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Statistics are a funny thing. You can spin them to make a person sound good and often you can use them to suggest the opposite. For the Minnesota Wild, statistics would indicate starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been among the most successful since the club traded for him in the 2014-15 season as he’s been among the top 10 in wins. However, when you look a bit closer you can see where Dubnyk may not have been as sharp as his win-loss record would indicate as he had one of the worst save percentages among starting goaltenders when his team was on the penalty kill.
What was that, no big deal, he’s not the Wild’s only goaltender. Afterall we have Alex Stalock signed for another 3 seasons, right?! Sure, we have Stalock signed for another 3 seasons but at this point the team seems to only have one goaltender it really wants to play and that’s Dubnyk. That means the Wild’s fortunes are often tied to how well or how poorly he performs. Even a slight dip in Dubnyk’s play usually results in the team going on a losing streak.
In his first season playing in North America, Kaapo Kahkonen dazzled by leading the American Hockey League with 6 shutouts. Especially as the Wild had their share of struggles in the crease, some felt Kahkonen should get some playing time. He got a call up, but only watched from the bench and didn’t see any time for the Iowa Wild as they made their first playoff run this spring as Andrew Hammond asserted himself as the go to puckstopper. The 23-year old Finn struggled in the 2nd half, but still he seems to be a decent goaltending prospect. The team also signed Mat Robson as a free agent to give themselves some more goaltending depth. But neither is considered at this point to be a true heir apparent to the starting goaltender spot for the Minnesota Wild.
There is an old NHL draft axiom, “Never draft a goaltender in the 1st round” and while most teams live by that axiom, every now and then a goaltender will be available that is simply too good to wait until the later rounds to pick up (i.e. Marc-Andre Fleury, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price). However, drafting goaltenders is a bit of a cautionary tale and the main reason teams avoid using their 1st round selection on them is because it often takes 4-5 years to develop one properly before they are able to contribute to your team. Rookie and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jordan Binnington was a 3rd round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2011.
Now to connect the dots a bit between the Minnesota Wild and this idea of drafting a goaltender in the 1st round. To this point the Wild have never drafted a goaltender with its 1st round pick. The closest they have come to that was when they drafted Josh Harding (2nd round, 38th Overall) in 2002. When Wild GM Paul Fenton was with the Nashville Predators, which as an organization has shown a decent knack for drafting decent goaltenders they drafted two goaltenders in the 1st round in franchise history in Brian Finley (1999) and Chet Pickard (2008). Both Finley and Pickard turned out to be draft busts. Luckily for Nashville they had far better luck selecting goalies in the later rounds as they drafted Pekka Rinne (8th round, 258th Overall) in 2004 and Juuse Saros (4th round, 99th Overall) in 2013 hasn’t been bad either. As you can see, drafting a goalie in the 1st round is a risk-laden move.
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 goaltender list (of likely available goaltenders) when I go to make my first selection with the 12th Overall pick.
1. Spencer Knight (USNDT, USHL) – Darien, Connecticut
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 198lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #1 NA ISS: #1 Hockey News: #19 Athletic: #45
HockeyProspect.com: #1 Future Considerations: #32
2018-19 Stats: 16GP (15-1-0) 2.21GAA .903%SP 1SO
Talent Analysis: The consensus #1 goaltender available in the draft, he has size, intelligence and athleticism and the collection of intangibles that make him one of the most complete goaltending prospects to come around in a long while. He is very precise and efficient in his movements and body positioning which means he doesn’t open up many holes for shooters to exploit. His rebound control is superb and has shown an ability to make quick adjustments to stay in front of deflected pucks. Knight is also an adept puckhandler and has the skill to be comfortable leaving his crease and stopping dump in’s and making that first pass. His game oozes maturity and calmness under fire that boosts the confidence of any team that he plays on. The Boston College-commit doesn’t have any significant flaws to his game.
Bottom Line: He has all of the physical and mental intangibles you could want in a future NHL starter. The potential seems to be the highest of any goaltender available in this draft and its an almost certainty he goes in the 1st round, but will the Wild take him if he’s available at #12?
2. Mads Sogaard (Medicine Hat, WHL) – Aalborg, Denmark
Height: 6’7″ Weight: 196lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #2 NA ISS: #2 Hockey News: #60 Athletic: #65
HockeyProspect.com: #2 Future Considerations: #59
2018-19 Stats: 37GP (19-8-2-2) 2.64GAA .921%SP 3SO
Talent Analysis: Scouts are just about in complete agreement that if Knight is your #1 goalie then Sogaard is your #2 best goaltending prospect available in this draft. The Danish-born goaltender is huge and yet moves very well for his size. He has terrific reflexes and demonstrates tremendous competitiveness in the crease to make saves. Sogaard can transition pretty well from a standing position to being in the butterfly but he doesn’t commit to his pads too early. For the most part he anticipates the play and shooters well but at times he can get caught guessing but those moments are few and far between. His glove is adequate, but its not exceptional. Sogaard recovers reasonably well for a big man, but at times he simply resorts to flopping and making himself as big as he can. Yet there are few flaws in his game.
Bottom Line: Definite starter potential with Sogaard’s mix of size and ability to move. Can added strength help his recovery time and turn him into an elite goaltender. He’s probably not a 1st round pick, but it is extremely unlikely he’ll make it out 2nd round. Just way too much size and potential to pass up.
3. Pyotr Kochetkov (SKA St. Petersburg, VHL) ~ Penza, Russia
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 205lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #1 Euro ISS: # Hockey News: #75 Athletic: #82
HockeyProspect.com: #3 Future Considerations: #148
2018-19 Stats: 18GP 2.13GAA .930%SP
Talent Analysis: An older player in the draft with a 1999 birthday in a draft of 2001-born players, he brings prototypical NHL-size and plenty of intangibles coaches look for in a potential starting goaltender prospect. His ability to analyze the play and anticipate where shooters are trying to go are what separate him from many other goaltenders available in this draft. He normally prefers to block shots aside, but he does so in such a way where he gives up very few dangerous rebounds. Kochetkov stays calm and under control even as he finds players hammering away at the puck at point blank range which is a sign of his maturity. But at times he doesn’t calculate his angles properly which can give shooters windows to shoot at or exploit with well executed pass. Another disturbing trait is that when he does get off his angle, he doesn’t put himself back on the right angle immediately almost like he’s resigned to getting scored on as he realizes he made a mistake. Still he has some intriguing potential.
Bottom Line: On the video clip below, Kochetkov’s highlight from this year’s U-20 World Junior Championships is near the end and its about as good as it gets. He does a decent job of making use of his big frame, but he still has to work on being more precise in his angles to be a capable NHL goaltender. If he can figure it out, a team might have an elite level goaltender on their hands. He’s probably not a 1st round pick, but its doubtful he’ll last beyond the 2nd round.
4. Dustin Wolf (Everett, WHL) – Tustin, California
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 161lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #12 NA ISS: N/A Hockey News: #84 Athletic: #61
HockeyProspect.com: #5 Future Considerations: #82
2018-19 Stats: 61GP (41-15-2-2) 1.69GAA .936%SP 7SO
Talent Analysis: As one of the smaller goaltenders available in this draft, he has a steep challenge ahead of him to prove to NHL clubs they should give him a chance. Wolf makes up for his lack of size with great athleticism and agility. He is very efficient in his movement in the crease, calculating the angle and squaring up to the shooter and making himself as big as he can be. He has a fantastic glove hand and even with traffic near his crease he seems to always be in the right spot because his puck tracking is elite. Wolf has demonstrated great patience in confronting breakaway chances and doesn’t commit until the last possible second. His rebound control is solid and despite some of his acrobatic saves, he appears calm and under control. He still needs to fill out his frame and perhaps that will make him even more quick in his post-to-post movement which is good but not great. Wolf doesn’t really have any holes in his game, but he has to be about perfect in order to get NHL teams to get over the fact he’s undersized.
Bottom Line: Wolf is an small-ish goaltender in the Juuse Saros or Alex Stalock kind of mold. He plays bigger than his size, and he certainly will be available later in the draft but can teams ignore that he’s just 6’0″ tall when that kind of goalie is almost non-existent in today’s big goalie NHL?
5. Hunter Jones (Peterborough, OHL) ~ Brantford, Ontario
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 197lbs Catches: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #3 ISS: Hockey News: #81 Athletic: N/A
HockeyProspect.com: #4 Future Considerations: #146
2018-19 Stats: 57GP (28-24-2-2) 3.31GAA .902%SP 3SO
Talent Analysis: He is another prototypical big, goaltending prospect who has the size to deny the net and yet moves well in his crease. Peterborough was one of the OHL’s worst teams, so he saw a lot of rubber this season. He transitions well from post-to-post as well as from a standing position to being down on his pads. His glove hand is great and he resembles a vacuum cleaner in the way he keeps those pucks when he flashes out his arm. Jones is precise on his angles and when he’s dialed in he absorbs pucks and gives shooters very little to shoot at. He’s a battler and doesn’t give up on pucks, even when his team would be trailing by a few goals. Unfortunately, when he gets tired the fundamentals start to fall apart (like his rebound control) and pucks start to find the back of the net. He also has a tendency to stay deeper in his crease and this doesn’t always take full advantage of his size. He will need to take more steps to improve his conditioning and stamina so those errors created by fatigue do not continue to haunt him but he still has a lot of the tools any team would want.
Bottom Line: With improved conditioning he has the potential to be a possible starting goalie or at the very least a competent NHL back up goaltender in the future. Probably not a 1st rounder, but certainly a player you’d look to draft in the mid-rounds.
6. Isaiah Saville (Tri-City, USHL) ~ Anchorage, Alaska
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 193lbs Catches: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #13 ISS: Hockey News: #86 Athletic: #88
HockeyProspect.com: N/A Future Considerations: #61
2018-19 Stats: 34GP (25-4-2-1) 1.90GAA .925%SP 4SO
Talent Analysis: Similar to Dustin Wolf, Saville is a slightly undersized goaltending prospect who brings a lot of athleticism and unique style of play to go along with a rare right-hand catching game to the the crease. He was the USHL’s 2018-19 ‘Goaltender of the Year’ and is more about blocking shots than nabbing them out of the air with the glove. In fact, his glove is just ok and at times he’s guilty of fumbling with the puck a bit. He moves efficiently from post-to-post and plays most of the game on his pads compared to the other goaltenders listed above but he does an excellent job of staying square to the shooter. Saville tracks pucks well through traffic and has decent rebound control considering his preference to block pucks instead of catching them. He rarely ventures out of his crease to play pucks and prefers to keep it simple. Committed to play at Nebraska-Omaha at the college level he probably best projects as a bit of a project goaltender.
Bottom Line: Athletic, with an unorthodox style and glove hand he brings a little flare to any crease he gets the opportunity to play in. So far he’s had a fair amount of success with his own blocking-style of goaltending but will that translate well at the NHL level. Teams will have to consider him to be a bit more of a work in progress as there are certainly parts of his game that need refinement. But we’ve seen this work out reasonable well before as was the case when the Wild drafted Anton Khudobin who has been a decent backup at the NHL level. He’s certainly not a 1st round pick, but a later round pick might be worth it.
So what potential draftee goaltenders 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!