The 16th installment in this series has arrived after looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first 15 NHL Entry Drafts. If you missed any of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:
- 2000: Franchise’s Inaugural Draft
- 2001: Minnesota Gets Its Captain
- 2002: Late Round Woes
- 2003: Most Disappointing Draft Yet
- 2004: A Draft With No Standouts
- 2005: Starting the New Era Off with a Whimper
- 2006: More Missed Opportunities
- 2007: Prospect Cupboards Continue Being Empty
- 2008: Another First-Round Bust
- 2009: O.K. Draft to Finish the Decade
- 2010: Best Draft in a Long Time
- 2011: Wild Draft an All-Time Great Defenseman
- 2012: Minnesota Adds Another Key Defender
- 2013: Another Draft with Minimal Standouts
- 2014: Wild Continue Average Drafting
The Wild were fresh off of the 2014-15 NHL season that saw them go 46-28-8, which gave the franchise its second-ever 100-point campaign. Unfortunately, the regular season success didn’t follow Minnesota to the playoffs as the club was eliminated in the second round of the postseason for the second straight year. The good news is that the Wild built upon that success at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, finding several prospects who are still key players to this day.
Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)
Round 1, 20th Overall – Joel Eriksson Ek, Center (Farjestads BK Karlstad, SHL)
When the Wild used their first pick of the draft on Joel Eriksson Ek at No. 20, it marked the first time since 2010 that the organization used its first pick on a center. Eriksson Ek was coming off an impressive performance that saw him record 21 goals (and 11 assists) in just 25 games for Farjestads BK Karlstad’s junior team. His efforts were enough to see 34 games with the Swedish Hockey League club’s main roster, although, he only put up six points over that span.
Still, the Wild liked what they saw from him and signed him to his three-year entry-level contract in July 2015. Like most European prospects, Eriksson Ek spent another season overseas before making his North American debut in the 2016-17 season. While he had his moments with the Wild that season (seven points in 15 games), decided that it was best for his development to send him back to Farjestads.
When Eriksson Ek returned to North America for the 2017-18 season, he continued having his ups and downs. He had no issue producing in the American Hockey League, scoring 17 points in 17 games from 2017 to 2019 with Iowa. However, he did initially struggle at the NHL level with just 30 points in his first 133 games, which isn’t exactly ideal for a former first-round draft pick.
Fortunately, Eriksson Ek has looked like a top-six forward over his last four seasons. He has 50 points in his last 86 games, which includes 30 goals. While his offense has improved, he’s also emerged as one of the top two-way forwards in the league. After all, it was only in the 2020-21 NHL season that he placed fourth in Selke Trophy voting. Assuming he can find a way to be consistent night-in and night-out, he should continue being a cornerstone for the Wild for the duration of his eight-year, $42 million extension.
Round 2, 50th Overall – Jordan Greenway, Left Wing (U.S. National Development Team, USHL)
Like they had in the past, the Wild used one of their early picks on another promising prospect from the United States National Development Team. This time it was Jordan Greenway, who had a local connection after playing high school hockey in Minnesota. The 6-foot-6 winger was a stand out for the United States on the international stage as well, helping his country win gold at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, IIHF U-18 World Championship and World Junior Championship from 2014 to 2017.
After spending three seasons at Boston University, Greenway joined the Wild immediately following the 2017-18 NCAA college hockey season. He managed to get six regular season and five playoff games in with Minnesota that campaign, however, it resulted in a total of three points. The Wild liked what they saw in the up-and-comer, which resulted in him playing 81 games with the NHL club in the following season.
While Greenway has stayed in the NHL since then, his inconsistent play has sometimes drawn the ire of Wild fans. Despite being much larger than most forwards, the Canton, New York native doesn’t always use his body the way that he should. Another frustrating aspect is that he sometimes disappears from the scoresheet. The 24-year-old was on pace for 40 to 50 points in an 82-game campaign during 2020-21, however, he’s only on pace for 29 in 2021-22. Considering how he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, only time will tell exactly what his future with the Wild looks like.
Middle Rounds (3rd — 4th)
Round 4, 111st Overall – Ales Stezka, Goaltender (Liberic Jrs., Czech)
After doing fairly well with their first two selections of the weekend, the Wild were left with their first disappointment in the form of Liberic Juniors goaltender, Ales Stezka. The Czech netminder looked solid overseas during his draft year, backstopping Liberic’s under-20 team with a 2.77 goals-against average (GAA) and .907 save percentage (SV%). He made his move to the United States Hockey league for the following campaign, however, things didn’t go the way that he planned. Despite his promising play with the Sioux Falls Stampede and Chicago Steel, Stezka was never offered an entry-level contract from the Wild and, ultimately, decided to return to the Czech Republic where he still plays to this day.
Late Rounds (5th — 7th)
Round 5, 135th Overall – Kirill Kaprizov, Left Wing (Novokuznetsk Metallurg, KHL)
Nobody could have foreseen just how the Wild selecting Kirill Kaprizov with the 135th overall selection would shape the franchise forever. While the Russian prodigy showed a lot of offensive potential competing against men in the Kontinental Hockey League, there’s always the uncertainty of whether a Russian prospect will come over to the NHL. Nevertheless, Kaprizov continued to improve with each passing year, becoming the top goal-scorer in the KHL, setting records and even led the Olympic Athletes to Russia to a gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
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With the Wild fans watching Kaprizov develop overseas, the idea of him coming to North America somewhat diminished as each season went by. Much to the delight of many, a light emerged at the end of the tunnel when Minnesota signed him to a two-year entry-level contract in July 2020. Although, the first year of the deal was burnt off due to his signing coming during the 2019-20 postseason. Still, Kaprizov came over immediately for the 2020-21 NHL season and proved that he was a top-line option right off the bat, scoring 51 points in 55 games en route to winning the Calder Trophy.
Despite only having one NHL season under his belt, the Wild knew that they needed to look Kaprizov down as soon as possible. That was further proven with the idea that returning to the KHL was a rumored possibility. General manager Bill Guerin worked as hard as he could for a deal to get done, eventually signing his star forward to a five-year, $45 million contract. That was certainly a lot of money to give a player who hadn’t even played a full 82-game campaign, however, it was a necessary move for a franchise that had never seen a player with his potential.
Fortunately, Guerin’s gamble paid off and Kaprizov has lived up to every penny of his deal. He leads the Wild in both assists (26) and points (39) ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season’s midway point. He looks a lot more comfortable than he did in his rookie season and is on pace for over 100 points in a full season. Considering how Marian Gaborik holds the franchise record for most points in a season (83 in 2007-08), it’s easy to see just how important Kaprizov is to the Wild.
Round 6, 171st Overall – Nick Boka, Defenseman (U.S. National Development Team, USHL)
Surprisingly, it took the Wild six rounds before they selected their first defenseman of the weekend. That played ended up being Nick Boka, who was another standout on the U.S. National Development Team. The Plymouth, Michigan native opted for the collegiate route, spending four years at the University of Michigan. Once his degree was complete, Boka played 33 games between 2018 and 2020 for the Wild’s ECHL affiliate, the Allen Americans.
Much to his dismay, Boka never stood out enough to warrant any type of promotion in the Wild organization. He played 44 games with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Comets in 2020-21, scoring 18 points while also racking up a whopping 122 penalty minutes (PIMs). He continued switching teams after that, signing an AHL contract with the Rochester Americans for the 2021-22 campaign. While he’s been called up a few times, he’s yet to make his AHL debut.
Round 7, 201st Overall – Gustav Bouramman, Defenseman (Soo Greyhounds, OHL)
Another 2015 draft pick who didn’t work out too well for the Wild was defenseman Gustav Bouramman. Although the Swedish blueliner impressed with 126 points in 201 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds, he never figured out how to translate that to the professional level. Bouramman spent two seasons with the Wild organization, however, 28 games were spent in the AHL and 54 were played in the ECHL. He didn’t do anything productive with his playing time, which led to him returning to Sweden in 2019-20 where he still plays to this day.
Round 7, 204th Overall – Jack Sadek, Defenseman (Lakeville North High School, Minn.)
Drafting their third defenseman in as many picks, the Wild selected Jack Sadek with the 204th overall pick of the draft. He was the definition of a local prospect, having been born in Minnesota before playing both high school and collegiate hockey in the state. After spending four years at the University of Minnesota, Sadek played 63 games with the Americans in the ECHL. While he showed some promise, it wasn’t enough to warrant a return, leading to him signing an AHL contract with the Ontario Reign ahead of the 2020-21 season. He has not played a game for any organization in the 2021-22 season.
Wild Draft Grade: A+
Even though it only happened nearly seven years ago, there’s no denying that the 2015 NHL Entry Draft should go down as the best in franchise history. Kaprizov is playing like a top-10 player in the NHL, Eriksson Ek is one of the premier two-way forwards and there’s still potential for Greenway to become a top-six contributor if he can put his tools together. Sure, the other four drafted players didn’t amount to much, however, the aforementioned trio more than make up for it. With how recent this draft was, it’ll be interesting to see how the 2015 class continues to develop over the next five or 10 years.
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As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!