It was another first-round exit for the Minnesota Wild, but renewed enthusiasm in the young core and arguably the deepest prospect pool in franchise history means an offseason of optimism. As general manager (GM) Bill Guerin gets to work solidifying his vision of a long-term contender, several top prospects will push to make the lineup out of training camp prior to the 2021-22 season.
The previous season saw the emergence of rookie star Kirill Kaprizov (who should be a lock for the Calder trophy), Kaapo Kahkonen and further development from Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway. Now, there is the potential for the Wild to build on this season’s turnaround and experience another surge of young talent in the lineup who hope to be part of the long-term championship vision.
1. Calen Addison, Defenseman
Since joining the Wild in the Feb.10, 2020 trade for Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calen Addison’s development deepened the organization’s defensive prospect pool. Originally drafted 53rd overall in 2019 by the Penguins, the Wild allowed Addison to develop with the AHL’s Iowa’s Wild. This season, the 21-year-old played a top-four role for Iowa, scoring six goals and 16 assists with a plus-7 in 31 games.
He drew into three NHL games, recording four shots. Listed at 5-foot-11, Addison is projected to be an offensive defenseman who can help quarterback the powerplay. This skillset was on full display during his junior career with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, scoring 215 points (41 goals, 174 assists) in 252 games. Addison added nine points (one goal, eight assists) and a gold medal for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championships.
Addison’s development took a major leap following an injury to Carson Soucy that vacated the bottom pair’s right side against the Golden Knights in Game 4. He played the final three games of the series, recording a minus-1 in about 12 minutes of ice time. With Ian Cole and Brad Hunt being unrestricted free agents, as well as the uncertainty of Matt Dumba’s future prior to the Seattle Expansion Draft, Addison will have the opportunity to finally secure a permanent spot.
2. Matthew Boldy, Left Wing
Matthew Boldy was already considered a steal for the Wild when he was selected 12th overall in 2019 after being in the top ten final rankings. This year, he made major strides in his development and dominated at every level prior to the NHL. The 20-year-old signed his entry-level contract on March 31 after an impressive final season with Boston College. Boldy scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 31 points and was named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as one of the NCAA’s best. This feat is in addition to scoring seven points in seven games and winning a gold medal at the World Juniors for the United States in January.
Boldy transitioned seamlessly to the pros following his collegiate career, scoring six goals and 12 assists in 14 games for Iowa. With injuries to Nick Bonino and Marcus Johansson, Boldy nearly made his NHL debut during the playoffs. His game is described as a “silky smooth” forward who can score goals and get his teammates involved as a playmaker in quick transitions. His shot is considered NHL ready, and he should push for a spot in Minnesota’s top nine, with a ceiling of a top-line winger.
3. Marco Rossi, Centre
If it were not for COVID-19, Marco Rossi would have made the Wild’s lineup out of training camp and may have been the team’s long-awaited top-six centre this year. Falling to the Wild at the ninth pick during the 2020 draft and being the biggest organizational need would have been another success story for Minnesota this season. Unfortunately, due to contracting the virus, Rossi was forced to fly back to his native Austria following the World Juniors. The tournament would prove to be the only hockey (four games) he played this year, with recovery time prior to a 2021-22 season still a question mark.
However, when Rossi is cleared to play, he should make an immediate impact. After the graduation of Kaprizov, Rossi was deemed the team’s top prospect with the potential to be a top-line centre down the line. As a reminder, the 20-year-old scored 39 goals and 81 assists in 58 games for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s during the 2019-20 season. His work ethic, confidence and skill are considered his greatest strengths that offset any concern over his 5-foot-9, skinny frame. With Eriksson Ek expected to re-sign and continue his own development, the Wild are looking a lot deeper down the middle in quite some time.
4. Alexander Khovanov, Centre
Originally drafted 86th overall in 2018 from the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, Alexander Khovanov developed into a reliable scorer in the next three seasons. He finished his junior career with an impressive 99 points (32 goals, 67 assists) in 51 games before the Wild loaned him to Kazan Ak-Bars this year when the AHL season was delayed. Before the arrival of Rossi, Khovanov was the Wild’s top centre prospect.
Considered a competitive player who plays with a ton of emotion, Khovanov’s development has stalled in Russia, according to Michael Russo. (from Russo: ‘What’s going on with Wild prospect Alex Khovanov’s slow start in the KHL?’ The Athletic, 10/30/2020). The scoring potential has yet to break out, especially after he only suited up for seven KHL games (no points) before being demoted to Kazan’s VHL minor affiliate.
The expectation is Khovanov to start in Iowa next season with the hope that his scoring touch reignites on North American ice. If this can be accomplished, he can see some call-ups. More ice time can be gained if he can translate into a full-time NHL centre, especially with the Wild’s precarious situation down the middle. If he can make the lineup, his biggest competition will be Nico Sturm and if Bonino re-signs for those bottom-six spots.
5. Adam Beckman, Left Winger
After a solid draft year scoring 62 points (30 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs in the 2018-19 season, Beckman broke out with 107 points (48 goals, 52 assists) the next year. Originally drafted 75th overall by the Wild in 2019, the 20-year-old finished his junior career with 27 points in 21 games before arriving in Iowa. He appeared in nine AHL games, collecting five points (three goals, two assists).
Since his midget hockey years, Beckman has been considered a raw prospect, with different projections on how his potential will pan out in the NHL. So far, he has transitioned into an effective scorer with an NHL-ready shot and passing, but his foot speed needs work. At the time of his selection, his ceiling was middle-six forward, but he has room to grow into a potential top-six option. Beckman should develop with Iowa for the full season after the small nine-game sample size this year, but he might see some call-ups, and unless he impresses enough to unseat one of head coach Dean Evason’s top-nine fixtures.
Honourable mention: Filip Johansson, Defenseman
It is tough to get an accurate read on Filip Johansson. He is 21 and has yet to sign his entry-level contract. Playing for a veteran-heavy Frolunda in the SHL this season, he averaged about 13 minutes of ice time as a depth player. In 46 SHL games, he recorded 11 points (six goals, five assists) to go with a minus-6. Originally selected 24th overall in 2018, Johansson was projected to be a mid-second round pick but did jump to 10th in final international skaters rankings. The concern is that he has yet to make any major strides in his development since draft day.
Johansson is not flashy but was labelled as a reliable, future stay-at-home defender with a second pairing ceiling. Ignoring the first-round pick label at this point, he may be given a look at training camp (once the contract situation is solved) to be a bottom-pairing option. With the impending expansion draft and the Wild’s own salary cap crunch, he is valuable for both his expected entry-level salary and as a young, right-hand shot whose potential has yet to be on full display. Similar to Addison’s opportunities to make the team, Johansson will get a closer look once the Cole, Dumba and Hunt situations are figured out and the free agency period begins. Addison is ways ahead of Johansson on the depth chart, but the Swedish defender may be able to figure things out at training camp or starting in Iowa.
It was one of the Wild’s most successful seasons in franchise history, but it was only the beginning of Guerin’s blueprint to build a legitimate contender. Cap situations, contracts and the expansion draft will dominate the first half of the offseason. Once all that clears, the Wild will have a better idea of potential lineups and which prospects can make the jump to the NHL.
Unlike previous years, the prospect pipeline remains a strength and based on the quality of the top prospects, there should be further additions to the ongoing youth movement. The Wild will look to balance the influx of young talent with the established vets once again, and seeing Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek with an Addison, Boldy, or Rossi should be glimpses of the future core that may finally lead the Wild to deep playoff runs. Again, it was another first-round loss this year, but the future is brighter than ever in Minnesota.
Sports journalist covering the Minnesota Wild. Currently completing a journalism degree in Toronto, Canada.