A few weeks ago in my 2020 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Sleepers and Steals article I noted how the organization has struggled to find impact players in the later rounds of the draft. It is not to say that the franchise has been completely unable to find serviceable NHL talent in the later rounds, but the team has not found one Top 6 caliber forward with any of its picks beyond the 3rd round. Of course, the Minnesota Wild feel confident that drought is over as long awaited Kirill Kaprizov, originally drafted in the 5th round (135th Overall) in 2015. Still, even if Kaprizov lives up to the hype that’s just one Top 6 caliber forward by a player taken beyond the 3rd round in the last 20 seasons.
Throughout the NHL playoffs, Minnesota Wild fans have tortured themselves watching the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brayden Point who was selected exactly one pick ahead (Point at 79th Overall) of defenseman Louie Belpedio. The Calgary-native has been a star scorer on the Lightning and he already has a 30-goal and a 40-goal campaign in his 4-year NHL career. The Minnesota Wild have only had two players reach 40 goals in their franchise history. Needless to say they could use some draft luck. According to CapFriendly, the Minnesota Wild currently have a 2nd round, a 4th round, a 5th round, a 6th round and a 7th round pick for the 2020 draft.
That changed pretty quick as the Wild acquired Nick Bonino from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Luke Kunin. The trade also swapped picks allowing the Wild to add additional 2nd round pick (37th Overall) and a 3rd round pick (70th Overall) while Minnesota gave the Predators their 4th round pick (101st Overall) in this year’s draft. The team then later traded their 70th Overall selection and their 5th round pick (132nd Overall) to the Detroit Red Wings in order to move up 5 spots to select 65th Overall in the 3rd round. Lastly, the team traded its 163rd and 194th Overall selections to the St. Louis Blues for the 146th Overall pick in this year’s draft giving the team just 4 picks on day two of the draft.
Bonino is a 32-year old left-shot center, ideally suited to playing on the 3rd line. The Hartford, Connecticut-native had 18 goals and 35 points in 67 games last year with Nashville. Yet perhaps most importantly is that Bonino was 52.6% on his draws last season and 51.8% the season before that. The former Boston University star has just one year left on his current contract at $4.1 million per season. He was also a player who Wild General Manager Bill Guerin knows from his days in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as Bonino was a part of two Stanley Cup Championships. Kunin is an restricted free agent and now the job of re-signing him is no longer the Wild’s problem.
Taking a look at CapFriendly.com, you can see the Minnesota Wild now have 8 forwards whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. 4 of them are restricted free agents and 4 are unrestricted free agents. Either way, it gives the team plenty of flexibility to shape and mold the roster going into a season where you know you will lose at least one player due to the expansion draft as the Seattle Kraken join the league.
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 caliber 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.
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.
With Judd Brackett manning the draft table and the team’s personnel moves it will be very intriguing to see the qualities of the players this group selects. I think it will give all Wild fans more insight as to what identity this team wants to have. So who did we select on Day 2 of the draft?
2nd Round (37th Overall)
C – Marat Khusnutdinov (SKA St. Petersburg Jr., Rus. Jr.) – Moskva, Russia
Height: 5’9″ Weight: 165lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #12 (Euro) TSN McKenzie: #35 TSN Button: #43
Future Considerations: #34 HockeyProspect.com: #39
2019-20 Stats: 44GP 13G 25A = 38pts 16 PIM’s +27
Talent Analysis: He is a high energy forward that has excellent speed and works hard at both ends of the ice. He uses his speed effectively to deny time and space but also to create space for himself in offensive situations as his first few steps are explosive. Khusnutdinov is an excellent stickhandler and likes to dangle by defenders 1-on-1 and he uses his body well to protect the puck. Even though he’s not a big player, he lowers his body to make him difficult to knock off the puck and can weather checks surprisingly well. He does a nice job of using his speed to back off defenders and either ripping a quick shot on goal or a well-executed drop pass. The Russian is defensively responsible and uses a good active stick to cause turnovers. He will need to continue to work to improve his shot, as at times it can lack snap and velocity which puts his offensive upside into question. Khusnutdinov won nearly 60% of his draws but has other good on-ice instincts that will make him versatile enough to earn a spot on a team’s middle 6 if he can be more consistent from game to game.
Quotes From Scouts:
“He plays the full 200-feet of the ice, with one of the best motors in this class. He’ll relentlessly backcheck as play transitions towards the defensive zone, and his ability to track developing plays while he’s skating at full speed really impressed us over the year. Khusnutdinov is also proficient at carrying the puck into the offensive zone.” -EliteProspects 2020 NHL Draft Guide
“Small two-way center.. great skater.. uses his quickness to win pucks all over the ice, showing skills and smarts once he gets possession,” Draft in Europe
“He’s a very talented player and has a will to win.” ~ Sergey Golubovich, Russia’s U18 coach
“I like him but you need to be careful not to get caught up in his best 7 games. Rank his career and he’s a mid round pick. Rank him on his best 7 or 8 games and you will be holding your breath.” – NHL Scout
“One of the better smaller players in this draft. Second rounder all day long.” – NHL Scout
“I might be willing to take him late first. When he’s on his game he’s a pit bull.” – NHL Scout
“Who the f*** is that?” – NHL Scout
“He has a lot to offer, I just question if he can bring it all together consistently enough. He was outstanding at the Five Nations event, his league play was far more inconsistent.” – HP Scout, Brad Allen
Bottom Line: A fast, hard-working center who plays a solid two-way game. He can dangle and has a lot of great tools any team would like, but he will need to improve his shot to make him NHL ready. He plays an honest game and with some small improvements could be a middle-six forward. It should be noted he is under contract in Russia for the next two years, but if his development is solid I would fully expect for him to be making his way to North America after that.
2nd Round (39th Overall)
D – Ryan O’Rourke (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) – Pickering, Ontario
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 181lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #27 TSN McKenzie: #37 TSN Button: #49
Future Considerations: #39 HockeyProspect.com: #38
2019-20 Stats: 54GP 7G 30A = 37pts 79 PIM’s +16
Talent Analysis: O’Rourke is an above-average skating defenseman who likes to throw the body around and be the kind of player opposing teams hate to play against. He does not hesitate to cut off opposing forwards to loose pucks which he must be careful with at the next level as it may lead to unwanted penalties. His hockey sense is strong as he picks and chooses the right moments to jump in the play but doesn’t take foolish risks. O’Rourke has good gap control and he likes to stand up on-rushing forwards. Offensively, he makes a good crisp first pass out of the zone and while he is a capable puck mover, he’d rather pass it than carry it up the ice. Once in the offensive zone, he has a cannon of a slap shot that not only has velocity but is accurate as well which gives him some ability to be used on the power play and offensive situations. He doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and when he adds more strength to his frame he’ll be that much more formidable to go against.
Quotes From Scouts:
“On the puck, O’Rourke is mean, nasty, violent — everything one wants from a durable, robust stay-at-home defender. His battle-level is unbelievably high. He never takes a moment off, never mind a shift, and much less an entire game. O’Rourke is a capable puck-mover, too. He consistently makes good decisions with the puck and boasts an absolutely lethal slap shot.” -EliteProspects 2020 NHL Draft Guide
“Smart kid. He has an ‘it’ factor to him.” – NHL Scout
““Reminds me a bit of Scott Harrington but I think Ryan is better at the same age…better hockey sense for sure.” – HP Scout, Mark Edwards
“He had the highest average time on ice on our roster. He can jump-start our transition with a great first pass and create offense off the rush. He plays with a physical edge. He’s the one assigned to take on the toughest matchups.” ~ Kyle Raftis, GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Bottom Line: The Minnesota Wild have been a team that has been too easy to play against for too long. They didn’t have the speed to really put their opponents on their heels, they didn’t have the mad-dog mentality to make teams pay much of a physical price in the tough areas. With O’Rourke, now the team has a bonified punisher. By his own description, he is a ‘throwback’ defenseman to when the position required players to be tough, dish out hits and be miserable to play against. Toss in the fact he has decent mobility and can help chip in offensively and you have a player who could develop into a solid Top 4 defender in the next few seasons.
3rd Round (65th Overall)
D – Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw, WHL) – Brandon, Manitoba
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 198lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #25 TSN McKenzie: #44 TSN Button: #90
Future Considerations: #99 HockeyProspect.com: #49
2019-20 Stats: 28GP 0G 15A = 15pts 17 PIM’s -24
Talent Analysis: Hunt was a player whose season was cut short both literally and figuratively as a skate blade cut his arm which forced him to lose a huge portion of the year. He is a good skating with a smooth almost effortless-looking stride, and is a mobile defenseman who exudes leadership qualities as he wore the “A” for the Warriors. In the offensive zone, he has a decent shot where he often opts for a quickly released wrist shot as he looks to set up deflections rather than blasting slap shots from the point. In his own end, he doesn’t give up a lot of time and space and uses his stick effectively to disrupt opposing skaters. He is somewhat physical, but adding more strength will help him win more battles along the boards. Some scouts felt Hunt was trying to do too much with the puck and be a player that had more skill than he currently possesses and feel he’d be better served if he were to simplify his game.
Quotes From Scouts:
“Hunt explodes through his first two steps, demonstrating real discipline through his stride as he effortlessly generates a ton of power skating the puck up-ice. He closes gaps early, using backwards mobility to match the attacker’s speed and funnel plays wide. He has the element of physicality and problem-solving skills to slow odd-man rushes for support.” -EliteProspects 2020 NHL Draft Guide
“Lacks skill but plays as if he has it.” – NHL Scout
“Injuries have killed him but he’s a really good player. I won’t be surprised if he outplays a lot of WHL guys I see ranked ahead of him.” – WHL Staffer
“Injury cost scouts some viewings but I feel like I saw enough. I actually came into the season liking him a lot more than I do now putting my rankings together. He seemed to try to play a style of game that didn’t fit his talents. Skating is very good but I didn’t think he had enough skill to play the way he did. I will cut him some slack as he didn’t have help in Moose Jaw.” – HP Scout, Mark Edwards
Bottom Line: Hunt is another responsible stay-at-home defenseman who uses his mobility to close gaps and deny time and space on the ice. While he probably won’t provide much offense at the NHL level, he plays the game with some attitude. I saw an anecdote about Hunt where a young goalie earned his first shutout against his Moose Jaw team and someone wanted to grab the puck for him, so Hunt skated over grabbed the puck and tossed it into the stands before it could be given to that goalie. I am not sure if that’s just being petty or hilarious, perhaps a bit of both but he’s a dogged competitor and is a vocal leader for the Warriors.
5th Round (146th Overall)
RW – Pavel Novak (Kelowna, WHL) Tabor, Czech Republic
Height: 5’9″ Weight: 165lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #85 Future Considerations: #94
2019-20 Stats: 55GP 25G 33A = 58pts 33 PIM’s +10
Talent Analysis: Novak is a goal-scoring forward who has plenty of quickness and has that burst that allows him to get separation from defenders. He is at his best on the power play where he can use his skating and instincts to set up teammates or put himself in good positions to fire the puck. From the slot or just underneath the dots he does not need much time to rip a shot by opposing goalies. While he’s not a big player, he doesn’t shy away from contact but adding strength will help him win more of those physical battles. His shoot-first mentality means there is a fairly good chance his offensive totals will improve this season. Defensively his game is incomplete and will need to be improved if he wants to play at the next level.
Quotes from Scouts:
“There’s no doubt that Novak is a capable WHL scorer with the potential to be among the league-leaders in points. He’s a deceptive power play threat with angle-changing shots and look-off passes. While he’s not much of a shooter at 5-on-5, he hits teammates in scoring areas with a wide array of creative passes.” -EliteProspects 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Bottom Line: Novak is a talented right-shot winger who is at his best on the power play. He has the on-ice vision and instincts to match his passing ability and if teams give him space he will make you pay with his one-timer. He is just starting to come into his own as an offensive leader for the Rockets, will he be this year’s surprise scoring stud like Adam Beckman was a season ago?
As happy as I was with the Wild’s 1st round selection of Marco Rossi, I am almost equally as impressed as I am with their Day 2 activity. The team is clearly carrying the ‘culture change’ Wild General Manager Bill Guerin talked about to the draft as he selected players who are lauded for their work ethic, their competitiveness and skill. Guerin is certainly addressing and dismantling the ‘country club’ culture he felt permeated this locker room as well as looking to eliminate it from their prospect ranks too. A quote he gave the Athletic‘s Michael Russo more or less should serve as a direct shot across the bow to any Minnesota Wild player who have had their head in the metaphorical sand with all of these latest moves.
“This is a great place to play, it’s a great place to live and I know players love it here. So if you want to stay here, here’s your opportunity. If not, we’ll find something else that works.” ~ Wild GM Bill Guerin
The trade of Kunin for Bonino should give the team some more flexibility heading into a season that will be capped off by another expansion draft. The last 48 hours have been immensely enlightening to understand what Guerin’s vision of what this team should be.
What do you think of the players the Wild drafted on day 2 of the NHL Entry Draft? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!