As the season came to an end, I have to admit I was pretty exhausted from thinking and writing about Minnesota Wild hockey. The team crossed a threshold in the 2018-19 season into a rebuilding mode. I had felt the team was late in embracing such a need, but I also felt the moves intended to re-shape the team fell well short of expectations. The return on many of the trades did not yield much in the way of draft picks or prospects. Yet for the first time in quite a while, the team has at least one pick in each round (and two in the 6th round) of the draft this season as of the writing of this article.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling the Wild should’ve have and could’ve gotten more than they did. It is impossible to deny the fact that the team has already made some significant changes. Gone are Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund and in their place is Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala who are both restricted free agents this summer. The goal, Wild General Manager Paul Fenton said was to get ‘younger and faster’ and I’d also toss in ‘cheaper.’ In the Hockey News‘ Draft Preview issue, Matt Larkin noted how the Wild were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, an unusual occurrence for a Bruce Boudreau-coached squad.
Part of that ‘younger and faster’ movement will no doubt come through the NHL Entry Draft and this time its P.J. Fenton and Darren Yopyk driving the draft table. The Wild scouting department has seen some changes in recent weeks with some dismissals and resignations according to the Athletic‘s Michael Russo. How will this differ from what we saw with Brett Flahr leading the way?
So what are the Minnesota Wild’s most pressing draft needs as I see them?
1. Fast scoring wingers and / or a top 6 center prospect – The Minnesota Wild are pretty old down the middle as Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal are 35+, and its time the team start to develop some replacements to anchor their Top two lines. So far the team seems to have resisted the chance to give Joel Eriksson Ek or Luke Kunin that opportunity. A few right handed shots on the wing and at center would also be a good idea.
2. Two-way defenseman to fit in the Top 4 – Ryan Suter came back to start the 2018-19 season, but it took him a long time before he seemed to be somewhere near 100% and the pectoral injury to Matthew Dumba put the season into a freefall. The Wild didn’t have any NHL-ready prospects to fill in so it would be wise to re-stock the cupboard in this area.
3. An heir apparent for the starting goaltender role – Devan Dubnyk had a slightly sub-par season, but there is some question whether he’s good enough to lead the team back to the playoffs. Kaapo Kahkonen had a great start splitting time at Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, but he struggled in the 2nd half of the season. It wouldn’t hurt if he had some competition and while the team signed college free agent Mat Robson they are still fairly light with goalie prospects.
This would be my top 6 forward list (of likely available forwards) when I go to make my first selection with the 12th Overall pick. Some may be surprised by the fact I do not have Vasili Podkolzin on this list, but I think he’ll be gone before the Wild go to make their selection.
1. C – Peyton Krebs (Kootenay, WHL) – Okotoks, Alberta
Height: 5’11” Weight: 181lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #10 ISS: #10 Hockey News: #11 Athletic: #6 HockeyProspect.com: #6 Future Considerations: #6
2018-19 Stats: 64GP 19G 49A = 68pts 63 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: Sometimes when you play for a team that has a tough season, it can help obscure what is a true talent. Scouts were quick to point out that despite not having a lot of talent around him in Kootenay, Krebs never let it get to him nor did he allow it to become a crutch for him to give anything less than his best effort. He has the speed, vision and smarts to make not only find the right player to dish the puck to but has the skill to thread the needle and make those players around him better. Krebs has a decent shot, who has more scoring ability than his 19 goals this season indicate. His wheels force opposing defenseman to give him a bit more of a generous gap which only gives him more space to make plays with. As great as his offensive ability is, he’s a determined backchecker and forces turnovers with his hustle and tenacity on the puck. He will need to add strength to be able to battle as effectively on the boards as he has in major junior but he has strong potential as a top line centerman. Update: Peyton Krebs’ suffered a partially torn Achilles when slashed by a skate, but is expected to make a full recovery.
Bottom Line: Krebs is a deft playmaker who can make precise tape-to-tape passes when moving at full speed, but he does so while still playing a responsible defensive game. The Hockey News compared to Krebs to Matt Barzal and considering the age of the Wild’s current set of centers it is important to start drafting and developing their replacements and Krebs would be a great start. Krebs’ recent misfortune may allow him to drop to the Wild because otherwise there was a fair chance he would not be available with our 1st pick at #12.
2. RW – Raphael Lavoie (Halifax, QMJHL) – Montreal, Quebec
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 198lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #20 ISS: #12 Hockey News: #14 Athletic: #24 HockeyProspect.com: #25 Future Considerations: #25
2018-19 Stats: 62GP 32G 41A = 73pts 31 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: Lavoie is a big, skilled right-shot winger who has good scoring instincts and demonstrated some impressive 1-on-1 moves at the Memorial Cup. He moves well for a big man and uses his large frame to protect the puck and win board battles. The Montreal-native has a heavy shot and can fire it quickly and accurately. Lavoie also can distribute the puck and exhibits good on-ice vision. Defensively he is a bit inconsistent, but he does use his reach rather effectively to intercept passes or strip opposing skaters of the puck. Yet at times Lavoie is a bit of hit or miss in terms of his compete level. He can sometimes be the most dominant player on the ice, but at others he seems disengaged. Any team that drafts him will be hoping he can showcase a high compete level more consistently. While he is a big body, he doesn’t throw his weight around as much as he could and can certainly stand to add more strength to his frame.
Bottom Line: He’s a big, skilled winger who has scoring ability, but his varying compete level means he also might make him a bit frustrating to have on the roster. His game reminded me a lot of Alex Tuch or Anthony Mantha. Yet the finishing ability and 1-on-1 skillset in a right shot winger might be too good to pass up, especially if the Wild trade down a bit.
3. RW – Cole Caufield (USNDT, USHL) – Stevens Point, WI
Height: 5’7″ Weight: 157lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #8 ISS: #16 Hockey News: #9 Athletic: #10 HockeyProspect.com: #11 Future Considerations: #12
2018-19 Stats: 64GP 72G 28A = 100pts 39 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: Caufield may not be tall, but he makes his presence felt as a gifted finisher on the U.S. National Development Team. He has ok wheels and makes smart plays with the puck on the move where he likes to dangle by defenders. As much as his finishing ability is lauded by scouts, they also feel his set up skills could use more work but his ability to unleash a laser-like shot whether on the move or just standing still makes him a handful in the offensive zone. He has a knack for finding the dead spots of opposing defenses and then doesn’t need much time to make them pay if someone can get him the puck. Caufield has quick release, and it has good velocity and he can pick corners with the best players available in this draft. The Wisconsin-commit broke Austin Matthews‘ scoring record with the U.S. National Development Team which certainly helped create some pre-draft buzz. Defensively he’s ok, but his size and lack of strength mean he often ends up losing a fair amount of puck battles in the corners. It should be noted that not all scouts appear to be sold on Caufield and some wonder if his skating is good enough in order for hi to be an effective scorer at the NHL level.
Bottom Line: He has two things the Minnesota Wild sorely need both in the present and the future; a right hand shot who is an excellent finisher. Minnesota could certainly use some scoring and Caufield can bury the biscuit. Can he turn out to be another Alex DeBrincat? Some scouts feel he’s overrated making his selection more risky but that also may be a reason why he could still be available at 12th Overall.
4. RW – Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton, OHL) – Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #7 ISS: #28 Hockey News: #18 Athletic: #13 HockeyProspect.com: #34 Future Considerations: #30
2018-19 Stats: 67GP 51G 51A = 102pts 22 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: It is all about the big shot and scoring ability of the Uzbekistan-born, American-raised winger. Kaliyev can dangle and unleash his heavy shot which he did to great effect playing in the OHL as he lit the lamp 51 times this season. While his shot gets a lot of attention, he’s shown great playmaking instincts on the man-advantage and has shown decent on-ice vision to set up teammates making him a perfect power play weapon. However, the concerns are all about Kaliyev’s play when he doesn’t have the puck. Whether its on the forecheck or the backcheck, if he doesn’t have the puck Kaliyev seems to be painfully uninterested in doing either task. His skating has been described as average although some scouts feel he has been holding back but that effort will have to improve if he’s going to play a top 6 role in the NHL which is where his skillset best fits. So there is certainly a risk / reward element, where if you can get him to buy in on doing the less glamorous roles (i.e. forechecking, being defensively responsible) then you could have an outstanding player. Or is he just a one-trick pony?
Bottom Line: A more risk-laden pick given the questions over his compete level, but he may be the most dangerous pure sniper available in this NHL draft. In someways, his game and size mirrors that of Patrik Laine where he can be a lethal weapon on the power play but you may have to be more guarded how you play him in 5-on-5 situations. He’s another player that would probably be available later in the 1st round if the Wild choose to trade down or somehow acquire another selection.
5. C – Alex Newhook (Victoria, BCHL) – St. John’s, Newfoundland
Height: 5’11” Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #13 ISS: #14 Hockey News: #15 Athletic: #11 HockeyProspect.com: #17 Future Considerations: #13
2018-19 Stats: 53GP 38G 64A = 102pts 21 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: The BCHL star had a monster year for Victoria with 102 points, but while the points get you noticed it is the fact he scores at a high rate he does so while still playing a defensively responsible game. Newhook handles the puck like its on a string and his feet are constantly moving as he works to set up teammates or is backchecking or looking to light the lamp himself. He is more of a playmaker than a scorer, but he has a terrific release that is tough for opposing goaltenders to read. The Boston College-commit is not afraid to get his nose dirty and doesn’t mind dishing out hits or going into the corners to dig out pucks. Some scouts feel he could be more explosive in his skating stride but seem to feel it something that can be remedied with more coaching. Strength-wise he’s more advanced than other players on this list and is already a solid 190lbs which will only improve as he takes his game to the NCAA next season.
Bottom Line: Like Krebs, Newhook is a two-way center who plays hard at both ends of the ice and is the kind of set up man that should work well in a Top 6 role with the Wild someday. The main question is whether his scoring playing in the BCHL will translate to the next level.
6. RW – Bobby Brink (Sioux City, USHL) – Excelsior, Minnesota
Height: 5′ 8 1/2″ Weight: 165lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #19 ISS: #23 Hockey News: #27 Athletic: #14 HockeyProspect.com: #15 Future Considerations: #37
2018-19 Stats: 43GP 38G 33A = 68pts 22 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: While the former Minnetonka Skipper rose up the draft charts over the course of the 2018-19 season, he is also one of the more polarizing players of this draft. Scouts believe Brink has that rare ability to slow the game down, masking his intentions and then manipulating defenders to create a lane to either shoot or pass. His release is quick and accurate and has that knack to find the right space on the ice to gather up the puck and bury it. As a set up man he’s deceptive and creative which makes him a dangerous dual-threat player. The place where the Denver commit draws the most criticism is his skating. Scouts either seem to dismiss it as a minor concern or more or less question his viability as a potential NHL prospect because of it. Even those critical of his skating admit he’s reasonably quick and while his skating mechanics may not be smooth, he is not slow or he easy to knock off the puck due to a low center of gravity. He is not going to be a big hitter, but he anticipates very well and seems to be able to go into the corners and extract the puck and get out of there quickly. Brink gets good reviews for his compete level, work ethic and doggedness on the puck and while he’ll need to add strength to his frame he certainly seems to have a lot of the skills you can’t teach.
Bottom Line: Another skilled, but small winger with excellent offensive instincts who is also a right-shot. The risk is whether he can improve his skating enough to make him effective at the NHL level someday. Almost every publication makes comparisons to Brink and Jake Guentzel in terms of his skillset. Yet, his on-ice awareness, hands may make him too good to pass up. He’s another player who would likely be available later in the 1st round, making him another player you could target should the Wild choose to trade down.
So what potential draftee forwards interest you? Who do you feel the Wild should be taking a long look at? Let us know on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!