The Minnesota Wild were able to bolster their prospect pipeline at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. They were also able to fill an organizational area of need by selecting defensemen Carson Lambos, Jack Peart, Kyle Masters, and Nate Benoit. As a result of having one of the best defensive cores over the last decade, the need for selecting defensemen hasn’t been very urgent until now. General Manager Bill Guerin and Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett also added goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, center Caedan Bankier, and right-winger Josh Pillar.
The Wild entered the first round on Friday night with picks #22 and #26. There were going to be plenty of good options when they were up, but they unexpectedly had the opportunity to draft Wallstedt at #20 after trading up two spots that sent picks #22 and #90 to the Edmonton Oilers. The other draft deal that the Wild orchestrated was acquiring pick #127 for picks #150 and #214. They added some significant talent to the pipeline that should help further down the road.
The Wild have completely undergone a transformation over the past several years as they now have a ton of young talent in the organization. The team has witnessed a budding star in Kirill Kaprizov, while Kevin Fiala has become a game-breaker, and Joel Eriksson Ek has emerged as one of the best two-way centers in the league. This doesn’t even include complementary pieces like Jordan Greenway and Kaapo Kahkonen.
The prospect pool has suddenly been infused with elite talent over the past several years, with Marco Rossi, Matt Boldy, Calen Addison, and now Jesper Wallestadt emerging as top prospects. This doesn’t even include prospects Marat Khusnutdinov, Alexander Khovanov, Adam Beckman, Ryan O’ Rourke, Lambos, and Peart, who could all become strong pieces in the future. This is a dangerous pipeline with lots of sneaky potential and depth.
Here is an overview of the picks at this year’s draft with analysis, rankings, analytics, video, projections and quotes:
Pick No. 20: Jesper Wallstedt (G)
The Wild desperately needed a goalie, and they got one in Wallstedt after he unexpectedly fell in the draft. He was the top goalie prospect in the draft for a reason. Almost every ranking had him in the top ten, while some rankings had him valued as high as number five. There’s a strong case that it was the steal of the first round. He will be the goalie of the future for the Wild, who desperately needed a talented young goaltender.
In one of the highest leagues in the world, Wallstedt recorded a .908 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average across 22 games in the Sweedish Hockey League (SHL). He also had a strong showing in the World Juniors when he put up a .923 save percentage in two showings.
Wallstedt is composed and comfortable in the net while being efficient at tracking the puck. He’s strong in the net in regards to movement and rebound control too. It appears that he has a very strong ceiling and could potentially flirt with being more than just an NHL starter.
Related: Wallstedt NHL Draft Profile
“He (Wallstedt) belongs in the same tier as Yaroslav Askarov and Spencer Knight as one of the three best goalie prospects in the world. He’s a rare teenaged goalie that I’m comfortable projecting as an NHL starter” – Scott Wheeler, (2021 NHL Draft Winners and losers: Ranking every team’s first-round, The Athletic, 07/24/21).
Pick No. 26: Carson Lambos (LD)
Lambos was in the middle of the first round in most rankings, so it ended up becoming a great value pick for the Wild. He should develop into top-four defensemen in the future on the left side. He likely fell in the draft because he sustained a season-ending leg injury that halted his season, but it’s well worth the risk given his upside.
Lambos is a strong skater, which helps him combine speed and edgework to resist pressure against opposing players. He is a scoring threat with a good shot and strong playmaking ability. He’s hard to play against because of his physical style and is very good defensively with some offensive potential if he develops correctly.
According to TopDownHockey’s NHLe model, Lambos has a two percent chance of becoming a star and a 29 percent chance of becoming an NHLer.
The odds of him becoming an NHLer are fairly high and are the 27th highest in the draft. If he can properly develop, it will be a very strong pickup and addition to a pipeline lacking defense.
The 18-year-old defensemen produced 32 points in 57 games with the Winnipeg Ice in the Western Hockey League back in the 2019-20 campaign. Between his short season in the WHL and Liiga, he posted 14 points in 19 games. For the most part, it was a disappointing year because he had the potential to go even higher in the draft.
While there are some concerns surrounding his game, he has a ton of potential and could become a strong second-pairing defenseman in the future.
Related: Lambos NHL Draft Profile
“He (Lambos) remains a top prospect due to his tools and underage profile but with more questions than a year ago” – Corey Pronman (Top 151 Prospects for 2021 NHL Draft: Owen Power leads Corey Pronman’s final rankings, The Athletic, 06/15/2021).
Pick No. 54: Jack Peart (LD)
Talk about players falling, as Peart was another great value pick. Most rankings have him as a late first-round pick or early second-round pick. It’s quite fitting given he is a Minnesota native and will be playing at St. Cloud State next season. He won the Mr. Hockey award, which is given to the most outstanding senior high school hockey player in Minnesota.
Peart is a strong defenseman in transition who prides himself in exiting the zone and orchestrating the rush. While he doesn’t provide a ton defensively in terms of physicality, he’s a strong defender because of his hockey IQ that is through the roof, which allows him to be in the right position. He’s a responsible two-way player that can play heavy minutes for a team on the backend. However, there are some concerns around his skating and size.
TopDownHockey’s NHLe model isn’t very high on him compared to scouts and people around him. He has just a six percent chance of becoming an NHL regular, according to the projection.
The model certainly isn’t very fond of him, but there are plenty of people who believe he has the tools to become a second-pairing defenseman.
It will be very interesting to see how he produces at St. Cloud State because he was a standout in his senior year. He posted 35 points in 18 games — nearly a two-point-per-game pace.
Looking at Mitch Brown’s data project, the numbers really illuminate his strengths as he was in the 86th percentile in successful exits while being in the 97th percentile in controlled exits per 60, which is very impressive numbers for the 18-year-old defenseman. It also displays his ability to enter the zone as he was in the 69th percentile in controlled entries per 60.
It’s promising to see that he has shown strong signs of responsible defensive play. The biggest data point that sticks out is his shooting and passing categories. Peart ranks in the 77th percentile in expected goals per 60 and the 92nd percentile in shots per 60. It’s clear he is able to shoot a high volume of shots, which is a very important tool to possess. Furthermore, he was also able to be in the 77th percentile in expected primary assists per 60 (looking at the weighted likelihood of a shot assist becoming a goal), which is a sign of strong playmaking characteristics.
Related: Peart NHL Draft Profile
“He’s (Peart) one of the smartest players in the draft and I’ve never talked to a scout or coach from the region who doesn’t love his upside. There are people in the state who believe he’s got all the makings of a second-pairing guy” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
Pick No. 86: Caedan Bankier (C)
It was probably a stretch for the Wild to get Bankier in the third round when most had him going in the fourth or fifth round. So, they clearly saw something in him and believe he can develop into a quality center at the NHL level. Since they decided to add four defensemen to the mix, it’s not shocking that they grabbed a center.
Bankier has registered 43 points in 77 games over the past two seasons with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL. This includes last season when he posted a point-per-game pace.
According to TopDownHockey’s NHLe model, it grades him out fairly better than I expected. He has a 12 percent chance of becoming an NHLer, which is the 62nd best among draft-eligible prospects.
This is really surprising given Peart’s odds are cut in half in comparison despite how much the scouts and people around Peart like him and his chances of becoming a very strong piece in the future. Bankier is a big, creative center with offensive potential that could potentially be a decent depth piece down the road.
“He shows good offensive instincts in how he improvises and creates for his teammates” – Corey Pronman (Wild’s 2021 NHL Draft Picks: Grades, fit and full scouting reports, The Athletic, 07/24/2021)
Pick No. 118: Kyle Masters (RD)
The Wild picked up Masters – a right-handed defenseman — in the fourth round. He’s a borderline future NHLer, so he could potentially becoming a depth defenseman on the third pair. He tallied 13 points in 44 games with the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL over the past two seasons.
The data and points align when it comes to his offensive play. In terms of scoring, there isn’t much there. Most of his offensive value comes from playmaking. He was in the 72nd percentile in expected primary assists per 60. Masters is very proficient in transition, too, as he is in the 75th percentile and above across the board when it comes to entering and exiting the zone successfully with control.
The data really displays his well-rounded game as he’s responsible defensively too, which is very important.
Related: Masters NHL Draft Profile
“…I see enough NHL attributes in his game where he could provide value. In a sentence, Masters’ puck game gives him a chance but his skating could hinder him versus pros in the NHL” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic
Pick No. 127 & 182: Josh Pillar (RW), Nate Benoit (LD)
There isn’t much to run home about with both these late picks. They did trade with the Canadiens to pick up Pillar, so there could be some potential here. Pillar can play center or right wing and has some good offensive tools, while Benoit is a left-handed defenseman who has shown signs of two-way play and is a reliable puck-mover.
Final Draft Grade
The Wild have really strengthened their prospect pool over the past three drafts and now hold one of the best prospect pools in the league. There is no doubt this organization has a bright future with the young talent infused into the organization. The final draft grade is an A, as they made a smart decision to trade up in the first round to get a top goaltending prospect in Wallstedt and capped it off some other very good pieces too.
All Data Via EliteProspects & Mitch Brown’s Data Tracking Project
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.