2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Defensemen

2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Defensemen


2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Defensemen


The 2011 NHL Entry Draft was an exciting time to be a fan.  The league was going to reveal the name of newly relocated Atlanta Thrashers squad, which of course became the re-branded Winnipeg Jets.  For Minnesota Wild fans, the thrill was the fact the St. Paul was hosting the draft.  As a Wild fan and a self-described ‘draft junkie’ I wanted to be there and I ended up lucking out with general admission tickets that had me sitting in club level.

The draft was more fun than I expected it to be; after watching drafts for years at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub it was fun to see the activity on the draft floor.  The best way I can describe it is it was like watching the floor of the New York Stock Exchange meets the lottery because you since nearly every selection was a surprise.  When the Minnesota Wild selected defenseman Jonas Brodin, 10th Overall a friend of mine who was with the draft with me said immediately after the selection, “I guess, Brent Burns is gone.”  I said, “You think so?”  He was alluding to the strong possibility of the Wild trading its top young defenseman who was a player that was going to need a hefty contract extension at a price that the franchise probably could not afford.  Sure enough, within an hour, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman excited the crowd with “We have a trade to announce” and Burns was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, a 1st round pick (28th Overall that became Zack Phillips) and Charlie Coyle.

With the Seattle expansion draft on the horizon could the draft give fans a sign as to what this team’s roster plans are going into this offseason?  Here’s what fans had to say about the trade of Brent Burns back in 2011 which might make you chuckle considering he would eventually win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.

Context is important and as these fans say, Burns was due for a big raise that the salary cap strapped Minnesota Wild could ill-afford.  With the Wild having at least 3 different restricted free agent forwards (Joel Eriksson Ek, Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov) that are due for big raises the team once again may wish to reduce its salary commitment to be able have the necessary room to sign them all to long(er) term contracts.  That is a big reason why another defenseman the team has drafted, Matt Dumba at $6 million season is the main name bantered about in trade proposals as the team currently has $34.3 million committed to its blueline.

So if the Wild draft a defenseman with one of their two picks in this draft will that be a harbinger of another roster move via trade like we saw in 2011?  Calen Addison held his own in limited playoff action and played major minutes with Iowa throughout most of the 2021 season.  If Dumba is to be dealt, it appears as though the team has a player to take his place.  Another possibility, albeit a long shot, is Woodbury, Minnesota-native Brennan Menell who had an outstanding season in the Kontinental Hockey League after having been the AHL’s ‘Defenseman of the Year’ in 2019.  He is supposedly seeking a 1-way contract from the Wild or he’s going to return to play in Europe.  I think he would be an affordable bottom-pairing or 7th defenseman, but unless its a 1-way deal I don’t think Menell will hesitate to bolt for Europe if Minnesota doesn’t make that happen.

The Wild’s prospect pool on the blueline is not as deep as its group of forward prospects; with Ryan O’Rourke and Daemon Hunt signed to entry-level contracts already while Marshall Warren and 2018 1st round selection Filip Johansson remains unsigned.

So what are the Minnesota Wild’s needs?

1. Strengthen the middle & add speed, scoring up front ~ While the ever-popular draft mantra is ‘take the best player available’ for the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round it should be modified to say, “take the best center available” because they simply need more options down the middle.  Especially centers that project to play in the team’s top six.  The team feels confident it drafted one last season in Rossi, and Joel Eriksson Ek enjoyed a breakout season it still would be wise to add another top prospect at that position.  Fiala and Kaprizov need help in order to maximize their potential, having young, skilled centers available allows the team to save some cap space and give these great wingers some more suitable support.  If a top 6 center doesn’t appear to be available, a fast goal-scoring winger would be a close 2nd on any draft list I’d create for this Minnesota Wild club.

2. Beef up the blueline ~ The 2021 NHL Entry Draft class features lots of defenseman, but many are of the smaller, puck moving variety.  The Wild’s blueline is on the smaller side and while that doesn’t seem to be a problem during the regular season at times it feels like that lack of heft gets exposed in the playoffs where the games invariably get more physical.  The team does have a few decent blueline prospects in its system, in Calen Addison and Ryan O’Rourke but they could use another bigger, more physical defenseman in the system.

3. Bolster the crease ~ The news that the Minnesota Wild was unable to reach a contract with promising goaltending prospect Filip Lindberg was a hit to the club’s depth.  While the NHL club is happy with its two goaltenders right now, it still wants to have viable options if anything were to happen to either of them (short-term or long-term).  With a full slate of draft picks at their disposal I would expect the Wild will add at least one goaltender in this year’s draft.

As of this writing, the Wild have two selections in the 1st round after trading Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Depending on how the rest of the playoffs play out the club appears to be drafting with the 21st and 25th selections in the first round of the draft.  So what defensemen appear to be within this range when you consider the team’s needs?

I have identified 5 defenseman who I think fit the club’s needs and who I think have a fair chance of being available when the team goes to make their first selection.  I have researched these players extensively, watched game film and heard what the experts had to say.  So the order you see is how I’d have these players on my draft board if I worked for the Minnesota Wild’s scouting department.

2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Forwards

2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Goaltenders

2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Sleepers & Steals

I would like to thank Eliteprospects.com and Devils in the Details podcast for their shift-by-shift YouTube videos of these prospects to get a real good feel for what these players bring to the table both on and off of the puck.

12.11.20. Чемпионат КХЛ сезона 2020/2021.
ЦСКА (Москва) – «Салават Юлаев» (Уфа).Даниил Чайка.
12.11.20. KHL Championship 2020-2021.
CSKA (Moscow) – Salavat Yulaev (Ufa). Daniil Chaika.

1. LD – Daniil Chayka (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ Moscow, Russia

Height: 6’3″  Weight: 185lbs  Shoots: Left

Central Scouting: #5 (Euro skater)  Hockey News: #30  ISS: #24

TSN Bob McKenzie: #19  HockeyProspect.com: #32

Future Considerations: #28  The Athletic – Wheeler: #49

The Athletic – Pronman: #25

Talent Analysis:  A lanky defenseman who is fairly mobile and uses his reach effectively to deny the middle of the ice.  He plays a responsible defensive, with good positioning and gap control.  Chayka stymies the rush effectively using the poke check and has the puck skills to make a quick outlet pass to help his team go on the attack in transition.  While he didn’t put up a lot of points in the KHL this season, he was fairly productive offensively when he played in the OHL a season ago with Guelph.  He is a decent puck mover, and even with pressure looks calm and poise making that first pass out of the zone.  Some feel his both his passing lacks power, but most agree its a matter of technique as opposed to strength.  They just need more snap and more crispness instead of being so worried about being perfectly accurate.  He has a decent shot, who may not have the quickest release but his shots have good velocity and he gets them on goal consistently.  Even though he has decent size, he is not the most physical player and some wish there was a bit more snarl to his game.  Most scouts mentioned how he did a lot of learning as he made the jump (by necessity) from playing in Canadian juniors to the pro’s.

Bottom Line:  Chayka is a tall, mobile space-eating defenseman who does a decent job at breaking up the rush and denying time and space with good gap control.  While the offensive elements of his game more or less disappeared at the KHL level, he was a teenager in a men’s league.  I wonder with more strength and confidence if his offensive game will re-emerge.  I think he’s more of a project defenseman, but one that if developed properly could be a great bottom 4 NHL blueliner for years to come.

2. RD – Scott Morrow (Shattuck-St. Mary’s, USHS-MN) ~ Darien, Connecticut

Height: 6’2″  Weight: 192lbs  Shoots: Right

Central Scouting: #39 (NA skater)  Hockey News: #25  ISS: #99

TSN Bob McKenzie: #36  HockeyProspect.com: #61

Future Considerations: #81  The Athletic – Wheeler: #33

The Athletic – Pronman: #93

Talent Analysis:  Morrow is a mobile defenseman who is one of the better skating defenseman available in this draft.  He plays a high-risk, high-reward game with an emphasis on the offensive side of the puck.  He can move the puck well and using his mobility to get out of trouble and help start the rush quickly.  His shot is ok and he manages to get it on goal consistently but it lacks velocity.  He is a reasonable passer.  However, scouts do criticize his on-ice vision as at times he doesn’t recognize obvious outlets or open teammates as he’s so focused on handling the puck.  Defensively, despite his mobility he doesn’t always take the best angles to channel opposing skaters towards the perimeter as he often opts to just go right at the opposing skater to make a hit.  Many feel that approach will not work well at the next level when more skilled players will elude that hit which will need to a dangerous scoring chance.  He also has a tendency to get caught puck watching so he can have a tendency to miss assignments in his own end.  So he certainly has elements to his game he needs to work on.  He is just starting to add more strength to his frame which may benefit his shot and ability to win battles in the corners.  However, he will have to work more on the defensive side of the game where he often plays too passively to make a big difference.  Luckily for him he is committed to University of Massachusetts, which has had a growing reputation for developing excellent mobile defenseman.

Bottom Line:  In Scott Wheeler’s article, he mentioned how his coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s felt Morrow has more talent than Jackson Lacombe and Cam York.  Those two are pretty impressive and talented offensive defenseman and if he feels Morrow is better than I think that’s a player you don’t want to pass up on.  He’s an offensively skilled right-shot defensman who is a tremendous skater, but he needs to work on having better on-ice vision and needs to be more aware in his own end of the ice.  He is probably a player you can select with your 2nd first round selection, but if you think you’re going to be losing a member of your Top 4, here is a great way to take a step towards replacing what you lost.

3. LD – Evan Nause (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ White Rock, British Columbia

Height: 6’2″  Weight: 185lbs  Shoots: Left

Central Scouting: #22 (NA skater)  Hockey News: #56  ISS: #56

TSN Bob McKenzie: #46  HockeyProspect.com: #58

Future Considerations: #44  The Athletic – Wheeler: #72

The Athletic – Pronman: #43

Talent Analysis:  He is a mobile two-way defenseman with prototypical NHL size.  Scouts love his ability to read the play and be a leader on the ice, communicating effectively with his teammates.  He is solid in his positioning which is calculated to deny the middle of the ice and uses his stick effectively to disrupt passing and shooting lanes.  Nause has the size and strength to rub off opposing skaters and separate them from the puck with a solid check.  His mobility also helps him recover quickly if he makes a mistake.  Nause’s offensive skills are somewhat limited, and he’s an average puckhandler and is most comfortable distributing the puck when he’s at the point.  Yet he makes good decisions with the puck with his strong level of anticipating openings on the ice and doesn’t try to force plays that are not there.  Nause’s passes are crisp and accurate meaning he distributes the puck fairly well in a quarterback sort of role but most teams will gladly let him shoot.  His shot is rather average, but overall his game doesn’t have any red flags or glaring weaknesses.

Bottom Line:  He’s a solid two-way defenseman who plays an intelligent game.  He read the play well at both ends of the ice and is a natural leader.  He can be physical, but understands that balance of when to step up and when to stay back.  He’s a solid Top-4 blueline prospect whose well-rounded skill set kind of reminds me of Jaccob Slavin where he can do a little bit of everything and but still plays responsibly in his own end.  He probably isn’t a 1st round pick-worthy player, but you certainly would be tempted if he’s available in the 2nd round.

4. LD – Stanislav Svozil (HC Kometa, Czech Superleague) ~ Prerov, Czech Republic

Height: 6’1″  Weight: 179lbs  Shoots: Left

Central Scouting: #16  (Euro skater)  Hockey News: #35  ISS: #21

TSN Bob McKenzie: #34  HockeyProspect.com: #39

Future Considerations: #35  The Athletic – Wheeler: #48

The Athletic – Pronman: #42

Talent Analysis:  He is another decent-sized defenseman who is an above average skater who uses his mobility effectively to deprive opponents of time and space.  He uses his skating well enough to elude pressure and to give himself the time and space to make the first pass out of the zone.  Svozil has good on-ice vision and has the ability to recognize the right opportunity to attempt a stretch pass and execute it with accuracy.  He has a reasonable shot which he mostly manages to keep it low and near the ice, but he’s probably not going to be a major-point producer at the next level.  He handles the puck well enough to distribute it and support the play offensively but he is best served keeping it simple in the offensive zone.  He needs to add strength to his 6’1″ frame, but he looked fairly comfortable playing in the Czech Superleague the last two seasons with older players so his maturity level is advanced compared to many players in his age group.  Physically, he doesn’t mind getting involved, but at times he can get so caught up in throwing the body around he can lose track of his assignments in his own end.  Also, while he’s a decent skater moving forwards in a straight line, his lateral movement and backwards skating is where he needs some improvement as well.

Bottom Line:  He’s a late 1st round early 2nd round defenseman who combines size, mobility who takes away time and space in his own end.  Svozil doesn’t have a lot of offensive upside, but because he’s played against grown men for a while he has a maturity factor that might make his development length a bit shorter than most 18-year olds which means you could have a serviceable NHL’er in 2-3 seasons instead of 3-4.

5. LD – Shai Buium (Sioux City, USHL) ~ San Diego, California

Height: 6’3″  Weight: 209lbs  Shoots: Left

Central Scouting: #20 (NA skater)  Hockey News: #62  ISS: #100

TSN Bob McKenzie: #85  HockeyProspect.com: #33

Future Considerations: #54  The Athletic – Wheeler: #84

The Athletic – Pronman: #40

Talent Analysis:  He is a mobile, two-way defenseman with a long frame who uses his size effectively to deny the middle of the ice to opposing skaters.  A converted forward, he plays a calculated game of knowing when to join the rush and when to stay back.  The former Shattuck-St. Mary’s product is an excellent puck distributor from the point and while his shot lacks the pace you’d expect from a bigger player he sees the ice well.  His passes are consistently accurate and crisp.  Yet he’s arguably more dangerous when he takes the initiative and skates the puck deeper into the offensive zone where his forward-like vision comes into play as he draws the attention of opposing defenses and it opens up opportunities for his linemates.  The Denver University commit does need to improve his lateral and first step quickness to be able to handle the faster pace of play at the next level.  However, his ability to process the game mentally and make the right decision with the puck is solid.  He could use his bigger frame to be more of a force from a physical standpoint but he has lot of tools and shows a lot of promise with some improvement in some of his skating mechanics especially in regard to skating backwards which has been described as ‘ugly’.

Bottom Line:  A potential Top 4 defenseman who gives you a blend of size, skill, two-way ability in a player who is smart and generally makes good choices on the ice.  As a college player his development curve is probably more in the 3-4 year realm before he’d turn pro but that would give him the time to add more explosiveness to his skating and hopefully he could develop a nasty streak to go along with it.

6. LD – Nolan Allan (Prince Albert, WHL) ~ Davidson, Saskatchewan

Height: 6’2″  Weight: 194lbs  Shoots: Left

Central Scouting: #40  Hockey News: #53  ISS: #15

TSN – McKenzie: #54  HockeyProspect.com: #50

Future Considerations: #102  The Athletic – Wheeler: N/A

Talent Analysis:  Suffocating is the most common adjective used to describe Allan’s style of play.  He is uses his 6’2″ frame and strong mobility to deprive opposing skaters of time and space and plays a safe and stable game.  He likes to be physical but also does a decent job at funneling attackers to the perimeter and challenging zone entries.  Allan is a natural shot blocker and has knack at stripping pucks from on-rushing skaters and helping his team get going in transition.  He plays with some snarl in and around the crease.  His on-ice intelligence is excellent in his own zone, but its rather elementary at the other side of the ice.  Offensively, he’s a reasonable passer but he’s probably not going to be a big scorer at the professional level.  His shot is just ok, and adding strength will help him get the velocity necessary to make it effective at the NHL level.  He’s probably bottom-4 pairing defenseman who could become a workhorse on the penalty kill.

Bottom Line:  He’s a bigger defenseman who is a pain to play against.  His mobility allows him to stay with and angle opposing skaters towards the boards consistently and has already shown some ability to be a defensively-responsible partner to a more offensive minded defenseman.  You may not pick him up in the 1st round, but he’d provide good value as a second rounder.

What draft-eligible defensemen interest you?  Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!

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