Colorado’s 3-2 victory to seal their 3rd Stanley Cup in franchise history on Sunday may have stung a bit for Minnesota Wild fans. Why? Not just because they are a team in Central division that looks to be set for many years and the Wild’s record of futility in the post-season. Darcy Kuemper, a former 6th round pick (161st Overall) in 2009 by the Wild was at the very least good enough to help the Avalanche earn a Stanley Cup.
Goaltending is a lot like pitching in baseball, when you have quality you are probably a tough team to play against but when you don’t it is damn near impossible to win. With all due respect to skaters, most hockey teams at any level recognize that they will only go as far as their goaltender(s) can take them.
Minnesota certainly recognized that when they made a trade with Chicago for future NHL Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, the former 1st Overall pick in 2003 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a winner of three Stanley Cups and 2021’s Vezina Trophy winner was brought in to be the Wild’s playoff ace. Dean Evason or the Wild’s front office selection of Fleury to lead the way in the playoffs will be one of the great ‘what if’s’ of the 2021-22 season.
Incumbent #1 goaltender, Cam Talbot was 13-0-3 since March 1st. Despite his impressive 2nd half record, he stayed rooted to the bench until Game 6 of their series against the Blues and looked as cold and rusty as one would expect from a goaltender to not have seen game action in nearly 2 weeks. Talbot was the consummate professional, not taking the moment to complain or work through his agent ala Allan Walsh did for Fleury in his time with the Vegas Golden Knights.
A simple understanding of human nature, it would be impossible to not feel a lack of trust from your team after something like that. One would think that relationship will have to be attended to later this summer. Wild General Manager Bill Guerin has stated publicly he would like to have Fleury back and has hinted the team would ideally want them both back. Talbot has one year left on his contract and Fleury is an unrestricted free agent.
Afterall, the Wild brought in Fleury due large in part to their lack of trust in backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen who they dealt away to San Jose for defenseman Jacob Middleton. Backups matter, Colorado’s Stanley Cup could not have been won by Kuemper alone and their backup, Pavel Francouz, delivered important victories while he was out with an upper body injury.
Prior to last summer, it appeared as though Kahkonen might be this franchise’s future #1 goaltender, until the team selected blue chip goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt 20th Overall. It was the first time in franchise history the team had ever drafted a goaltender in the 1st round. Wallstedt performed well in Sweden’s top league, albeit in a backup role but the Wild did not hesitate to sign him to a 3-year entry level deal and will likely play in Iowa next season.
So with a future starter in the fold it leads us to examine the rest of the organization’s goaltending depth and it looks a bit thin to me. Hunter Jones had another up and down season between the AHL’s Iowa Wild and ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders. He continues to give up the soft goal that often proves to be a dagger to his team, a trait that dates back to his junior days in Peterborough.
Dereck Baribeau, a mammoth 6’6″ right-catching goaltender had another season where he struggled to stay healthy. Neither Jones or Baribeau performed well enough to really make a strong case to be the back up to minor league veterans Andrew Hammond and Zane McIntyre with the Iowa Wild this season. Jones and Baribeau combined for just 6 of Iowa’s 32 victories this year.
The 2022 Draft class is not considered a particularly great year for goaltenders. Because of this I am only going to profile 3 goaltenders for this draft, none of which should be drafted in the 1st round.
Needless to say, the team needs to add some more new blood to compete for the backup role for the big club someday. I don’t think the Wild will select another goaltender in the 1st round this year, but I could see them using one of their two 2nd round picks on one.
So what I have done is to rank the order of needs for the Wild as I perceive it; and then create a listing of players at each position group to create a draft board so to speak with 3 players each. I try to take into account the team’s playing style, the players’ skillset and provide profiles of players that I think would fit.
What are the Minnesota Wild’s needs?
1. Top 6 Center or goal scoring winger with speed – Organizationally, the team hasn’t really had a player that fit the mold of a 1st line center since Pavol Demitra. Prospects Marco Rossi and Marat Khustnutdinov may develop into NHL centers but its far from certain, so the organization should continue to try to add options for that position. If that player isn’t available, another area with little depth is a goal scoring winger. Adam Beckman had a tough adjustment from a scoring standpoint going from the WHL to the AHL.
2. Bigger stay at home defenseman – After so many post-season failures, fans and media are starting to recognize that while Minnesota’s defensive corps is mobile, they’re not very big nor are they physical. Those last two qualities have been problematic and the one way to address it is through the draft where the team hasn’t drafted and developed a large mobile blueliner since Carson Soucy. Brock Faber, Calen Addison, Carson Lambos, Jack Peart, Marshall Warren, Daemon Hunt and Ryan O’Rourke may all be showing promise but all of them are under 6’3″. Now may be a good time to try to develop another big bodied stay at home defender who may have Top 4 ability.
3. Backup goaltender – Jesper Wallstedt appears to be the Minnesota Wild’s #1 goaltender of the future, but is there a back up goalie in the system? Hunter Jones, Dereck Baribeau have had their struggles at the minor league level last season. They would be wise in adding at least another quality goaltending prospect this summer.
1. Topias Leinonen (JYP U-20, SM-sarja) Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 234lbs Catches: Left
2022 Stats: (9-10-0) 2.28GAA .916% 2SO
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (Euro) Hockey News: #78 Future Considerations: #76
TSN Button: #75 Athletic Pronman: #59 HockeyProspect.com: #3
Talent Analysis: Size and great athleticism are hallmarks of Topias Leinonen’s game. He is both fluid and powerful and his movements and that gives him the ability to make the near impossible saves that gets fans out of their seats. He tracks pucks well through traffic and makes proper reads most of the time to put himself in a good position to make the save. However, this also fits into some of his weaknesses. With players screening in front of him, he sometimes will cheat too much to look around screening players which places him out of position to make what should be fairly routine saves. Also, when moving from post-to-post he can almost get carried away in his movement as he’s in such a hurry to get across he overplays the angle and that leaves him vulnerable and gives him no chance of recovery if the puck is partially deflected. His rebound control is pretty good and he is very tough to beat down low or glove side. With more refinement in his movements he can develop into a player with starting goaltender potential.
Bottom Line: An athletically gifted big-bodied goaltender who at times is too impatient and that puts him out of position to make saves on occasion. If he can develop that patience and instead of being so aggressive he’ll take that next step towards being a future NHL starting goaltender. Pekka Rinne had similar issues in his game when he was Leinonen’s age and he turned out to be an absolute workhorse. Probably not a player you would use your 1st round pick on but you probably consider using your 2nd or 3rd round pick on a player with Leinonen’s potential.
2. Tyler Brennan (Prince George, WHL) Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 190lbs Catches: Left
2022 Stats: (11-25-2) 3.58GAA .899% 4SO
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (NA) Hockey News: #79 Future Considerations: #94
TSN McKenzie: #62 TSN Button: #54 HockeyProspect.com: #2
Athletic Wheeler: #60
Talent Analysis: Playing for a poor Prince George team this season, Brennan faced a lot of shots and had limited goal support most nights. Sometimes that can be ideal for the development a goaltender because it means they face a lot of quality chances to hone their game and they become familiar being relied upon in order to give their team a chance to win. With all that being said, Brennan is good at squaring up to shooters allowing his prototypical NHL goalie-sized frame to make saves. However, he’s not as quick or efficient in his post-to-post movement as other goaltenders available in this draft. Its not terrible, but one would expect it to be a bit better given how many times he was left out to dry this season by his defense. Brennan tracks pucks ok but at times is a bit slow to recognize the scoring threats around him especially when the puck is down low and behind his net and that leaves him vulnerable. He does have a decent glove hand and can keep his team believing by making some remarkable saves where you feel should get beat but doesn’t. So competitiveness certainly is not an issue. If he can refine his post-to-post movement and limit his penchant for giving up goals from long range he could develop into a possible starter or a solid NHL backup.
Bottom Line: A raw, big-bodied goaltender who has the potential to compete for a starting goaltender spot with the right development. It would be interesting to see how Brennan does on a quality or Memorial Cup calibre team. I would have to imagine it would be tough to go out knowing that you have to be just about perfect every night in order for your team to have a chance to win. Most mocks have Brennan or Leinonen going as either the 1st or 2nd goaltenders in this draft. I don’t think he’s worth using a 1st round pick on, but a 2nd round pick sounds about right.
3. Dennis Hildeby (Fajrestads, SHL) Jarfalla, Sweden
Height: 6’6″ Weight: 234lbs Catches: Left
2022 Stats: (6-5-0) 2.80GAA .931%
NHL Central Scouting: N/A Hockey News: N/A Future Considerations: N/A
Athletic Wheeler: N/A Athletic Pronman: N/A HockeyProspect.com: #1
Talent Analysis: Passed over in the last 3 drafts, Hildeby is probably a bit off most people’s radar and in a draft that’s a bit weak on goaltenders I think he’s worthy of consideration. He has a massive frame and split time between Sweden’s junior circuit and their top league this season. His can transition quickly and efficiently to being on his pads and back to his skates and his recover is faster than you’d normally expect for a goaltender of his size. Hildeby has great rebound control, either absorbing pucks or directing them to the corners and his glove positioning doesn’t give opposing shooters any extra windows to shoot at. Excellent post-to-post movement and tracks pucks well through traffic. His glove is ok, but at times he has a little bit of trouble controlling pucks he attempts to catch and they turn into dangerous rebounds. He faced a lot of shots on his U20 team and showed great composure and continued to do so in Sweden’s top league even though he had a far better team in front of him now. With more development he might be able to battle for a starting role or he could be a very solid NHL backup for years.
Bottom Line: A big-bodied goaltender with good athleticism who makes the most of his size. He is a bit older so his development path might be a bit shorter than most other draft eligible prospects. He’s probably a goaltender who you could find available beyond the 2nd round and you might end up with the best goalie available in this draft class.
What goaltending prospect intrigues you the most? Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!