The 2020 NHL Draft is one of the deepest drafts of recent memories, and the THW Writers Mock Draft highlighted this. There were some players that were selected in the late second-round that could easily be first-round picks. Since I was selecting for the Minnesota Wild with the 11th overall pick, there was a chance that those “top 10 elite talents” would be gone and I would need to pivot. I would then need to look at that next core batch of players, which differs drastically depending on who you are talking to or are reading. The 11th pick was the hardest choice of the draft for me.
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Throughout the draft though, but particularly with those three picks within the first two rounds, I went with ceiling, rather than the typical “best player available” approach. The Wild are in a complete rebuilding mode with only a few “core players” on the NHL roster and with a middle-of-the-pack farm system that is highlighted by Kirill Kaprizov and Matthew Boldy. Rather than selecting players with higher floors, but lower ceilings, I felt it was necessary that the Wild take chances in these early rounds with lower floor, but much higher ceiling type players. In the article, I will break down what the rationale was for each player selection.
1st round – 11th overall: Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
NHL Potential: Top-Line Center
As I stated, this was the hardest selection of the draft for me. Lapierre was considered by many to be a lock to be a top-10 pick in the draft prior to this season, but after experiencing not one, not two, but three concussions over the last year, and a neck injury, his draft stock has been a huge question mark. If you look at the Wild’s roster and farm system, they are in desperate need of a young dynamic center, as Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal are near the end of their careers and no one in the farm system has top-line center upside.
My hope was that Anton Lundell was going to drop to me, but he was chosen by the New Jersey Devils right before my selection. This is where the predicament started. Do I take a winger like Seth Jarvis, Rodion Amirov, or Noel Gunler? Should I take the best player available which might be defenseman Jake Sanderson? Or do I shoot for the moon and take the definition of a high-risk/high-reward player like Lapierre?
There was a ton of talent on the board, but the Wild need high-ceiling prospects like Lapierre. He might not have been the best player available, but he was the best talent available on the board. The Wild need a change of philosophy in who they are drafting and it would start right here with a player like Lapierre.
1st round – 25th overall: Marat Khusnutdinov, C, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (KHL)
NHL Potential: Second-Line Center
There were an array of avenues I could have taken with this pick. There were some great forwards still left on the board such as Tyson Foerster, Kasper Simontaivel, and Roni Hirvonen, and some great defensemen such as Kaiden Guhle, William Wallinder, and Helge Grans. With this pick I wanted to continue the theme of taking another high-ceiling center. Because of Khusnutdinov’s compete level and defensive prowess, he still has a middle-line center floor and could bring dynamic energy to the Wild lineup and would be fan favorite.
The Russian center is one of the most competitive players in this draft class. He plays hard every single second of every single shift. He might get overlooked because of his smaller frame, but once you watch him on tape, his stature is deceptive because of his aggressive nature and confidence that he exudes on the ice. He has a high hockey IQ, fantastic vision, and creativity. Again, the name of the game for the Wild with these two first-round picks is upside, and that certainly does not change with their next pick.
2nd round – 42nd overall- Jeremie Poirier, LD, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
NHL Potential: Top-Four Defenseman/PP Quarterback
First-round pick: upside. Second first-round pick: upside. Second-round pick: upside! Lapierre is a high-risk/high-reward player because of his injury history, Khusnutdinov is a high-risk/high-reward player because of his frame, and Poirier is a high-risk/high-reward player because of his defensive liabilities. There are very few players in any draft that have no question marks, and that is no different in this draft. All three of these players are on the spectrum of being a high-risk/high-reward player and for different reasons.
There were definitely safer choices on the board for this selection, but Poirier could be a steal at 42nd overall if he essentially completely reworks his defensive game. That is a tall order, but there is no question about his offensive potential as he oozes talent. The hope is that he develops in his own third of the ice and could bring Tony DeAngelo-type upside, a type of player who is at the very least slightly above average on the backend and can develop into a premier power-play quarterback.
There are only a few teams that will even take a risk on Poirier, but teams like the Minnesota Wild or Nashville Predators, who have strong histories in developing their defensemen, would be ideal fits for a player like Poirier.
I very well may have gone for more risk than most general managers would usually go for this early in the draft, but if one of these players reaches their ceiling, let alone two or all of them, this could be a franchise-changing draft.
4th round – 104th overall: Cross Hanas, LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
NHL Potential: Bottom-Six Forward
I am not a self-declared independent scout and outside of the top-75 or so prospects, I was not well versed, and just like the actual NHL Draft, picks at this point are more or less crapshoots. However, before making any of these next four selections, I did my due diligence to find players who would be a good fit for the Wild, but also could outperform their draft position years down the road.
After taking two centers and a defenseman with my three previous picks, I wanted to highlight the wing with this pick (and in round 5). Cross Hanas’ upside is probably that of a bottom 6 forward, but he plays a solid 200-foot game, and has a high compete level. One of the plethora of focal points for scouts to assess is transferrable skills, and as Alex Taxman of Future Scope Hockey points out, that is one of Hanas’ selling points:
Most of the attention goes to his teammate Seth Jarvis, but in my opinion, Hanas is quite the player. When scouting players for the NHL, the most important things to look for are translatable skills. Cross Hanas is the definition of translatable skills. As Hanas’s former teammate Alex Overhardt pointed out, “Cross was a big lanky kid at an early age but you could already tell he had a ton of talent. He’s a great skater who plays hard and plays the game the right way.
Hanas might not be the prototypical speedster, but he has quick acceleration when he gets the puck or sees an opening off the puck. To go along with his high hockey IQ, he has the creative tendencies that should go a long way in the pros. Do not be surprised to see Hanas go at the end of the third round, and if he’s still around when the Wild are up in the fourth round, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound winger would add to the quality of depth that is needed in the Wilds’ system.
5th Round – 135th overall: Maxim Groshev, W, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
NHL Potential: Middle-Six Forward
As my colleague, Josh Bell, points out at the end of his article which finishes off our mock draft at The Hockey Writers (Rounds 3-7), Groshev will probably not last this long in the draft. At just 18 years old, he did not get the chance to shine in the KHL, as he only posted 1 goal and 7 assists in 36 games, but with his big frame at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, he has “power forward” written all over him.
Groshev is not the best skater and does not excel in any one area of the game, but in the fifth round, when a player like this is on the board, it would be hard to pass up. This pick is all about upside, and there is no doubt that he will need a few more years in the KHL to get more playing time to refine and develop his inherent skills. Fellow Russian and Minnesota Wild top prospect Kapril Kaprizov was also taken in this round. Maybe they strike gold twice?
6th Round – 166th overall: Hank Kempf, D, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
NHL Potential: Bottom Two Defenseman
The big 6-foot-1, 185-pound LHD from the Lumberjacks would be an ideal fit for the Minnesota Wild at this point in the draft. They have a successful history of developing defensemen, and after drafting two (high upside) centers, two wingers, and only one defenseman (Poirier) prior to this pick, I wanted to target a defenseman, and from the underrated USHL. Kempf was named to the USHL All-Rookie second team with 17 assists, which was good for third in the league. He is committed to Cornell University for next season and will have the opportunity to develop in an excellent NCAA program.
7th Round – 197th overall: Theo Nordlund, D, Frölunda HC J20 (SuperElit)
NHL Potential: Bottom Four Defenseman
To round out the 2020 NHL Draft, I wanted to target a young defenseman that would fly under the radar. Nordlund plays for the powerhouse Frölunda HC J20 of the SuperElit league. The 17-year-old has the frame (6-foot-1 and 180 pounds) that is ideal in a blueliner. Because of his age, he did not play a ton of minutes for the team but did have 11 points in 43 games for the club. Andy Lehoux of Future Considerations had this to say about Nordlund in August of 2019:
In the seventh round of the draft, it is almost as if you are throwing darts, but I would rather take my chances on a very young defenseman that plays on a premier club in one of the best international leagues in the world. Even with his lack of playing time, Nordlund has stood out amongst professional and independent scouts alike as he is currently ranked 45th on the NHL Central Scouting European rankings. I was surprised that he was still on the board, and doubt that he will be come draft time. Therefore, Nordlund was an easy selection with the 197th pick in our mock draft.
Wild Draft Potential
The Wild are in a phenomenal position in the 2020 NHL Draft to restock and upgrade their farm system. Even with the likes of Kaprizov, Boldy, and Adam Beckman on the wings, they desperately need help down the middle in particular, and they need more high-ceiling players in the system. That was my strategy throughout the mock draft, especially with those first three picks in Lapierre, Khusnutdinov, and Poirier.
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The NHL has not set the draft order or a date for the draft, as the Wild could be picking much higher than the 11th pick if they lose in the playoff round against the Vancouver Canucks and get lucky in the lottery. They could also pick much higher than 25th overall if the Pittsburg Penguins lose to the Montreal Canadiens (as they acquired their first-round pick in the Jason Zucker trade).
Regardless of where they pick, they should come up with three potential franchise-changing selections within the first two rounds of the draft. I doubt they take the risk that I took in this draft, as it’s easy for me as an armchair GM to make those riskier selections, but don’t be surprised if the Wild take one of those players first three picks if they are still on the board.