For NHL draft junkies like myself, the 2019-20 season has had us a bit listless as the normal fun of June was postponed as the league was finalizing its plans to re-start the season and will be holding the NHL Entry Draft in October instead. Excitement and controversy erupted after the league’s initial draft lottery revealed that one of the losers from the play in series would have the 1st overall selection. For fans of those play in clubs, it added a little bit of intrigue as losing the series had a nice consolation prize; or at least the possibility for one. After the play in series completed, the league held its Phase 2 draft lottery and the Wild would have the 9th Overall pick in the draft.
Minnesota selected Matt Boldy with the 12th Overall pick last season and hope to add to a prospect pool which seems a lot deeper after two drafts by ousted General Manager Paul Fenton. With his son P.J. Fenton and scout Ricard Persson at the helm the Wild hope to find the kind of impact talent that will help lead the team for the next decade. Wild GM Bill Guerin made two changes recently with the firings of the Director of Amateur Scouting Darren Yopyk and longtime scout Ernie Vargas who had been with the organization since 2000. In early-ish July, the team then announced it had hired Judd Brackett for the role of Amateur Scouting director. Brackett’s previous team, the Vancouver Canucks had some kind of falling out as they felt he was persuing a job with the Seattle Kraken as the Athletic reported.
The focus of these articles will be on players whom we believe will be available with the 9th Overall pick. Before we look at that we have to consider the team’s needs, so I decided to consult Wild fans and ask them for their thoughts on the subject. Here is how they saw the team’s needs.
So the #NHL is looking at moving up this year’s Entry Draft. What is the #mnwild’s greatest area of need in regards to the team, prospect pool, etc? Please RT @AngryFinn @thoen88 @BraveTheWild @TonyDeanHB @MNSOTA24— Derek Felska (@CreaseAndAssist) May 4, 2020
Of course, the most glaring need for the team is a Top 6 center when you consider the ages of its current top two centers Eric Staal and team captain Mikko Koivu who many believe may be set to retire. Joel Eriksson Ek continues to show promise as does Luke Kunin but neither seem to have the scoring touch necessary to be in that kind of role.
Bill Guerin was adamant that he feels the prospect pool has some depth in all areas and thus he feels strongly the team will take the “best player available.” Boldy had a slow start in his freshman season at Boston College but was red hot by the time the college season was suspended after being put on a line with fellow 2019 1st round pick and Colorado Avalanche prospect and speedy, scoring center Alex Newhook. The Wild have promising young players up front in major junior stars Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) and Adam Beckman (Spokane, WHL). Along with Ontario League prospects Damien Giroux and Ivan Lodnia the team has some quality players in the pipeline and under contract.
As I look at the team, this is what I see as the biggest needs organization-wide. I have created a movement tracker for NHL Central Scouting’s 2020 Final Rankings in case you want to see how the league sees this draft class. I consult a variety of different scouting services like the NHL Central Scouting List, International Scouting Service, the Hockey News, HockeyProspect.com, Future Considerations as well as eliteprospects.com for insight into these draft prospects.
1. A speedy Top-6 center with scoring ability – While the Wild have had a few players you could say were Top 6 centers, and none really possessed a combination of speed and scoring. With a possible elite winger coming into the fold with Kirill Kaprizov and the emergence of Kevin Fiala it would be nice to maximize that talent with a young, speedy and skilled top line calibre center that can work with them.
2. A top-4 defenseman with size and physical skills – More and more teams are using smaller more mobile defenseman, but in the playoffs it often is the defender that brings a dose of sandpaper that can prove to be so crucial to winning and losing those tight games. Soon to be unrestricted free agent Carson Soucy was a revelation last year, but it would be nice to have another defenseman with that body type but can play on the team’s top 4 especially as Ryan Suter gets older and the team may be shipping out one of its smaller finesse defenders in search of help up front in its Top 6.
2. A quality starting goaltender prospect – Some believe the Wild may already possess this player with the promising play of Kaapo Kahkonen who had some of the best numbers in terms of shutouts and save percentage in the American Hockey League, or the high quality play of Hunter Jones in major junior. Yet Devan Dubnyk seemingly supplanted this season by Alex Stalock the future of the starting goaltending position seems to be more fluid than it has been in years. So let’s look at the Top 5 available forwards given the team’s needs.
3. A top-4 defenseman with size and physical skills – More and more teams are using smaller more mobile defenseman, but in the playoffs it often is the defender that brings a dose of sandpaper that can prove to be so crucial to winning and losing those tight games. Soon to be unrestricted free agent Carson Soucy was a revelation last year, but it would be nice to have another defenseman with that body type but can play on the team’s top 4 especially as Ryan Suter gets older and the team may be shipping out one of its smaller finesse defenders in search of help up front in its Top 6.
2020 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Sleepers & Steals
Here are 7 forwards who I think the Wild should take a close look at for the #9 pick.
1. C – Marco Rossi (Ottawa, OHL) Feldkirch, Austria
Height: 5’9″ Weight: 179lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #6 ISS: #7 Hockey News: #
HockeyProspect.com: #8 Future Considerations: #8 TSN: #7
Talent Analysis: The undersized Austrian has impressed with his on-ice intelligence and outstanding vision to both set up teammates and to put himself in a good position to score as he has shined with Ottawa 67’s this season. It stands out in many of his highlights as to how he makes plays on the move and has that rare ability to anticipate openings to shoot or pass. He has tremendous balance and core strength which helps him dominate in battles for the puck. Skating is good, but he’s more quick than having blazing fast speed. Rossi does not shy away from skating into the high traffic areas of the ice to make plays and handles the puck well in tight spaces. He has a quick accurate release and is a great finisher from in close. Rossi’s scoring ability helps draw defenders towards him when he has the puck and he anticipates well to find passing lanes to set up teammates with a crisp, accurate pass. Defensively, he backchecks well and uses his leverage well to battle for pucks. He gets strong reviews for his effort and consistency from shift-to-shift you don’t often hear about it younger players which is a testament to his maturity. Rossi is a fairly complete player who has physically prepared himself pretty well for the rigors of playing at the next level. There is some concern whether the fact he has filled out his frame whether if he has much more physical development potential or has he hit that ceiling already.
Bottom Line: An elite hockey mind that processes quickly and has the ability to both set up teammates and has terrific goal scoring instincts of his own while also being defensively responsible too?! Sounds too good to be true, but Rossi’s small size may have him drop to #9 where the Wild can get that elusive center with speed, scoring ability they’ve always coveted.
2. C – Anton Lundell (IFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) Espoo, Finland
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 187lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #3 (Euro) ISS: #8 Hockey News: # TSN: #12
HockeyProspect.com: #13 Future Considerations: #6
Talent Analysis: You can see why scouts are excited about this center who put up better offensive numbers than Mikko Rantanen and Aleksander Barkov as a junior-age player playing in Finland’s top league. Lundell oozes maturity and poise and has developed the kind of skills you want for a player looking to take that next step in his development. He has a quick, release and has shown he can find that small window above a goalie’s shoulder. He was 54% on his draws playing in the Sm-Liiga and plays responsibly at both ends of the ice. Speed-wise, Lundell gets moving quickly and while he isn’t blazing fast he’s not slow either. He uses his bigger frame to protect the puck well and is a decent set up man. Physically he could be more imposing if he wanted to be, but he plays a well calculated style that will likely endear himself to coaches and teammates alike. That being said, he doesn’t mind getting physically engaged along the wall and has a lot of the hallmarks of a player with a long NHL career ahead of him.
Bottom Line: He’s a top 6 calibre center who already possesses good size, strength and the kind of attention to detail in both the offensive and defensive zone that will make him a franchise mainstay for years. Yet the caveat on this kid is whether he’s going to be a scorer at the next level or is he Mikko Koivu 2.0 who teases with offensive ability but just doesn’t shoot the puck nearly enough. Yet if anyone wants to talk the Wild’s history of going with the ‘safe pick’ Lundell fits that paradigm.
3. C/RW – Seth Jarvis (Portland, WHL) Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height: 5’10” Weight: 172lbs Shoots: Right
NHL Central Scouting: #11 Hockey News: # TSN: #18
HockeyProspect.com: #7 Future Considerations: #11
Talent Analysis: A highly competitive and intense player, Jarvis always seems to be making good things happen in the offensive zone. He has outstanding hands and is a terrific stickhandler and finisher. He has good on-ice awareness to be able to set up teammates. His passes are usually very crisp although at times they can lack accuracy, but his decision-making is such that he quickly evaluates where his passing lanes are and doesn’t give up many turnovers. Jarvis has good explosiveness in his first few strides which allow him to quickly scoot away from defenders but he doesn’t possess elite speed. Even though he needs to add strength to his frame, he powers through checks surprisingly well and doesn’t shy away from battles for the puck along the boards. He also was an effective penalty killer for the Winterhawks. Jarvis’ shot is more one of accuracy than of raw power. He is the kind of player that can find the smallest of shooting windows or thread a shot through traffic that the goalie doesn’t see until its in the back of the net. The Winnipeg-native doesn’t hesitate to go into the tough areas of the ice and he also demonstrates great hustle even without the puck as he’ll work to get it back. Jarvis makes his teammates better and can take over a game and win it for you with his great anticipation and initiative.
Bottom Line: A competitive right-shot center / right wing who can score but also contributes defensively. He is kind of a sneaky good scorer, and has that ability to take over a game. He kind of reminds me of Anthony Beauvillier and I’ve heard others make some comparisons to Mitch Marner which is obviously quite complimentary. Jarvis is the kind of player who makes teammates better and gives you great effort at both ends of the ice.
4. RW – Alexander Holtz (Djugardens, SHL) Saltso-Boo, Sweden
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 183lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #2 (Euro) Hockey News: # TSN McKenzie: #9
HockeyProspect.com: #9 Future Considerations: #5 TSN Button: #11
Talent Analysis: There are some players who enjoy the satisfaction of a well-executed pass, and there others who just love to rip it on goal. Holtz is one of the latter as he’s one of the most pure snipers of this draft class. He put up respectable numbers playing against men in Sweden’s top league and a big reason for that is his quick accurate release that catches goalies off guard with how fast the puck comes off his stick. Holtz likes to find the dead spots of the ice and is ready to pounce on the one-timer. He has decent speed but where he really stands out in his anticipation of where he needs to be to put himself in prime position to score. Holtz can also use his tendency to shoot to be a sneaky playmaker as he will draw defenders towards him only to thread a well-executed backdoor pass. At times his want to go on the attack offensively can get the best of him as sometimes he likes to guess that his team is going to get possession of the puck and he’s already trying to race out towards the opponent’s end of the ice. He is a one-dimensional player at this point, and still needs to round out his defensive game to be able to perform at the next level but he has that one skill you can’t teach that every team wants.
Bottom Line: The winger is a right-hand shot sniper with reasonable straight-line speed. He plays the game with a goal scorers mentality and has the hands to light the lamp a lot. He reminds me a lot of David Pastrnak. The only question mark is can he create enough of those opportunities himself or does he need a quality playmaker to bring about his full potential.
5. C – Dawson Mercer (Chicoutimi, QMJHL) Carbonear, Newfoundland
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 179lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #10 ISS: #12 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #12
Future Considerations: #12 Bob McKenzie: #13
Talent Analysis: After tearing it up with Drummondville, Mercer was a late season ‘ringer’ kind of a trade as Chicoutimi wanted to push for a Memorial Cup only to have it thwarted by Covid-19. Mercer is a right shot center who might be better suited as a winger with good scoring instincts who likes to crash the crease. He has that Patrick Kane-like ability to avoid taking the big hit and in the next moment he’s moving into the slot for a scoring chance. He is an excellent skater with a powerful first few strides which help him gain a step on would-be defenders but he isn’t blazing fast. I think NHL coaches will want to see him making more plays at top speed than what you have seen him do in major junior where he’s benefiting from the kind of time and space he is not likely to see at the next level. Like many players his age he still needs to fill out his frame and hone his defensive game to be able to play effectively at the next level.
Bottom Line: He is a right-shot center who likes to pull the trigger but does not shy away from the high traffic areas of the ice. Mercer handles the puck well in tight spaces and does not need much time to make the right decision with the puck. The Wild have never had a right shot center with a shoot first mentality like Mercer has.
6. C – Dylan Holloway (Wisconsin, Big 10) Calgary, Alberta
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 192lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #12 Hockey News: # TSN: #16
HockeyProspect.com: #15 Future Considerations: #10
Talent Analysis: The Calgary-native had a strong freshman season for the Badgers as he impressed scouts with a well-rounded game and demonstrated some offensive potential that could be honed into being a Top 6 center. He skates well and is strong on the puck. Holloway brings good speed and also has physical edge to his game that you don’t often see in freshman and plays a style of game that is more about doing the little things right than being flashy. He didn’t get as much time on the power play as he was behind some pretty talented players with the Badgers but his consistency from game to game was very noticeable and many feel he will put up much better numbers once he’s given more opportunities. The former Okotoks (AJHL) standout is already physically mature and will continue to fill out his average-sized frame. Defensively he plays a responsible game you don’t often see from freshman but he still managed to chip in offense which speaks to his potential and versatility down the road.
Bottom Line: He is a center with good instincts and makes decisive plays whether to shoot or pass in the offensive areas of the ice. Holloway is a smart player who leans more on potential as a prospect than the dazzle and flash of players listed above him on this list. If the team wants to trade down, he’s probably still a viable target if you drop back 3-5 spots.
7. C – Ridly Greig (Brandon, WHL) Lethbridge, Alberta
Height: 5’11” Weight: 159lbs Shoots: Left
NHL Central Scouting: #14 Hockey News: # TSN McKenzie: #24
HockeyProspect.com: #7 Future Considerations: #54 TSN Button: #30
Talent Analysis: The son of former NHL’er Mark Grieg, Ridly is a center who combines dogged competitiveness with a high hockey IQ and skill. He has great on-ice vision and makes the right decision consistently in the offensive zone. The Lethbridge-native has that subtle skill of opening up passing or shooting lanes with a looks or small movements. He likes to pull the trigger and was often used on the wing when the Wheat Kings were on the power play this season where’s he’s a true dual threat to shoot or pass which accounted for a fair portion of his offensive production. His passes have the right pace given the situation and he does not shy away from moving into the middle of the ice to make plays or to change the shooting angle. Grieg is a natural forechecker and uses his speed and stick to put opponents in uncomfortable positions and thus creates a lot of turnovers. His hard charging style grates on his opponents’ nerves and he draws a lot of retaliatory penalties in the process. He has a good shot and demonstrates the same kind of selective nature as his passes where he recognizes when he should go for the corner or when to rip a shot low to generate a rebound for a crashing winger to bury. Grieg has the hands to score from in close but doesn’t mind shooting from the circles or even the point if the opportunity presents itself. Defensively, his puck pursuit makes him a solid penalty killer which gives an element of versatility to his game that makes him more of a safe pick.
Bottom Line: A competitive, center who has good on-ice vision and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in the tough areas of the ice. While he will definitely need to add more muscle to his frame to help make him a bit more explosive in his skating, he has the kind of ‘want to’ you want to see from a Top 6 center prospect. His dogged determination at both ends of the ice make him a natural agitator much the same way Joel Eriksson Ek drives opponents crazy, except he has a greater offensive upside. He would probably be a center the Wild could get if it decided to trade back a few spots in the 1st round or possibly an early 2nd round selection.
I decided not to include centers like Connor Zary, Hendrix Lapierre, Mavrik Bourque and Brendan Brisson mainly because they all sound like very skilled players with average skating ability. In my opinion, the Wild have really compounded many of their issues by not valuing speed and skating enough. And if that is to change, they have to give that skill area more importance moving forward and I think Wild GM Bill Guerin appreciates that from his days spent in Pittsburgh’s front office where team speed played a big role in the Penguins’ success.
What forwards stand out to you? Tell us what you think on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!