The Memorial Cup is behind us and the NHL Combine has concluded and with the Stanley Cup Finals still in progress its probably about time we focus on the draft. At least if you’re a fan of the 29 other teams that are not currently playing right now. In a few weeks 31 teams will make their way to podium to try to select future players that will hopefully be the core of their clubs. The Stanley Cup final teams are great examples of the power of good drafting. Austin Watson, Pontus Aberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros, Mikka Salomaki, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm, Colton Sissons, Jake Guentzel, Brian Dumoulin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust, Josh Archibald and Olli Maata are all players Nashville and Pittsburgh drafted and developed respectively. Needless to say the draft has been pretty important to the success of these two clubs and with the amount of players they both made a lot of quality selections beyond the 1st round.
So even in a draft that has been described as weak by many experts, it is important to be able to find and identify talent. For the Minnesota Wild, that task has been made a bit more difficult with the fact they don’t make their first pick until the 3rd round (at least as how it stands right now). So what do the Minnesota Wild do when they finally make their first pick in the draft? Do they take the ever popular and very cliche ‘best player available’ or do they consider their organizational needs from a prospect and development level and prioritize specific types of players?
This is the first part of 3-part series on the 2017 with a focus on the Wild’s needs. I will identify players that I feel fit their needs and will likely be available when they go to make their first selection in this year’s draft. With a new expansion team entering the league in the Vegas Golden Knights, there will no doubt be some wheeling and dealing and Minnesota may be involved but this article will move forward under the assumption our first selection will be in the 3rd round as expected.
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.
So let’s begin by profiling 5 defensive prospects that I feel should be available when Minnesota goes to make its first pick and would help add size, some grit and still provide good mobility. If you’ve checked out my draft preview articles before I’ve preferred to use video that shows you full games for the respective prospects so you can sort of evaluate them for yourself. Unfortunately, they don’t do that much beyond players that are expected to go into the 1st round so I get the shorter, easier to package highlights like goals or player interviews which usually leave you wanting more. The 2017 draft list is full of smallish puck moving types and I’ve tried to avoid those players with these selections.
1. LD – Max Gildon (USNDT, USHL) born 5/17/99 in Plano, TX
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #54 (NA skater) ISS: #56 The Hockey News: #80
Talent Analysis: Gildon is athletic defenseman who is terrific mix of size and skill. He loves to join the rush and demonstrates plenty of confidence when handling the puck in the offensive zone. In a lot of ways his game kind of reminds me of Brent Burns, especially how he anticipates a scoring chance and will even venture into the slot looking for a one-timer. He has a terrific shot that he releases quickly and accurately making him a natural to utilize on your power play. Defensively, he’s just average and at times his reads are questionable which will certainly be an area he must improve before he’s NHL-ready. Yet in his own end he’s physical and uses his body effectively.
Bottom Line: He’s an athletic defenseman who skates well and has good puck skills who just needs to round out his game and you could have a defenseman that could fit well on your 2nd or 3rd pairing.
2. D – Tyler Inamoto (USNDT, USHL) born in 5/6/99 in Chicago, Illinois
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 196lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #68 (NA Skater) ISS: #73 The Hockey News: N/A
Talent Analysis: Another product of the National Development program, Inamoto is more of a classic stay-at-home defenseman. He likes to dish out the hits and he battles well along the boards. The Chicago-native is the type of players opposing teams hate to play against, as he makes them pay a physical price to go to the main scoring areas. He has good mobility and plays angles effectively, but whose skating will never be mistaken for Jared Spurgeon or Jonas Brodin. Inamoto is selfless and doesn’t hesitate to block shots which makes him a good asset for the penalty kill. He has very limited offensive skills so he’s probably best suited to being a 3rd pairing defenseman at the NHL level. He is a Wisconsin-commit and should get plenty of opportunity to add more strength and improve his overall game.
Bottom Line: He’s the kind of no-nonsense stay-at-home defender any NHL team needs who plays a physical game and forces opponents to pay a price to make plays in your own end.
3. RD – Cameron Crotty (Brockville, CCHL) born 5/9/99 in Greely, Ontario
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 182lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #89 (NA Skater) ISS: #91 The Hockey News: #59
Talent Analysis: The Boston University-commit is a smart, mobile defenseman with size and a two-way game. Crotty uses his height and reach effectively to deny the middle of the ice but will not shy away from dishing out a hit when needed. His biggest strength is his hockey sense where he reads the play well and once he has the puck he makes a solid 1st pass to transition it the other way. While he certainly needs to fill out, he’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to do so on a Boston University team which saw significant turnover this spring. Crotty is poised under pressure and is a reasonable puck mover as well. His shot is nothing special, and that means he’ll likely project more is a bottom pairing defenseman at the NHL level.
Bottom Line: A promising project defenseman who has excellent hockey sense and a skillset that could be developed into a very solid on your team’s 3rd pairing.
4. RD – Luke Martin (Michigan, Big 10) born in 9/20/98 in St. Louis, Missouri
Height: 6’2.5″ Weight: 207lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #61 (NA Skater) ISS: #51 The Hockey News: #75
Talent Analysis: Martin is a smooth skating defenseman who handled himself well on a pretty rough Michigan squad last season. Even though his statistics don’t show it, he has good puck skills and a decent shot that makes many scouts believe there is some untapped offensive potential to his game. Yet his real strength beyond his skating is ability to make quick reads and use his mobility to disrupt opposing rushes. He uses his body effectively along the boards and is tremendous at defending 1-on-1 situations. His gap control and hockey sense earned rave reviews from scouts and many feel his game makes him a solid potential 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman. He is a reasonable puck mover but also makes good 1st pass out of the zone. A lot of the reports I read about Martin remind me a lot of Niklas Hjalmarsson which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Bottom Line: A terrific skating defenseman who brings some physicality and a lot of potential in his game.
5. RD – Eemeli Rasanen (Kingston, OHL) born in 3/6/99 in Joensuu, Finland
Height: 6’6.25″ Weight: 216lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #32 (NA Skater) ISS: #42 The Hockey News: #67
Talent Analysis: The reports and reviews on Rasanen’s game are somewhat mixed which makes him a bit more of a boom / bust type of player. Blessed with a massive frame that he’s filling out quite nicely, he is a classic big-body space eater that denies the middle of the ice well. He likes to dish out big hits, battles well for the puck along the wall and reads the play well in his own end. Offensively he has a decent shot and there may be some potential on the power play. Yet the knock on his game is his mobility as most scouts agree his skating needs some considerable work. If he can improve his skating any team that drafts him could have that coveted giant patrolling their blueline for years.
Bottom Line: Tons of size and raw ability but must improve his skating to be able to be effective at the NHL level but an intriguing project that is simply too tempting to pass up.