With the fantastic run of the Vegas Golden Knights, all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals many Wild fans have taken notice not just because of how improbable it has been but rather who is on the team. Specifically, the way former members of the Wild, Erik Haula and prospect Alex Tuch have been thriving. Contrast that with the fact of 6 consecutive seasons of playoff ineptitude and some fans have relished the fact they have done so well as a way to point out the poor choices of their management in letting them go. Other Wild fans have grown tired of the jabs on Twitter any time Haula and Tuch score but both players share something in common beyond being jettisoned to Vegas.
Both were drafted and developed by the Minnesota Wild. Tuch was a 1st round (18th Overall, 2014) and spent most of last season in Iowa where he was a leader on the team. Haula who led the University of Minnesota for two seasons in scoring was a 7th round steal (182nd Overall, 2009), and had 29 goals for the Golden Knights in the regular season. It isn’t the first time the Wild selected a quality player only to deal them away and watch them shine brightly. The notorious Cam Barker trade saw the Wild deal its top defenseman Kim Johnsson and prospect Nick Leddy; who went on to play well for Chicago and later the Islanders. So it hasn’t always been about being unable to find talent, but at times realizing who they should keep versus who they should’ve dealt away sooner like James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot and Colton Gillies.
The playoffs also demonstrated that scoring continues to be an issue in the post-season and while they’ve had players that have been productive in the regular season they’ve lacked the killer instinct in 3 first round exits in a row. Luke Kunin (15th Overall, 2016) blew out his knee late in the season, which was a significant setback but its not all gloom and doom up front. Jordan Greenway (50th Overall, 2015) signed at the conclusion of his whirlwind junior year at Boston University where he played significant minutes for Team USA at the Winter Olympics. Who could forget Kirill Kaprizov (135th Overall, 2015) who scored the gold medal winning goal in overtime for the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ and shined for CSKA Moscow in the KHL leading that team to the Gagarin Cup finals only to come up just short. The skilled Russian has two more seasons on his KHL deal but after that one would think he’s going to try his hand at NHL hockey and the Wild still hold his rights.
The Wild’s top priorities as I see them on an organizational and prospect level should be at the following positions.
1. A mobile, but physical defenseman that will eventually play in its top 4 ~ The Wild blueliners are mobile and decent puck movers but the playoffs demonstrated their inability to prevent shots and win battles for pucks along the wall. Minnesota has not had a true physical defender since Willie Mitchell. The Wild need a player that makes them more miserable to play against and be used in key defensive situations like the penalty kill. Iowa farmhand, Nick Seeler performed admirably, but he’s not skilled enough to be on the team’s Top 4 on a regular basis.
2. A skilled, speedy scoring forward – Shoot-first players have not been a common sight in an organization that traditionally demanded two-way play. That has meant the Wild have at times passed on adding skating and skill as they chose to draft character players instead. That needs to change, Pittsburgh and Vegas are great examples of how a great skating team can overcome teams that choose to play a heavy game and the Wild who are not known for physical play would be wise to embrace that approach. That means they’ll have to draft speedy, skilled guys to make it happen. A Jonathan Marchessault-type would be very welcome here.
3. Drafting a long-term back up or replacement of Devan Dubnyk ~ Dubnyk isn’t going to last forever, and he’s still under contract until 2020-21. I am not clamoring to have him leave but the Wild must start preparing a potential replacement for him. Good thing for the Wild is Fenton and the Predators have been outstanding at drafting goalies as Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros prove. Alex Stalock played well as Dubnyk’s back up this season, and the team signed Kaapo Kahkonen but another candidate two would probably be a smart move.
So who is available? Check out my 2018 NHL Central Scouting Movement tracker for some ideas. This article is part 2 of 4 where we look at what forwards are out there that fit the needs of the organization.
1. LW – Grigori Denisenko (Yarolslavl 2, Rus. 2) from Novosibirsk, Russia
Height: 5’10” Weight: 165lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (Euro): #7 ISS: #18 HockeyProspect.com: #11
Future Considerations: #18 Hockey News: #22
Talent Analysis: Denisenko is the kind of player that makes you notice him on nearly every shift, the sort of player who can turn something out of nothing and create scoring chances on his own. The Novosibirsk-native is very shifty and can gain a step on defenders with his quickness allowing himself to work his way into better shooting positions. He has a quick, accurate release and is a natural Top 6 winger, especially on the power play. He may not be a big player, but he doesn’t shy away from contact and shows little fear going into high traffic areas of the ice. In fact, he likes to dish out hits but he will need to bulk up considerably to be able to play that way at the next level. He has good on-ice vision and instincts and can be a great set up man too. Defensively, his game needs work as he struggles to neutralize opposing skaters and seems to be less engaged when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick. However his offensive potential is among the best in the draft.
Bottom Line: He is a top 6 scoring winger who has tons of potential, but he must add strength and take steps to improve his defensive game but could be the game-breaker this team sorely needs.
2. RW/LW – Vitali Kravtsov (Chelyabinsk, KHL) from Vladivostok, Russia
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 183lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (Euro): #3 ISS: #35 HockeyProspect.com: #24
Future Considerations: #28 Hockey News: #24
Talent Analysis: Kravtsov is a tall, fast skating winger who oozes skill and an array of 1-on-1 moves make him a tantalizing prospect. He is the kind of player that makes difficult moves look smooth, easy and comfortable and is most dangerous when he’s attacking off the rush. The Vladivostok, Russia-native can play at either wing and with a quick release you have a dangerous scoring threat. He is more of a shoot-first player but does have the vision to be a reasonable set up man. His speed is decent, but he’s more known for bursts of acceleration rather than being blazing fast. Kravtsov doesn’t mind skating into high traffic areas of the ice. Reports on mixed on his physical game; where some feels he avoids contact but others say he likes physical play to the point where he almost gets carried away. He bounced back and forth between Russia’s minor leagues and the KHL; but he did have a strong performance in the post-season where he registered 11 (6 goals) points in 16 games.
Bottom Line: He is an offensively gifted winger who has the skills to beat defenders and then unleash a wicked wrist shot. If you’re looking for a Vladimir Tarasenko-type home run, his game and skillset sound eerily similar to the Blues winger in his draft year.
3. RW – Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL) from Guelph, Ontario
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 209lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (NA Skaters): #10 ISS: #14 HockeyProspect.com: #28
Future Considerations: #29 Hockey News: #29
Talent Analysis: Noel is a rangy, power forward who moves well and has great hands. He uses his frame to protect the puck and can be fairly shifty for being a bigger player with his terrific quickness. Noel has a great wrist shot that he releases wickedly quick. He uses his speed and reach to be a very effective forechecker, causing turnovers and havoc. Noel likes to impose his physical will on the forecheck, but scouts would like to see him be as ferocious in his own end where he seems less interested to get involved physically. However that is not to say he doesn’t pay any attention to the defensive side of the puck; as the Generals used him a lot on penalty kill where his ability to pressure the puck with his quickness and reach made an effective penalty killer. Another area he must work on is being more mentally focused when he doesn’t have the puck. Most scouting reports note how they feel Noel is at the start of realizing his potential due to his size and athleticism so what has been a solid season may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Bottom Line: A tall, power forward with great hands who is very athletic who will become a physical force in the Jordan Greenway mold when he fills out is 6’5″ frame. Having one player like that is nice, but imagine having two players with that kind of skillset may be too tempting to pass up.
4. C / RW – Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech Elite) from Brno, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 175lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting (Euro skater): #4 ISS: #13 HockeyProspect.com: #18
Future Considerations: #22 Hockey News: #27
Talent Analysis: The interesting thing about Kaut is that the scouting reports are more or less in agreement, and while he isn’t ‘elite’ in any category he has no real weaknesses and his biggest strength is his consistency. “Like a Swiss Watch” was the quote in the Hockey News when describing his effort / energy level from shift to shift, you could count him playing his best every single time. That is not often said about many pro’s let alone a young draft hopeful. He is a decent skater, who has good hands and can finish effectively. Kaut had a very strong performance at the World Junior Championships this winter for Team Czech Republic and played in the Czech Superleague (their top men’s league) for the last two seasons. He uses his body to protect the puck well and does not hesitate to take the puck into high traffic areas of the ice. His wrist shot is particularly potent and he likes to shoot the puck but is crisp with his passes as well. He gets good reviews for his on-ice intelligence and rarely makes mistakes with the puck on his stick. He also can play either wing or center. The only real question mark is his potential, where some scouts see him as a 2nd liner and others as a 3rd liner.
Bottom Line: A good all around forward who plays with intensity and consistency. Versatile, who could be a great fit on the 2nd or 3rd line. His talent level may not be worthy of a 1st round pick but if the Wild were to trade down into the 2nd round he might be an ideal target.
5. C – Ryan McLeod (Mississauga, OHL) from Mississauga, Ontario
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting (NA Skater): #16 ISS: #26 HockeyProspect.com: #??
Future Considerations: #23 Hockey News: #20
Talent Analysis: Brother of New Jersey Devils’ 1st rounder (12th Overall, 2016) Michael McLeod he brings many of the same skills that were hallmarks of his older sibling’s game. He is a superb skater, with a fluid and efficient stride and can get up to top speed very quickly and uses those wheels to fly by opponents. The center can dangle fairly well and has good hands around the net. The Mississauga-native has a quick release and he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger off the rush and his shots often create rebound opportunities for teammates to pounce on. Scouts give him mixed reviews on his hockey sense as the Hockey News stated they felt he was at his best keeping his game simple and using his speed while Future Considerations felt his hockey sense was excellent and it is that debate that may have him still on the draft board when the Wild go make their pick. McLeod doesn’t produce offense while ignoring the defensive side of the game and he provides good puck pressure and backchecks consistently. He’s not physical and prefers to stick check and then try to strip it away but does a decent job of denying passing and shooting lanes. He also was the Steelheads’ alternate captain and demonstrates good leadership on and off the ice.
Bottom Line: McLeod would be a quality Top 6-9 centerman who would be the Wild’s first ‘speedy’ center since Wes Walz. He can score, he can set up teammates and he can defend, enough said.
What forward(s) have caught your eye? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseandAssist or in the comment section below.