Revisiting Minnesota Wild Drafts – 2016

The 17th installment in this series has arrived after looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first 16 NHL Entry Drafts. If you missed any of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:

The 2015-16 NHL season was a bit of a step back for the Wild. After seeing the first 100-point campaign in franchise history during the previous season, they finished 2015-16 with a 38-33-11 record, which was good for just 87 points. The team still managed to squeak into the postseason, but they were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in six games in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild then turned the 2016 NHL Draft for help, making four selections by the time the weekend was over.

Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)

Round 1, 15th Overall – Luke Kunin, Center (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)

With their first pick of the night, the Wild used the 15th overall selection on University of Wisconsin center Luke Kunin. The Chesterfield, Missouri-native had impressed scouts in his first NCAA season after he led the Badgers with 19 goals in 34 games. Rather than rush him to the NHL, they let Kunin develop with Wisconsin for one more season. It was the right decision because he was named captain for his sophomore year and ended up leading all Badgers players with 22 goals and 38 points.

Related: Wild Have 3 Good Targets at the Trade Deadline

Between his collegiate play and the fact that he won three gold medals by 2017 representing the United States on the international stage, the Wild were impressed enough by Kunin to sign him to his three-year entry-level contract at the end of the 2016-17 NCAA season. He was then brought in to play 12 games for Iowa in the American Hockey League (AHL) on a tryout deal, tallying eight points over that span. He continued to impress at the AHL level the following season, racking up 19 points in 36 games. Kunin’s play was also enough to earn him 19 NHL games with the Wild, though he only mustered four points.

Luke Kunin Minnesota Wild
Luke Kunin, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As time went on, Kunin saw more opportunities with the Wild. He played 49 games for them in 2018-19, averaging 15:53 of ice time (TOI), nearly three minutes more than the previous season. While he was still looking for the offensive touch that he had in college, he showed that he could also be a two-way player by recording 34 blocked shots, 67 hits and 12 takeaways.

Kunin scored a career-high 31 points in 63 games with the Wild during the 2019-20 NHL season. Unfortunately, that was his last campaign with the team. Minnesota traded him and a 2020 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators for veteran center Nick Bonino, as well as 2020 second- and third-round picks. Kunin has enjoyed a bottom-six role in Nashville, recording 37 points in 85 games with the Predators. He’s set to become a free agent at the end of the 2021-22 season, so only time will tell if the team will bring him back or if he’ll need to look for a new opportunity elsewhere.

Middle Rounds (3rd — 4th)

Round 4, 106th Overall – Brandon Duhaime, Right Wing (Tri-City Storm, USHL)

After sitting on the sidelines for the second and third rounds, the Wild selected the Tri-City Storm’s Brandon Duhaime with the 106th overall pick. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right wing showcased a mix of offense and physicality in his first and only United States Hockey League (USHL) season, tallying 42 points and 143 penalty minutes (PIM) in 57 games. He had an additional eight points and 24 PIMs in 11 games over the course of Tri-City’s playoff run, which was enough to convince the Wild to draft him.

Duhaime opted for the collegiate route to the NHL, playing three seasons of NCAA hockey with the Providence Friars. While his first season at Providence College was unremarkable, he improved with each passing season. By the time his tenure was over and done with, Duhaime finished with 72 points, 162 PIMs and a plus-18 plus/minus rating over 117 games.

Brandon Duhaime Minnesota Wild
Brandon Duhaime, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Duhaime spent the next two seasons of his career playing for Iowa in the AHL. He suited up in 87 games between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, scoring 12 goals while adding 17 assists and 103 PIMs. He quickly earned a reputation as a tough customer, which followed him to Minnesota during the current campaign.

It’s looking like Duhaime’s AHL days are behind him now that he’s an everyday player for the Wild as a rookie. He’s played in 40 of the team’s 42 games so far in the 2021-22 NHL season and has 13 points while averaging 10:52 TOI. His physicality has followed him to the NHL, proven by his 94 hits and 56 PIMs. He’s also been used sparingly as a penalty killer, with goaltenders averaging a .944 save percentage (SV%) whenever he’s been on the ice for shorthanded reasons. If he can keep this play up, Duhaime could be a fan favorite in Minnesota for years to come.

Late Rounds (5th — 7th)

Round 7, 196th Overall – Dmitry Sokolov, Right Wing (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)

With the No. 196 selection at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Minnesota decided to go with another right-wing pick. This time it was the Sudbury Wolves’ Dmitry Sokolov, who had just come off of a 52-point campaign in his first Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season. The Omsk, Russia-native winded up playing three total seasons in the OHL, resulting in 221 points across 196 contests.

Dmitry Sokolov of the Sudbury Wolves
Dmitry Sokolov (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Wild signed Sokolov to his three-year entry-level deal in May 2018, hoping that he could continue that production at the higher levels. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case. He debuted for Iowa during the 2018-19 season, but it was apparent that the advantage he had as an older player in the OHL was non-existent at the AHL level. His 56 points in 115 games were better than some players, but he didn’t develop at the pace that Minnesota had hoped for.

The Wild decided not to tender a qualifying offer when Sokolov became a free agent in July 2021. It was hardly a surprise due to his inconsistent play that constantly left the fans and management wanting more. He decided to return to his home country of Russia to play in the Supreme Hockey League, which is commonly referred to as the ‘VHL.’ Sokolov currently plays for Omskie Krylia and leads his team when it comes to goals (26) and points (45) in 41 games.

Round 7, 204th Overall – Braydyn Chizen, Defenseman (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)

The Wild opted to roll the dice on Kelowna Rockets defenseman Braydyn Chizen with their second selection of the seventh round. His 6-foot-8 frame was something that scouts dream about, especially if he could be developed to fully use his body. While he never had an offensive upside (42 points in 235 Western Hockey League games), the Wild were hoping that he could play some sort of physical role for the NHL club down the line after he recorded 275 PIMs during his WHL stint.

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Unfortunately, Chizen’s development wasn’t enough to convince the Wild to offer him an entry-level contract. Once his WHL career concluded, he played just one game for the University of Alberta’s men’s hockey team during the 2019-20 season and hasn’t played since. Even though he was a longshot to begin with, it’s a shame that Chizen couldn’t reach Minnesota’s expectations.

Overall Wild Draft Grade: D+

Even though the Wild only had four selections in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the final result was underwhelming. While Kunin no longer being on the team doesn’t affect the draft grade, it’s hard not to be disappointed when Minnesota’s best prospects from the weekend are him and Duhaime, two players with bottom-six ceilings. After striking gold in the previous year, it’s clear that the 2016 draft was one of the more forgettable ones in Wild history.

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