Perhaps its fitting on a day where millions of Americans bust out their grills to celebrate Independence Day, that I talk about the Minnesota Wild’s annual Prospect Development Camp. So while you may be hitting the beach, these youngsters hit the ice to chase their NHL dreams. Also, for hockey die hards its the opportunity to get your hockey fix over what always feels like a long summer.
It is something I look forward to and at times I’ve made my way down to St. Paul to watch some of the prospect scrimmages to get my hockey fix in the middle of July. For anyone that hasn’t been to one I’d recommend it as they’re fun and while it isn’t usually all that physical you’ll be treated to some pretty skill plays. Both scrimmages are at Xcel Energy Center this year and this season the organization is adding a block party with food, autograph opportunities with current Wild players and the prospect camp attendees and are FREE to the public. Tough to beat that!
Scrimmage #1: Tuesday, July 11th @ 2:30PM
Scrimmage #2: Thursday, July 13th @ 5:00PM
Block Party: July 13th, 6-9PM at Seven Corners Parking Lot
The players are put through their paces by the Wild player development staff like Andrew Brunette, Brad Bombadir and Richard Park as well as the Iowa Wild coaching staff (Head Coach Derek Lalonde, Assistant Coach Dave Cuniff) and Minnesota Wild assistant coaches Darby Hendrickson and Bob Woods (his first duty since joining the organization). They also work on skating with Andy Ness and take nutrition classes and other team-building activities as well as media training.
So as a prospect geek the first thing that I’m interested to see when the team announces when its camp is who is attending. You can see the full camp roster here. And this year’s class of prospects are really a reflection of the current state of the organization and the depleted nature of its prospect pool. I cannot recall a time where the Wild had this many invitees to round out their camp. Invitees are undrafted players whom the team is giving a look to and it also helps put two full teams together for the prospect scrimmages. The 23 invitees are making up 54% of the camp roster this year which is the reality of the small draft classes the team has had the last few years due to the club dealing out draft picks like ‘fun size’ Snickers bars on Halloween.
So what prospects and invitees intrigue me and who I’d be trying to watch closely during the scrimmages?
#44 Giorgio Estephan (Invitee) – I am always intrigued when they bring in a scoring ace as an invitee and Estephan was one of the better scorers in the WHL playing for a much-improved Lethbridge Hurricanes team this season. Will his finishing ability put a spotlight on him, or will he kind of fade into the woodwork and not have much of an impact?
#49 Jordan Greenway – The power forward surprised just about everyone by deciding to return to Boston University after a solid sophomore season. Greenway will look like a giant at this year’s prospect camp and is our lone true power forward prospect. Since this is his 3rd camp I would expect him to be dominant physically and should look like a bull in a china shop on most of his shifts.
#56 Mason Shaw – He’s small, he’s feisty and he has a tremendous motor. I think Wild fans will find themselves rooting for Shaw who will not be outworked on any of his shifts. He’s also got great vision and is a terrific passer and I think we could see some nice set ups. I think his competitiveness will be very evident and I expect him to be a standout.
#58 Bryce Misley – He is a bit of a mystery to me having played Jr. A hockey in Canada, but he put up good numbers and I’m curious to see how he looks against more physically mature players. From what I’ve seen is he has decent hands but I want to see how he well he does in puck battles. As a college-bound (University of Vermont) player he has a longer development curve but it will be interesting to see how he performs during the scrimmages.
#67 Luke Kunin – Arguably the team’s most NHL-ready prospect performed well in Iowa after the conclusion of his sophomore season at Wisconsin. Kunin seemed to prove his strong freshman season was not a fluke as he again led the way for the Badgers and played well for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Like Greenway, I expect him to look dominant and that his skill level is in a superior class to just about anyone else on the ice.
#74 Dmitry Sokolov – Last season Sokolov attended prospect camp but did not play in either of the scrimmages due to an injury or the team wanting to him to focus on his fitness, nutrition and conditioning instead. He returned to the OHL where he was one of the league’s best pure goal scorers. Sokolov loves to shoot and has a tremendous release and if he plays in the scrimmages I expect him to be lighting the lamp. I hope he shows us something special.
#83 Avery Peterson – I think Peterson is kind of a forgotten Wild prospect and after transferring from Nebraska-Omaha to be closer to home at Minnesota-Duluth he had a terrific 2nd half for the Bulldogs. I still think skating is the area that he needs improve if he wants a chance at the next level, but the former Mr. Hockey still has great hands and a strong frame. This is his 3rd camp and I expect him to be more noticeable this time around.
#34 Artem Minulin (Invitee) – I almost wrote about him for my draft preview articles. A skilled Russian offensive defenseman with decent size who played well for Swift Current (WHL) this season. International Scouting Service had him rated #94th, and gives him high marks for his on ice intelligence, puck skills and his on-ice vision. I felt our organization needed more physical defenseman so I didn’t put him in my top 5 but for a guy ISS who has skating issues and felt lacked passion managed to put up 50 points in 70 games as a blueliner. Toss in the fact he’s 6’2″, 202lbs makes me that much more intrigued to see how well he performs.
#50 Yusuke Kon (Invitee) – I believe he is the first player we’ve ever had from Eastern Asia and I know little to nothing about him. He has no experience in North American hockey and I wonder how well he’ll handle what is likely to be a faster pace of play. I wouldn’t say I have high hopes for him to excel, but I’m glad to see the organization invite some players from non-traditional hockey nations.
#61 Jacob Golden – Another interesting ‘project player’ Golden is a player who was very tough to get a read on since he played so little for the London Knights this season. London is one of the best teams in Canadian major junior seemingly every season and the former Harvard-commit struggled to get ice time. By all accounts he’s a tremendous skater who has a lot of raw hockey skills so will we see some of those flashes of that ability that made him a Wild draft pick or will be left asking ourselves what in the heck did they see from him?
#68 Brennan Menell (Invitee) – It is always interesting to see a Minnesota-born player that takes the less traveled path and opts to play major junior hockey instead of the more traditional college route. Menell was an offensive force from the blueline for Lethbridge scoring more than a point-per-game and while he doesn’t have a lot of size he certainly has some intriguing puck skills.
#93 Adam Vay – The Hungarian had an ‘ok’ season with Quad City of the ECHL. Vay certainly has the prototypical big-body frame but can he show us he’s ready to challenge for the backup role in Iowa or is that just a pipe dream. If he has a rough go at this year’s camp I’m probably going to give up on him.
Which prospects at this year’s camp intrigue you the most? Tell us @CreaseandAssist on Twitter or in the comment section below!