The Minnesota Wild have two first-round drafts pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft, 11th and 25th overall. This is a phenomenal opportunity for the team to secure top talent for their relatively weak prospect pool. General manager Bill Guerin has his hands full with his team in a bit of a predicament. Offensively, the Wild is filled with aging veterans, some with large contracts such as Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and recently signed Mats Zuccarello, and low ceiling youngsters such as Joel Erikkson Ek, Ryan Donato, and Luke Kunin.
They are starting to rebuild after Jason Zucker was dealt at the trade deadline and Mikko Koivu and Staal will come off the books after this season and next season, respectively. The one bright spot is Kevin Fiala, who was a former first-round pick by the Nashville Predators and was acquired for Mikael Granlund at the 2019 trade deadline. He has blossomed into a legitimate scoring threat and will be a core piece of the franchise moving forward.
Defensively, the Wild are one of the deeper teams in the league with veteran Ryan Suter, Matthew Dumba and Jared Spurgeon, who are in their prime, and youngsters Jonas Brodin and Carson Soucy. Even though the blue line is not a glaring issue on a team filled with offensive holes, management may choose to draft defensemen depending on who is available. Here is who I think Guerin and his staff should consider with the 11th overall pick, ranging from players who may be the best player available to the highest ceiling player available to the best fit available.
Wild’s Prospect Pipeline
The Hockey Writers’ 2019-2020 NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Midseason Rankings have the Wild 20th in the league with three prospects ranked in the top 100. The forwards on the NHL roster won’t inspire much confidence moving forward (outside of Fiala), but there are a few forwards in the pipeline that should. Table 1 outlines the top five players ranked within their system.
Table 1. The Hockey Writers Top 5 Minnesota Wild Prospects
|Kirill Kaprizov||LW/RW||CSKA Moskva (KHL)||5th round- 135th overall (2015)|
|Matthew Boldy||LW||Boston College (NCAA)||1st round- 12th overall (2019)|
|Adam Beckman||LW||Spokane Chiefs (WHL)||3rd round-79th overall (2019)|
|Vladislav Firstov||LW||UConn (NCAA)||2nd round- 42nd overall (2019)|
|Mason Shaw||C||Iowa Wild (AHL)||4th round- 97th overall (2017)|
Kaprizov is going to be a highlight reel machine when he comes into the NHL, even though it may take some time for the 23-year-old winger to get acclimated to the league. He is entering the final season of his KHL contract and should arrive in Minnesota once it expires. The Hockey Writers’ Larry Fisher, ranked Kaprizov 8th overall in the THW prospect rankings.
The Wild had a strong draft last year, selecting three players that immediately plugged in among the top five prospects in their system. Matthew Boldy, ranked 49th in the THW prospect rankings, had a tough start to his career at Boston College but has tremendous upside with his on-ice vision, top puck-handling skills, and adaptability on defence.
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Adam Beckman, ranked 77th on the THW prospects list, had an outstanding season with the Spokane Chiefs with 107 points and 48 goals. He is a big riser on prospect ranking boards. The Wild’s system may not have elite talent, but it has three prospects who could be top-six NHL forward contributors within the next few seasons, but on the wing.
First Round Targets
As I mentioned earlier, I will be focusing on who the Wild should consider with their 11th overall pick. They have a few options, as the selection is on the cusp where all of the premiere talents may be gone. Given the contracts of veteran centers Staal (signed through next season) and Koivu (UFA after this season), the Wild must try to find a young, dynamic center who can slot into the top-six in the middle. However, because they are on that cusp, they may choose the best player available with that pick and target a center like Marat Khusnutdinov or Mavrik Bourque with the 25th overall pick.
Table 2: Five Potential 11th Overall First Round Targets
|NCS Rank||THW Rank||EP Rank||Player Name||Height||Weight||Position||League|
|3 Euro||11||9||Anton Lundell||6’1’’||187||C||HIFK Liiga|
|5 Euro||12||13||Rodion Amirov||6’0’’||168||LW||KHL|
NCS=Final NHL Central Scouting
THW= The Hockey Writer’s Top 400
EP= Elite Prospects
The Wild will be hoping that Lundell is still available at 11th overall. He could drop into the Wild’s lap, falling just outside of the top ten. The Wild do love their Finnish-born players, and Lundell has all the makings of a Mikko Koivu 2.0: Both are pass-first, creative, two-way centers with leadership skills, that will be needed in three to four years.
Lundell will likely be selected between picks seven and ten, putting the Wild in a curious spot, since management has many options once Lundell is off the board. However, Guerin and his staff would be thrilled to select him, so much so that I could see them trading into the top 10 to draft him, and they have the ammunition to do so.
If Lundell is off the board, and the Wild want to take the “best player available”, they may have to take Sanderson here. The gifted defenseman is an excellent skater who could be a quarterback on special teams for years to come. He has NHL pedigree, as his father Geoff Sanderson played in the league for 17 years. Even though the Wild are pretty well set with their roster defensemen for the foreseeable future, you can never have enough high upside d-men in your system (just ask David Poile and the Nashville Predators).
Scouts love Amirov’s overall skill set, as the Russian sniper oozes star potential. The Wild may decide to address their lack of center depth with this pick, but Amirov might be too good to pass up, even if he is a four-plus year project, as Kaprizov was. Amirov showed flashes of brilliance in the MHL and VHL, but due to his inexperience and lack of playing time, he didn’t put up flashy numbers in the KHL. However, Guerin might love his craftiness and two-way game enough to pull the trigger on him with the 11th overall pick.
Once Staal and Koivu are off the books, the Wild will have the available cap space to build up the middle through free agency instead of “reaching” for a center this year. That’s why they could take the best player available in this draft, like Amirov or Sanderson, and address the center position next draft. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be available in free agency after next season and the 2022 free-agent class could be loaded at center with Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Sasha Barkov, Tomas Hertl, Mika Zibanejad, and Sean Couturier all on expiring contracts that season.
I have seen Zary picked as high 10th overall and as low as the 25th overall, as there is disparity on his ultimate upside. However, there is no denying that he is a skilled all-around player with a high hockey intelligence that would fit well in the Wild system.
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He might not get the respect that he deserves after he scored 38 goals and 86 points in the WHL this season on an underachieving squad that lacked goal production. The Wild need to decide whether they want to pick a center here who may lack first-line upside, but is a safe bet to be a productive middle-line center to pair with, and not waste the precious years of, Kaprizov.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lapierre selected with the 11th overall pick if Lundell is off the board. He had an injury packed season, with three concussions and a neck injury, which has dropped his draft stock among NHL and independent scouts. Prior to the injuries, however, Lapierre was almost a lock to go within the top 12 and he was coming off a 45 point season and won the QMJHL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Lapierre may not be considered the best player available by many at 11th overall, but he may have the highest ceiling of any player in the draft not named Alexis Lafrenière. As I pointed out in the THW Mock Draft, when I took Lapierre here, he has the type of upside that the Wild need in their system.
The Wild has one forward on their roster that will still be among their top-six forwards in three to four years (Kevin Fiala), and they have top-tier winger prospects in Kaprizov and Boldy who are set to join the NHL club shortly. Management must address their lack of depth at center on their roster and in the system, which is why Lapierre would be perfect for the team.