The Minnesota Wild are desperate for talent, especially at forward. Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Mikko Koivu (the team’s veteran forward core) are way past their prime. All that is left of Chuck Fletcher’s “young core” is Jason Zucker, and the team’s new crop of young forwards is unproven — none of them look likely to develop into the high-scoring forward the team desperately needs. The Wild’s defensive core is currently the strength of its team, but Ryan Suter is also getting old and the team’s ever-rotating third defensive pair needs work.
The Wild are counting on their prospects to step up, provide some offensive production, solidify the defensive core, and rescue their team. Here are the Wild’s top prospects who have yet to crack the NHL roster. I’m going to discuss their likely ceiling and give an update on how they are doing with their current teams.
Prospect #1: Kirill Kaprizov, LW
Kirill Kaprizov is a no-brainer for the Wild’s top prospect — he was the team’s fifth-round pick in 2015. Over the past two seasons, he has 91 points (45 goals, 46 assists) in 103 regular season games with his KHL team, CSKA Moscow, and additionally has notched 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists) in 36 playoff games. However, it has been international play that has put Kaprizov on the radar and solidified his spot as a top-10 prospect in the whole NHL. In the past two IIHF World Championships, he has put up 10 points (eight goals and two assists) in 17 games while playing against some of the best NHL players.
In the 2018 Winter Olympics, Kaprizov scored nine points (five goals, four assists), none bigger than the game-winning goal in overtime during the gold-medal game. Despite his small stature (5-foot-10, 192 pounds), he is a strong skater, knows how to get into open areas on the ice, and he has a rocket of a shot. I have been following him since his outstanding performance in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, and I believe he is the Wild’s best shot at contending for a Stanley Cup in the near-future. He has the potential to be a superstar in the NHL, and he should come over to the league once his KHL contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Prospect #2: Matthew Boldy, LW
Matthew Boldy was the Wild’s first round pick this year (12th overall). He had 81 points (33 goals, 48 assists) in 64 games this year with the US National Development Team, and he was the team’s top-scoring, full-time wing this past season. He is a great two-way player with the size, intelligence, and strength to be great winger in the NHL for a long time. In the 2018 U-18 World Junior Championships, he scored 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in seven games, and he was the third highest scorer in the tournament.
Next year, Boldy will play at Boston College, where he will have the opportunity to further his development by playing under Jerry York, arguably the top college hockey coach in the country. He has the talent and size to be a top-line wing in the NHL, and should be playing for the Wild in either the 2020-21 or 2021-22 season.
Prospect #3: Connor Dewar, C/LW
Connor Dewar is one of the league’s most underrated prospects — the Wild drafted him in the third round of the 2018 Draft. Dewar spent the past four seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, increasing his point total in each subsequent season. He served as captain this last season and had 81 points (36 goals, 45 assists) in 59 games. In the 2017-18 season, he served as alternate captain and had 68 points (38 goals, 30 assists) in 68 games, and added 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 22 playoff games.
The past two seasons, Dewar has also been a solid two-way player — he was a plus-27 in the 2018-19 season and a plus-23 the previous year. Additionally, he was named alternate captain of Team WHL in the Canada-Russia Series. He is versatile (he can play center or wing), a great playmaker, and a natural leader. Likely he will play for the Iowa Wild this season, and he has the potential to be a top-six forward (and maybe captain) if his development continues in the AHL and NHL.
Prospect #4: Alexander Khovanov, C
Alexander Khovanov was originally pegged as a first-round talent. Although dangerous on the ice, illness and injury hurt his draft stock, and he ended up falling to the Wild in the third round of the 2018 Draft. He has elite vision, is an accurate passer, and possesses silky hands, notching 49 assists (along with 25 goals) in 64 games with the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL during the 2018-19 season. Although his skating has been a question mark, he knows how to find open space.
The Wild are in need of a playmaker now that Mikael Granlund is gone. Khovanov has the potential to eventually fill Granlund’s role and earn time on the power play. If he can stay healthy and continue his development, he could be a top-two center for the Wild — not to mention his playmaking skills and Kaprizov’s scoring ability would make for a dangerous Russian duo.
Prospect #5: Kaapo Kähkönen, G
The Wild selected Kaapo Kähkönen in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. After spending two seasons with Lukko in the Finish Elite League, the 6-foot-2 goalie played his first season of North American hockey with the Iowa Wild this past season. There was a lot of speculation that Kähkönen would struggle last season because of the smaller sheets of ice in North America — a significant adjustment because it throws off goalies’ angles. However, Kähkönen did anything but struggle, posting a 2.78 goals-against average (GAA), a .908 save percentage (SV%), six shutouts, and 17 wins in 39 games played.
He also won Goaltender of the Month for November, going 5-0-3 with a 1.21 GAA, .960 SV%, and three shutouts. Needless to say, Kähkönen adjusted well to his first season of North American hockey, and he should continue improving in the AHL until he can compete with Alex Stalock and Mat Robson (see #8) for the backup job with the NHL squad.
Prospect #6: Vladislav Firstov, LW
Valdislav Firstov is another Russian forward the Wild selected during day two of the draft — he was one of the team’s second-round selections in the 2019 draft. See a trend here with picking talented Russian forwards after the first round? He had 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 62 games during his rookie season in the USHL, ranking second among all first-year skaters. Despite being from Russia and completing the same Russian program as Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Provorov, Firstov moved to North America to play junior hockey, and he will play for Mike Cavanaugh and the University of Connecticut this upcoming season.
He is a great skater, has elite vision and passing ability, and has a high hockey IQ. If he continues to improve his game, he could easily be a top-six forward for the Wild in a few years. Although he is still raw, Firstov is one of the Wild’s most exciting prospects in terms of pure talent.
Prospect #7: Jack McBain, C
The Wild selected Jack McBain in the third round of the 2018 Draft (looks like this was a good round for the team). In 2018-19, he played at Boston College and notched 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 35 games during his freshman year. He is a power forward (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), and has a high-end shot, great hands, and the ability to get to the net.
However, his speed, defensive positioning, and discipline need work — making him a player with great upside and uncertainty. McBain has the potential to be a top-nine forward in more of a supporting role if his development continues, and I expect him to play another season at BC before making the jump to the AHL in the 2020-21 season.
Prospect #8: Mat Robson, G
The Wild signed Robson after his junior season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Over two years as the starting goalie for the Gophers, Robson went 21-17-5 with a 2.57 GAA and a .924 SV% (a new program record). Additionally, Robson was named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team, was a finalist for Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, and was an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten Team.
He is a great value, considering the Wild did not have to spend a draft pick to acquire him, and the 6-foot-3 goalie will likely compete for playing time with the Iowa Wild this season. Robson definitely has the potential to play in the NHL eventually, and he provides important depth at the goaltending position.
Although the players discussed above I believe are the Wild’s top eight prospects, I would be remiss to not mention a few other players (and maybe some defensemen).
Adam Beckman: The center led the WHL Spokane Chiefs with 32 goals last season, ranking second among league rookies.
Filip Johansson: The Wild’s surprise first-round pick in 2018 has been uninspiring so far in his career. However, he is quite a talented defenseman and should be motivated to have a good season after a disappointing 2018-19 season in the Swedish Elite League.
Brennan Menell: The undrafted defenseman had a solid second season with the Iowa Wild, posting 44 points in 70 games while being a plus-10.
Outlook for the Wild
Despite the lack of talented forwards on the current roster, the Wild have the potential to contend for a cup in a few years if their prospects keep developing and can produce in the NHL. Headlined by Kirill Kaprizov, the team’s pipeline boasts many high-end forwards and possibly even a superstar or two. The team is deep at the goaltender position, and hopefully its prospects at defense can keep improving. Although the Wild are unlikely to be competitive this year, they could be a very dangerous team once these prospects are ready for the NHL.