The old drafting axiom is you ‘never take a goaltender with your 1st round pick.’ No problem this year for the Minnesota Wild, who as of the time of writing are still without a 1st round selection after dealing it away to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Martin Hanzal–Ryan White trade. While that relative value of that trade will be probably be debated, grumbled about by Wild fans for years to come we have finally come to the last part of our 3-part draft focused series of articles.
This article focuses on goaltenders. Minnesota was very fortunate to only have given up a 3rd round pick to obtain the services of Devan Dubnyk but the last two seasons have proven that as you near the home stretch the demand of getting around 80% of the starts gnaw at his focus and attention to detail and thus his play becomes a bit suspect. While that may sound like criticism, its a simple acknowledgement of fact as the statistics clearly show a slide in his game from where his save percentage was over .930% to then drop closer to .900% by season’s end as well as the post-season. Yet as Dubnyk’s fatigue is an issue, Wild fans have cringed at what would play out if (knock on wood) he were to be injured and the team was forced to soldier on with his backup Darcy Kuemper.
The former 6th round pick has had his chance to solidify himself as Dubnyk’s backup but just has not been able to provide enough consistency for the team to feel confident enough to rest its starter while Kuemper is between the pipes. It most likely means the team will not bring back Kuemper (an unrestricted free agent) and go with Alex Stalock as backup providing he isn’t picked up in the Expansion Draft. Beyond Stalock (who played well in Iowa this season) the prospect cupboard is looking a little thin. Steve Michalek was an able backup to Stalock in Iowa, but beyond that you have Kaapo Kahkonen, Hungarian free agent Adam Vay and Clark Cup winning goaltender Ales Stezka. So its time the team looked to add at least one more goaltending prospect to its pool.
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 as in the previous articles, I’ve identified 5 goaltenders who I think would be terrific additions to the team’s prospect pool. This could be the rare draft where the Wild’s first selection is a goaltender. So who is available?
1. G – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (HPK Hamelenlinna, Fin. Jr.) born 3/9/99 in Espoo, Finland
Height: 6’4.5″ Weight: 196lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (Euro goaltender) ISS: #1 The Hockey News: #41
Talent Analysis: He is a your prototypical NHL goaltender who combines a big puck-blocking frame who is technically sound. Luukkonen has terrific rebound control and like fellow Finn Pekka Rinne is a decent puckhandler as well. He moves well post-to-post although his ability to recover after the initial save could use some work which is not entirely unusual issue for a big goaltender. Perhaps one of his more underrated traits is the way he contests cross-ice passes instead of waiting helplessly for that backdoor play to connect. His glove is good, but nothing extraordinary.
Bottom Line: Luukkonen has starter potential who combines size, reasonable athleticism and a highly refined game.
2. G – Jake Oettinger (Boston U., H-East) born 12/18/98 in Lakeville, Minnesota
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 203lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (NA goaltender) ISS: #2 The Hockey News: #32
Talent Analysis: The best North American goaltender is the former Lakeville North star who carried the mail for Boston University as a freshman. Oettinger excelled at the NHL’s combine, which is impressive as another big goalie who possesses terrific lateral quickness. He does a great job of seeing pucks through traffic and if you saw his performance against North Dakota in the NCAA tournament you know what I’m talking about. He plays angles well but at times sits back in his crease a bit once opponents establish themselves in the offensive zone.
Bottom Line: Another big, athletic goaltender with starter potential who exudes confidence.
3. G – Michael DiPietro (Windsor, OHL) born 6/9/99 in Amherstburg, Ontario
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 196lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #4 (NA Goalies) ISS: #4 The Hockey News: #61
Talent Analysis: A goaltender that doesn’t fit the current NHL trend of 6’2″+ goaltenders, but DiPietro (no relation to former 1st overall pick Rick DiPietro) makes up for his lack of size with tremendous aggressiveness and quickness. As he helped shut down the field as he led the way for Windsor’s Memorial Cup championship this spring, he challenges shooters by moving out in front of his crease. His aggressiveness can come back to bite him as he overcommits. He has good vision and tracks pucks well and has a terrific glove hand. If teams can get over his lack of height they could have a very serviceable NHL goalie prospect.
Bottom Line: And undersized but athletic goaltending prospect who battles on every puck and has solid NHL potential.
4. G – Stuart Skinner (Lethbridge, WHL) born 11/1/98 in Edmonton, Alberta
Height: 6’3.5″ Weight: 209lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #5 (NA Goalie) ISS: #3 The Hockey News: #85
Talent Analysis: Skinner is another big, quick goaltending prospect who is efficient in his movements. He plays angles well and with his 6’3″+ frame takes up a lot of net but at times drops to the butterfly a bit soon. Skinner is just ok at controlling rebounds but at the very least he consistently channels pucks to the corners. The Edmonton-native’s quickness from post to post is good, but his recovery after making initial save will be an area he must improve. He did have a tendency to give up a soft goal on occasion, but stayed mentally tough and didn’t let it get to his head. Skinner needs to polish out certain aspects of his game, but he’s another quality NHL goaltending prospect.
Bottom Line: A big goaltender who needs some development, but could be a serviceable NHL netminder someday.
5. G – Ian Scott (Prince Albert, WHL) born 1/11/99 in Calgary, Alberta
Height: 6’3.25″ Weight: 174lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (NA Goalie) ISS: #5 The Hockey News: #62
Talent Analysis: Sometimes playing on a bad team can be a good thing for a goaltender as it will mean you get a lot of work each night. It usually results in a lot of games where you make 30+ saves and still lose and that was the case for Scott while playing in Prince Albert. Like most of the other goaltenders profiled, he brings prototypical size and athleticism to the crease but melds it with terrific calmness. He is a decent handling the puck and demonstrates good rebound control. Scott reacts well to the play and makes good reads most of time but is at times guilty of lapsing in focus. Has the size, athleticism and tools to be a NHL starter someday whose game and attitude reminds me a lot of Carey Price.
Bottom Line: A big, athletic goaltender with NHL starter potential who might have the makings of a later round steal.