Two seasons ago, when defenseman Ryan Suter broke his talus bone on what looked like a relatively mundane play, the Minnesota Wild organization had to have its heart skip a beat. The team’s franchise defenseman’s career appeared to be in jeopardy and had a high-stakes surgery to put the fracture back together and hope it worked out. He had to stay off his ankle for months, and then went through an aggressive rehab to return for the start 2018-19 season. With the apocalyptic cap recapture nightmare averted the Wild could breathe a sigh of relief but it did force the team to consider the long-term health of its time on ice leading defenseman.
Suter is 35 years old and while he had another solid season in 2019-20, the team would be wise to consider looking for players to fill in spots to its top 4 defenseman. The team acquired prospect defenseman Calen Addison as part of the Jason Zucker trade and along with quality AHL blueliners with Louie Belpedio waiting in the wings. AHL All Star Brennan Menell didn’t want to wait for the Wild to give him the ice time and opportunity he felt he deserved so he bolted to the KHL which puts the Wild’s depth at defense a bit thin. The Wild now have no choice but to wait for either underwhelming prospect Filip Johansson, or hulking giant Fedor Gordeev to surprise or Boston College’s Marshall Warren to continue his development.
When I asked Wild fan what they felt about the team’s need here is what they had to say.
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
As you can tell from the poll, fans see the team needs more help up front than on its blueline. I would agree with this sentiment as the team is currently constructed. Yet with the never ending discussion about whether to trade Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba for forward help the thought of having another Top 4 defenseman waiting in the wings might be a smart idea.
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, 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 top line caliber center that can work with them.
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.
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.
So let’s look at the Top 6 available defenseman given the team’s needs.
1. RD – Jamie Drysdale (Erie, OHL) Toronto, Ontario
Height: 5’11” Weight: 170lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #3 ISS: #3 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #12
Future Considerations: #7 Bob McKenzie: #4
Talent Analysis: Drysdale an elite puck moving defenseman who helps make those he plays with play better and raising their game in the process. He is smooth skating defenseman who rarely seems rushed or frantic and his hockey mind just processes the game at a faster level than most players. He can help lead the breakout of the zone with a crisp 1st pass that coaches love. He doesn’t take foolish risks offensive that would compromise his ability to defend. Like many young players he needs to keep adding strength, but the more opportunity he’s given the better he seems to play which means he is a solid top pairing defenseman prospect. His shot is decent and he seems to like to use quick wrist shot from the point that causes havoc whenever it goes on goal which helps set up secondary chances for his teammates. The best defenseman available in this draft who may be good enough to be NHL ready in a season or less.
Bottom Line: He is a mobile puck-moving defenseman NHL teams seem to covet, a player who moves the puck well and is a big part of supporting possession and helping teams sustain the attack. Toss in the fact Drysdale is a right shot and he is a rare and sought-after player as the top blueliner available in this draft.
2. LD – Jake Sanderson (USNDT, USHL) Whitefish, Montana
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 185lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #4 ISS: #11 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #5
Future Considerations: #17 Bob McKenzie: #8
Talent Analysis: Sanderson is a defenseman who possesses excellent mobility and rarely seems frantic or panicked at either end of the ice. He can handle the puck well and side step defenders near the blueline to open up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone and has the speed necessary to stay with even the fastest opposing skaters. His shot typically has decent velocity and is low-lying which makes it ideal for setting up defelections and causing goaltenders trouble by creating rebound opportunities. He has a knack for getting shots through traffic and on goal which helps set up secondary chances for his teammates. Sanderson is the kind of defenseman that can help set the tempo of a game when he’s on the ice. He’s not the most physical player, but his skating allows him to have good gap control and he reads the play well. Adding strength will help him be more of a factor in his own end of the ice. At times he seems a bit lost when he doesn’t have the puck and at times when he can get caught overhandling it in the offensive zone. The Whitefish, Montana-native also has great bloodlines as he is the son of former NHL’er Geoff Sanderson.
Bottom Line: Perhaps the best-skating defenseman available in this draft with a knack for helping generate offense with his hard low-lying shot. He has the ability to join the rush and then the speed to recover defensively. Sanderson has the skillset that makes him an ideal fit for a Top 4 role defensively and has good offensive potential to build on.
3. RD – Braden Schneider (Brandon, WHL) Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 209lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #9 ISS: #13 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #11
Future Considerations: #27 Bob McKenzie: #17
Talent Analysis: A defensive-minded defenseman who already possesses good strength and above average size he is the type of player who would be best described as a ‘warrior’ on the ice. He is physical without getting too carried away in dishing out hits, but he’s mobile and has above average skill so he is a capable puck mover who uses his frame well to protect the puck. He uses his wingspan and mobility well to take deny shooting and passing lanes and consistently forces opposing forwards to the perimeter. Schneider has a decent right-hand shot, he tends to be a bit more conservative in offensive situations but he did show a bit more offensive flair this season meaning there is potential to grow in this part of his game. He is the kind of defenseman that, once fully developed is a pain to play against.
Bottom Line: Schneider is a physical defenseman who plays a solid two-way game and possesses a coveted right shot as well. He likes to close the gap and be physical on opposing forwards and at times he will join the rush or pinch down low to help out the attack.
4. LD – Kaiden Guhle (Prince Albert, WHL) Sherwood Park, Alberta
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 187lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #8 ISS: #14 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #22
Future Considerations: #28 Bob McKenzie: #14
Talent Analysis: Guhle is an impressive athletic defenseman who moves extremely well and has lot of intriguing tools to his game. His athleticism is best exhibited in his skating which is silky smooth and he can move like forward with the explosiveness in his stride. He plays with a physical edge to his game and likes to step up on opposing forwards, but at times he can get caught being a little too aggressive. The Sherwood Park-native makes a good first pass out of the zone and while he has the athleticism to join the rush, he is more of a teaser offensively than being a big point producer. At times his decision-making could use some work as he doesn’t always read the play as much as he sometimes gets caught watching the puck. He also has a tendency to panic a bit with the puck when pressured heavily, so he has some parts of his game that he’ll need to work on. However, the athletic gifts give any team who drafts him a lot to build upon.
Bottom Line: He’s an athletic defenseman who is still rounding out some of the decision-making aspects of the game. He has terrific mobility and plays the game with an edge. With further development, he could be a really nice addition to a team’s Top 4. Guhle would likely be available later in the 1st round.
5. LD – William Wallinder (Modo Jr., Swe. Jr.) Soleftea, Sweden
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 192lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #14 (Euro) Craig Button: #18 Hockey News: #
HockeyProspect.com: #45 Future Considerations: #49 Bob McKenzie: #27
Talent Analysis: Wallinder is a big defenseman who has great mobility and agility for a player of his size. He plays a strong two-way game where he looks for chances to get involved offensively and can be a physically tenacious defender. He coud use his size a bit more effectively in board battles and also does a great job of denying time and space using his big wingspan and reach. While he finds opportunities to blast away with his big shot, but he too often telegraphs passes making them potentially dangerous as turnovers. Also, he at times struggles handling the puck when he’s moving at top speed. He would be best served keeping things simple when he has the puck but his willingness to be involved at both ends is encouraging and with some development he could be a bit of a diamond in the rough in the mold of a Colton Parayko.
Bottom Line: A big, mobile defenseman with a big shot and a willingness and the ability to be involved at both ends of the ice. He is probably better suited as a 2nd round or later selection given he’s a bit more of a project but he could be a nice Top 4 addition if developed properly.
6. RD – Justin Barron (Halifax, QMJHL) Halifax, Nova Scotia
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 187lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #16 ISS: #23 Hockey News: # HockeyProspect.com: #46
Future Considerations: #33 Bob McKenzie: #25
Talent Analysis: Barron is another defenseman that has little size, moves very well and can play competently at both ends of the ice. His speed allows him to win races for pucks in his own end and uses his mobility in combination with a good active stick to disrupt the opposing rush. Barron has a decent right-hand shot and plays a bit of a high-risk game withe the puck. His passing can be inconsistent and at times the accuracy of his first pass out of the zone leaves a lot to be desired. The Halifax-native likes to step up and catch opponents off guard with an open ice hit but most scouts feel he could add more physicality to his overall game. He is ok on the power play but probably doesn’t handle the puck well enough to be used as a power play quarterback yet he can use his agility to elude a would-be shot blocker and put himself in position to get his shot off. In some ways, his game seems kind of raw, with lots of flashes of potential sprinkled in that if developed properly could turn into a very well-rounded defenseman that would be a great fit in any team’s top 4.
Bottom Line: A very mobile two-way defenseman who has a lot of raw tools that if developed properly could be an excellent defender for a team’s Top 4 for years to come. The only question is can he smooth out the rough edges to his game to live up to that potential? Obviously a player you would be looking at later in the 1st round of the draft.
What defenseman stand out to you? Tell us what you think on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!