For Paul Fenton, it was an auspicious start to his tenure as the Minnesota Wild’s new general manager. The NHL Entry Draft was his first opportunity to make an impression on the fanbase. Since Fenton was considered a ‘draft guru’ prior to arriving in Minnesota, fans were excited to see how he’d handle a draft. Their pick, at 24th Overall was Filip Johansson who was greeted by a collective ‘who?’ lament by Wild draft junkies like myself.
Or did it really happen that way at all? Michael Russo revealed on a recent TalkNorth podcast the Johansson selection did not come from Assistant GM Brent Flahr as many had thought at the time but perhaps another member of the Wild scouting staff. Either way, it was a pretty questionable selection then and whether its fair or not he did little to justify their choice with his play this season.
The pick was so far just about every draft board, that some draft publications didn’t have Johansson in their Top 100. The fact he was just 6’0″, 176lbs with limited offensive ability appeared to catch just about everyone at the draft by surprise. As it became reported that some teams had Johansson pegged to go as late as the 7th round, as many questioned the prudence of the selection. The young right-hand shot defenseman did not help quell those questions by having a lousy season for Leksand IF in Sweden’s 2nd tier league. Even Johansson seemed to be questioning himself by season’s end.
Jared Spurgeon is expected to get another nice raise as Minnesota’s most consistent puck-moving defenseman, and the trade rumors continue to swirl about Jonas Brodin as one wonders if he fits into what Fenton feels is best for the Wild blueline. Louie Belpedio had a solid season in Iowa, and Brennan Menell led Iowa blueliners in points with 44 in 70 games. Carson Soucy had a solid season as a big, stay-at-home defenseman as well. But if the team does consider dealing Spurgeon or Brodin for forward help this summer drafting a top 4 blueliner makes a lot of sense.
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 defenseman list (of likely available defenseman) when I go to make my first selection with the 12th Overall pick.
1. LD – Thomas Harley (Mississauga, OHL) – Syracuse, NY
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 183lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #11 ISS: #15 Hockey News: #13 Athletic: #29
HockeyProspect.com: #19 Future Considerations: #18
2018-19 Stats: 68GP 11G 47A = 58pts 24 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: The Syracuse-native is a tall puck moving defenseman who demonstrates above average creativity with the puck. While he isn’t blessed with tremendous speed he anticipates well and shows the understanding of when to join the rush and when to stay back. He has an excellent wrist shot which he has demonstrated a knack for putting it on goal through traffic and is very decisive and precise on his passes. In his own end, he uses his reach effectively to deny the middle of the ice. Yet his game isn’t without some issues. At times his compete level varies between engaged, taking the initiative to drive the play and at times he seems disinterested or even a little lazy. This was especially true on dump in’s from the opponent and didn’t seem to really want to win the race for the puck. Despite having a prototypical NHL defenseman-sized frame he is not very physical and prefers to stick check instead. His skillset makes him a candidate for a team’s top-4, if he can establish more consistency in his compete level.
Bottom Line: A two-way defenseman who is probably a bit better in the offensive zone than in his own end. Harley has a decent shot and is a decent puck distributor but will he battle hard enough to not be a liability at the NHL level? The size, skating and instincts are there, he just needs to add a bit more jam to his game.
2. RD – Moritz Seider (Mannheim, DEL) – Zell, Germany
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 198lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #6 Euro ISS: #27 Hockey News: #22 Athletic: #35
HockeyProspect.com: #10 Future Considerations: #16
2018-19 Stats: 29GP 2G 9A = 11pts 8 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: Named the DEL’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ he did not look out of place competing men in his own country nor did he look overwhelmed in the World Championships this spring playing for the German national team. That maturity, both mentally and physically is what makes Seider one of the more intriguing talents available in this draft. Seider is a two-way defenseman who has good mobility for a player his size and brings a coveted right-shot as a bonus. He plays a smart defensive game using his reach to keep skaters from the middle of the ice and using his body effectively to separate them from the puck. Seider appeared to get more comfortable as the season wore on, and you started to see him take the initiative to activate in the offensive zone and the confidence continued to build by the time he played in the World Championships. When pressured in his own end with the puck he can change direction quickly to elude forecheckers and can make a strong first pass out of the zone. He doesn’t mind dishing out hits and has that ability to stymie the rush by reading the play and being decisive in regards to taking away the pass or challenging the shooter. There is a lot to like about Seider’s game.
Bottom Line: A smart, mobile, two-way defenseman with size who has a full season competing against men. Seider can be physical, and his offensive game is still developing. He is the type of defenseman that could be a cornerstone of your team’s Top-4 for years.
3. LD – Ville Heinola (Lukko, SHL) – Honkajoki, Finland
Height: 5’11” Weight: 176lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #4 Euro ISS: #33 Hockey News: #20 Athletic: #21
HockeyProspect.com: #16 Future Considerations: #21
2018-19 Stats: 34GP 2G 12A = 14pts 26 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: Like Seider, Heinola spent the season playing in his nation’s top league and didn’t look out of place either. Heinola is high-end offensive defenseman who oozes creativity in the offensive zone. He does a great job of moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes and is not afraid to dart towards the middle of the ice to open up opportunities for his teammates and displays excellent vision. While his shot isn’t a bomb, he finds a way to get it on goal and is very comfortable handling the puck. Defensively he plays a smart game, demonstrating good gap control and funneling opposing skaters to the boards instead of letting them move into the middle of the ice. At times he’s a bit tentative to chase for pucks in his own zone, but overall he was not a defensive liability but it will still be an area he must improve if he wants to play in the NHL. He needs to add strength to maximize his natural gifts, but he has great on-ice intelligence and plenty of flare who reminds me a lot of Jared Spurgeon.
Bottom Line: He’s mobile, puck moving offensive defenseman who has great creativity and comfort with the puck. While he doesn’t have a lot of size he makes up for it by playing a smart game and with a bit more strength he could become a player in the Torey Krug / Jared Spurgeon mold.
4. LD – Matthew Robertson (Edmonton, WHL) – Edmonton, Alberta
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 201lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #26 ISS: #17 Hockey News: #31 Athletic: #41
HockeyProspect.com: #48 Future Considerations: #19
2018-19 Stats: 52GP 7G 26A = 33pts 26 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: A big, smooth-skating two-way defenseman who has speed but he isn’t overly adept with the puck and in some ways is a very raw but gifted player. While his offensive game is sort of a work in progress as he is still learning when he should pinch and when he shouldn’t, but in his own end he’s excellent. Robertson has good gap control and uses his body effectively to separate opponents from the puck as well as battling for pucks along the boards. At times he shows flashes of greater offensive potential as he moves laterally to open up lanes to shoot or pass the puck on the power play, but he has also had his share of gaffes and turnovers. But on the positive side he has a cannon of a shot, and he’s just starting to get comfortable with it. He is more of project defenseman, but he has lot of very desirable physical tools and once he puts it all together you could have a top-4 defenseman that is solid at both ends of the ice.
Bottom Line: A bigger defenseman who skates and defends well but still needs time to polish out parts of his offensive game. He’s a player who will likely be available later in the 1st round and would be good candidate for selection if the Wild decide to trade down or added another 1st round pick.
5. LD – Ryan Johnson (Sioux Falls, USHL) – Irvine, California
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 161lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #33 ISS: #50 Hockey News: #29 Athletic: #59
HockeyProspect.com: #20 Future Considerations: #42
2018-19 Stats: 54GP 6G 19A = 25pts 26 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: The son of former Golden Gopher Craig Johnson, he is a small-ish puck moving defenseman that has an intriguing skillset but some frustrating tendencies as well. He is a smooth skating defenseman, who is super comfortable with the puck and is very elusive. Johnson has that instinct to spin or turn away from hits and can quickly accelerate to squeeze through small lanes on the ice when carrying the puck. His other big strength is his knack for breaking up the opposing rush. Johnson steps up at just the right time to deliver a hit or stand up a forward. In that capacity he almost reminds me of Adam Foote repeatedly standing up Marian Gaborik to keep him from using his speed to just blaze on by him. But as I said earlier he has some frustrating tendencies that may provide a bit of caution. When an opposing forward knocks him down or beats him on a play, he will sometimes retaliate or is rather slow in chasing that player down which would indicate he lacks a bit of maturity. He also has a tendency to overhandle the puck and sometimes will cough it up by trying to be a bit too cute with it. Coaches will not be too patient with a player who floats back after someone skates by him and that is something he’ll definitely have to remedy when he goes to play for the Golden Gophers next fall. His shot is ok, but he didn’t get a lot of opportunities on the man advantage as much as he should have.
Bottom Line: He’s a skilled, smooth skating defenseman who has an intriguing mix of skill offensively and shut down ability in his own end. With some more coaching and physical and mental maturity he could develop into a Top-4 option at the NHL level.
6. RD – Lassi Thomson (Kelowna, WHL) – Tampere, Finland
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 187lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #15 ISS: #36 Hockey News: #36 Athletic: #39
HockeyProspect.com: #28 Future Considerations: #48
2018-19 Stats: 63GP 17G 24A = 41pts 40 PIM’s
Talent Analysis: He is a smooth skating defenseman and puck mover that uses his mobility effectively to carry the puck and plays a decent two-way game. Thomson’s skating is complimented by the fact he’s very comfortable with the puck on his stick and uses his body to protect it and hold off opposing skaters. His speed is reasonable, but may add more explosiveness by adding some muscle. Thomson has a decent and accurate shot that he can unleash quickly and even on the move and is a natural power play quarterback where he opens up passing and shooting lanes with his skating and the fact he’s a dual threat to either shoot or pass. Defensively is where he has some issues. On the positive side of things, he has a physical element to his game and if he’s beaten he hustles back and does his best to recover. However, in his own end, he can lose track of his coverage and look a bit lost. Also at times he’ll make some questionable decisions with the puck in his own end that can lead to costly turnovers. The hope is he can work out those mental mistakes with more coaching and seasoning, but he has a lot of other things you want and he’s a right shot too. He is expected to return to Finland and play in the Sm-Liiga next season for Ilves.
Bottom Line: A right-shot, puck moving defenseman with lots of offensive ability who still has to work out some issues in his own end the ice. He’s another player who would probably be available later in the 1st round, but with a skillset that sounds a lot like Matthew Dumba’s, just minus the big open ice hits. Another defenseman with Top-4 potential.
So what potential draftee defensemen 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!