. Adam Vay was ok in Quad City but he too probably isn’t quite ready for the American Hockey League just yet. That would leave Kaapo Kahkonen, who played well in the Sm-Liiga as the only other goaltender of note in the Wild’s prospect pool. Hockey Wilderness tossed out their take on the Stezka situation here.
It was announced this week that the NHL’s new jersey producer, Adidas is going to be altering the jerseys of 13 different NHL teams (Vegas Golden Knights, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators) including the Minnesota Wild. It had been revealed earlier this year that teams were going to dispense with the ‘alternate’ jerseys, and many Wild fans hoped the team would discard the Red / Green ‘Christmas’ sweater once and for all. This would mean the Green jersey with ‘Minnesota’ in script writing is likely the team’s new / old home sweater.
Uniform changes for the sake of inviting a new jersey making company to the table seems more like a money grab to me than a much-needed update. This tweet by former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo kind of sums up how I feel about this news.