The NHL Draft is always one of the most exciting times of the year. Prospects from all over the world will find out what the future has in store. And, on the other side of the spectrum, teams around the NHL have a chance to make sure the future looks bright for the franchise. For the Minnesota Wild, this year’s draft is of extra importance and could become a turning point for them. They have a lot of areas that are in desperate need of a boost, from their NHL roster to their severe lack of high-end prospects in the system. They have the 12th overall pick of the draft. And with that, it begs the question — what area needs to be fixed the most?
A playmate for Kirill Kaprizov
No matter how you look at the Minnesota Wild, it’s hard to argue against Kirill Kaprizov being their number one prospect. In his time in the KHL, he has been phenomenal and, with only a year left of his deal with CSKA, the Wild faithful are getting more and more excited by the day. His shot and creativity is something that Minnesota has been needing for the past 10 years. Not since Marián Gáborík was a part of the Wild has the team had that pure goal scorer, that player who is capable of creating magic and winning games, even in times when things aren’t clicking. But, one player can’t do it alone any longer. The depth players are getting better and as seen with Edmonton, even a player like Connor McDavid needs help to perform.
Sadly, that help isn’t something the Wild has at the moment, especially with the constant talks of Fenton looking to trade Jason Zucker. The other offensive players on the roster are either way past 30, or simply not good enough to be a top line NHL player — or at least haven’t shown that they can be yet. Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu now are the top two down the middle but they might not be there when Kaprizov joins, and even if they are, it’s likely that Father Time has hit them harshly. And, in the system, Luke Kunin seems to be the best option down the line as a number one center. While Kunin is a fine player, I don’t think he is a top one center of a championship team. Therefore, the Wild need to look to fix the offense in the early parts of the draft.
Another key area to fix in the next year or two will be the goaltending. Devan Dubnyk has been a very fine goalie for the Minnesota Wild but last season he was one of the most inconsistent netminders in the league. In some games he was the only reason why the Wild had a say in the game, especially early in the season, where the team was looking sure to be part of the playoffs. Sadly, his form dropped and with it, Minnesota’s record.
The Wild missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years. While one of the main culprits in this was a lack of goals scored, it was clear that Dubnyk wasn’t playing at his best — a scary reality since Dubnyk is 33 years old and the backup Alex Stalock is neither a world-beater or young. Down in the system, Andrew Hammond lead the charge and the youngster Kaapo Kähkönen had a rough end to the year in Iowa. Kähkönen had a fantastic start, but the later half of the year was abysmal. It’s still not clear what he will become, and therefore finding a solid prospect in between the sticks is a major priority for the Minnesota Wild.
How to draft?
And now to something positive for the Minnesota Wild. The defense could be worse. Defensively they have a nice core of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba with Nick Seeler and Brad Hunt or Greg Pateryn looking okay as a third pair. With that said, it’s not all great either. They do have worries on the defensive side of the puck as the system looks very shallow with players like last year’s first-round pick Filip Johansson and Louis Belpedio leading the line. They aren’t exactly two who have looked like they could set the league on fire. For a lot of teams, the lack of depth in the defensive prospect pool would be a major concern, but for the Wild, there are simply too many more pressing areas to focus their early pick on — especially with the 12th overall pick. No, instead that pick has to go to a forward and preferably a skilled player like Alex Newhook or Vasili Podkolzin, if they are able.
The good thing about this year’s draft is that the first round looks stacked, and there should be a very good chance for the Minnesota Wild to get a great playmate for Kaprizov. Getting both Kaprizov and a solid forward in this year’s draft could give the Minnesota Wild a really strong first line who can score goals for fun in three to four years.
To fix the goaltending, I would consider drafting Mads Søgaard from the Medicine Hat Tigers. The 6’7 ft Danish goaltender has shown a lot of promise in the WHL and he has the build of an NHL goalie. Obviously, size isn’t everything and Søgaard has a few areas that need some work before he is ready to go, but with the right coaching and development, he would be the type of player that could help Minnesota solve a major issue.
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