The Minnesota Wild exceeded many expectations by qualifying for the playoffs let alone pushing their 1st round series against the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games. Even though the Wild showed more resilience the end result was another one-and-done series and the team’s offense again was problematic throughout the series. Give credit to Vegas for its strong defense and some great play between the pipes, but it also exposed the fact the Wild are still lacking in firepower to truly challenge the elite teams in the NHL’s Western Conference.
The good news is the Minnesota Wild do appear to have some help up front on the way in blue chip prospect Matt Boldy who turned pro after a terrific sophomore season at Boston College and helping lead Team USA to a World Juniors gold medal. Many Wild fans were more than a little annoyed the team opted not to call up the talented winger as the club struggled to score against Vegas. These fans felt Boldy’s (rated 21st by the Hockey News‘ 2021 Future Watch issue) strengths, great on-ice vision, terrific hands, and his ability to dangle and make his way into the middle of the ice would be very useful and help spark the team’s offense. Yet, Wild General Manager Bill Guerin resisted the pressure and stayed that Boldy’s “time will come” likely starting next season.
He’s not the only young player to shine at the WJC’s. Marat Khusnutdinov seems to be a bit more of a jack of all trades player who did a little bit of everything while on Team Russia’s top line. He ended up playing and doing well in Russian Junior after the WJC’s before sustaining a shoulder injury that required surgery which ended his season.
Another key forward who had his 2021 season cut short was last year’s 1st round pick Marco Rossi. He had Covid-19 prior to participating in the WJC’s with an outmatched Team Austria squad. Little did he realize at the time that his play during that tournament nearly cost him his life as he developed post Covid-19 myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle). After the WJC’s he made his way to Minnesota where the Wild’s doctors discovered Rossi’s precarious condition and put his hockey to a halt for the rest of the year. He spent the next few months doing nothing at all (which is the prescribed treatment for myocarditis) and only recently has been cleared to start working out again and the youngster is training hard to try to make up for lost time.
He hasn’t played seasonal hockey in 18 months. Despite being rated as the team’s top prospect by the Hockey News (rated 19th in their 2021 Future Watch issue), I think its unrealistic to think he’ll be NHL-ready next fall. That’s no slight to Rossi, but not having played in so long has to have stunted his development a bit compared to what it would’ve been had he managed to have played a season in the Swiss National League as he had originally had planned. I recently discussed this along with the podcast The Huskies Warming House‘ hosts Nick Maxson and Noah Grant along with special guest Pat Micheletti.
Western Hockey League scoring ace Adam Beckman had showed some scoring touch with Iowa before returning to Spokane to try to lead the way for the Chiefs. He still is at least a season, maybe two away from being ready. Alexander Khovanov, who thought he’d go from being an offensive dynamo in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had a rough go of it trying to make the Kontinental Hockey League Ak Bars Kazan squad and found himself playing in the Russian minors instead. I feel its safe to say he’s at least a few years away.
Connor Dewar was 2nd on Iowa in scoring with a team-leading 12 goals, 23 points in 32 games showcasing some of the offensive skill he had when he was a top scorer with the Everett Silvertips. Damien Giroux also showed promise as a two-way center and earned praise from Iowa’s coaching staff for his hard work at either end of the ice. Yet both are probably at least a season or two away from getting a real shot with the big club. There is more depth in the prospect pool at forward than we’ve seen in a long time.
So what are the Minnesota Wild’s needs?
1. Strengthen the middle & add speed, scoring up front ~ While the ever-popular draft mantra is ‘take the best player available’ for the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round it should be modified to say, “take the best center available” because they simply need more options down the middle. Especially centers that project to play in the team’s top six. The team feels confident it drafted one last season in Rossi, and Joel Eriksson Ek enjoyed a breakout season it still would be wise to add another top prospect at that position. Fiala and Kaprizov need help in order to maximize their potential, having young, skilled centers available allows the team to save some cap space and give these great wingers some more suitable support. If a top 6 center doesn’t appear to be available, a fast goal-scoring winger would be a close 2nd on any draft list I’d create for this Minnesota Wild club.
2. Beef up the blueline ~ The 2021 NHL Entry Draft class features lots of defenseman, but many are of the smaller, puck moving variety. The Wild’s blueline is on the smaller side and while that doesn’t seem to be a problem during the regular season at times it feels like that lack of heft gets exposed in the playoffs where the games invariably get more physical. The team does have a few decent blueline prospects in its system, in Calen Addison and Ryan O’Rourke but they could use another bigger, more physical defenseman in the system.
3. Bolster the crease ~ The news that the Minnesota Wild was unable to reach a contract with promising goaltending prospect Filip Lindberg was a hit to the club’s depth. While the NHL club is happy with its two goaltenders right now, it still wants to have viable options if anything were to happen to either of them (short-term or long-term). With a full slate of draft picks at their disposal I would expect the Wild will add at least one goaltender in this year’s draft.
As of this writing, the Wild have two selections in the 1st round after trading Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Depending on how the rest of the playoffs play out the club appears to be drafting with the 21st and 25th selections in the draft. So what forwards appear to be within this range when you consider the team’s needs?
I have identified 6 forwards who I think fit the club’s needs and who I think have a fair chance of being available when the team goes to make their first selection. I have researched these players extensively, watched game film and heard what the experts had to say. So the order you see is how I’d have these players on my draft board if I worked for the Minnesota Wild’s scouting department.
2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Defenseman
2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Goaltenders
2021 Minnesota Wild Draft Preview: Sleepers & Steals
I would like to thank Eliteprospects.com and Devils in the Details podcast for their shift-by-shift YouTube videos of these prospects to get a real good feel for what these players bring to the table both on and off of the puck.
1. C / RW – Mackie Samoskevich (Chicago, USHL) ~ Newtown, Connecticut
Height: 5’11” Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #26 (NA Skater) Hockey News: #26 ISS: #23
TSN Bob McKenzie: #31 HockeyProspect.com: #42
Future Considerations: #30 The Athletic – Wheeler: #27
Talent Analysis: The Newtown, Connecticut-native is a skilled, right-shot center who is an equally adept playmaker as he is a scorer. Samoskevich has decent speed and a NHL-calibre shot but his biggest challenge is establishing consistency to his game. Scouts note that while he has moments where he plays up to his potential, its not always there shift to shift. They also wish he’d shoot the puck as he’s more of a playmaker than a sniper. He has a high hockey IQ and can anticipate plays and openings on the ice to exploit with a pass or a quick shot on goal. Even though he’s a smaller player he is strong on his skates, he likes to move into the higher traffic areas of the ice on occasion, but some believes he’s a bit too comfortable playing on the perimeter. He is at his best when he’s playing the game at a high tempo, using his speed and skill to full effect. The Michigan-commit will be joining a fairly loaded Wolverines’ team this fall, so it will be interesting to see where he gets slotted into their lineup. Like most players his age he will need to add strength which will help him be tougher to knock off the puck and winning battles along the boards.
Bottom Line: Samoskevich would give the Wild a right-shot center option that has the skill to work in the team’s Top 6 if he can improve his consistency. He is threat to score as much as he is to set up teammates which bodes well. As a college-developed prospect he will take at least two seasons before I would expect to see him turn professional so that might factor into the team’s decision-making. Yet he should be available when the Wild go to make either of their two 1st round selections. There is an element of Brayden Point to his game that intrigues me and being a right-shot center option also would be nice to have in the club’s prospect pool. He’s the kind of player who may not have a lot of talk about him right now, but later people are wondering how he managed to be drafted as late as he was.
2. C – Fedor Svechkov (Lada Togliatti, MHL) ~ Togliatti, Russia
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 179lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #6 (Euro skater) Hockey News: #12 ISS: #8
TSN Bob McKenzie: #30 HockeyProspect.com: #14
Future Considerations: #18 The Athletic – Wheeler: #36
Talent Analysis: Responsible and smart are the two most common adjectives scouts use to describe Svechkov’s game. He’s a center with two-way ability who shows the same amount of attention to detail in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. He is strong on the puck and finishes his checks consistently. He is a dogged defender and who likes to pressure opposing skaters and forcing turnovers. Svechkov’s puckhandling may lack dazzle, but he can change his pace of play in an instant which can give him some time and space for himself and his linemates. He is a decent puck distributor with good, accurate passes. This is is another area where his vision and on-ice awareness of where his options are is where the impact is subtle but demonstrates a pretty sharp hockey mind. His shot is only average and despite the fact he’s not a flashy player he still finds his way onto the scoresheet more often than not. His skating stride is a bit unorthodox, but he is pretty agile and he still is a fairly fast skater. He has definite middle-6 potential as a smart two-way center who can be used in a variety of roles because of his well-rounded skillset.
Bottom Line: Svechkov is a coaches dream as he plays a smart, responsible two-way game. He is not as gifted physically as other players, so he makes up for those deficiencies with good positioning and making the right decision given the situation. While his defensive game gets a lot of the attention in scouting reports, he has a variety of tricks he utilizes in the offensive zone so he can chip in points as well. An ideal middle-six center with lots of versatility to his game because of his on-ice intelligence.
3. LW / RW – Oskar Olausson (HV71, Allsvenskan) ~ Stockholm, Sweden
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 181lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #13 (Euro skater) Hockey News: #19 ISS: #51
TSN Bob McKenzie: #26 HockeyProspect.com: #24
Future Considerations: #38 The Athletic – Wheeler: #20
Talent Analysis: He is a speedy winger with scoring ability who is all about the offense. Playing in the Allsvenskan he was playing at nearly a 2-points-per-game pace and has a great shot with a 6’2″ frame to go with it. He is more of a shoot-first player and is constantly on the search for pucks and an outlet pass where he can use his acceleration to help him generate a scoring chance. Another area where he stands out is his ability to create scoring opportunities either using his speed or dangling by opposing skaters which makes him more dangerous. The obvious area of development is the defensive side of the game where he doesn’t seem to be all that engaged. In fact that lack of ‘fire’ was so noticeable he was even scratched for a playoff game because of it. He doesn’t seem to have a hunger to try to hound opposing skaters for the puck. At times he can overhandle the puck or try to do too much instead of using his teammates, where he’ll skate himself into a place where he has no options. So it might be a matter of maturity or simply realizing that keeping the puck isn’t always the best play for himself and his team. His combination of size, speed, and scoring ability make him intriguing but how much patience will coaches have for him if the scoring stops if he’s not helping out defensively? However, most scouts say that he may be one of the most skilled players available in this year’s draft and its up to him to put the good parts of his game together to showcase the potential he has.
Bottom Line: A fast, skilled scoring winger with size. A shoot-first player who has the skill to make him dangerous whenever he’s on the ice. He probably needs a player to work with to set him up, but he has the finishing ability you just can’t teach. If he can appropriate a modicum of defensive responsibility then you probably have a decent scoring threat for your top 9.
4. LW – William Stromgren (MoDo, Allsvenskan) ~ Ornskoldsvik, Sweden
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 175lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #14 (Euro skater) Hockey News: #34 ISS: #40
TSN Bob McKenzie: #38 HockeyProspect.com: #34
Future Considerations: #46 The Athletic – Wheeler: #42
Talent Analysis: He is another bigger winger who skates well and has good offensive ability. Stromgren uses his lanky frame well to protect the puck but he doesn’t play a power forward type of game. Think more of a Joel Armia-type of player who is tall, has good hands and decent scoring ability but isn’t imposing his will physically. Scouts did note he was more physically assertive towards the end of the season, as he learned to play within a team structure instead of being a one-man show like he did when he was younger. Defensively, he uses his reach effectively to keep opposing skaters from working their way to the middle of the ice. Although scouts did note he doesn’t always seem too engaged to get back defensively and that leads to missed assignments. He is a decent passer and possesses good instincts which make him a natural fit on the power play. Even if he’s not going to play a power forward game, he’s still going to have to add more muscle to be able to protect the puck but he projects to be a middle-6 winger with scoring ability.
Bottom Line: He’s a taller winger who moves well and has good offensive skills. He likes to unleash the one-timer and while some may look at his size and wish he’d try to use that gift to his advantage that simply is not his game. He will need to commit to being better in his own end to make him a quality NHL prospect. How high is his ceiling? Probably not a top line player, but a solid middle-6 depth scoring option on the wing. He’s also certainly a player you’d consider with your 2nd first round selection or perhaps a 2nd round pick.
5. C / LW – Zachary Bolduc (Rimouski, QMJHL) ~ Trois Riviers, Quebec
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 175lbs Shoots: Left
Central Scouting: #17 (NA Skaters) Hockey News: #21 ISS rank: #16
TSN Bob McKenzie: #16 HockeyProspect.com: #28
Future Considerations: #25 The Athletic – Wheeler: #35
Talent Analysis: When scouts talk about Zach Bolduc’s game they always mention the difference in his play and production when he was playing on a line 2020 1st Overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to playing on a Rimouski team this year which was one of the bottom feeders of the QMJHL. The contrast helped give scouts and fans alike to try to discern how talented the winger is with an elite forward to work with and then carrying the scoring workload himself. His scoring took a predictable drop, but he also battled through an appendectomy too. He is a smart, offensively skilled player who handles the puck well in tight to either create a chance to shoot or pass the puck. Fans might see shades of Matt Boldy in his body type, skating style even though his offensive skillset although not quite at high a level as the Wild prospect. He plays responsibly defensively and is fairly consistent shift to shift. He wins more battles for pucks along the wall and shows good focus even when he’s away from the puck which should endear himself to coaches. Some scouts question whether his scoring ability at the junior level will be good enough to make him more of a go-to scoring option at the NHL level. They also seem to be split whether he’s better as a winger or as a center. He also has the versatility to play all 3 forward positions, so he does have some utility that might make him more enticing to use the club’s second 1st round selection on.
Bottom Line: He’s a skilled winger with size, good on-ice instincts to project to a Top-6 winger. Its up for debate whether he’ll be a scorer at the NHL level, but he has some versatility to his game that makes him an intriguing player. He’s a player who can do a little bit of everything which might make him a great fit on a club still trying to form an identity.
6. RW – Fabian Lysell (Lulea, Eliteserien) ~ Gothenberg, Sweden
Height: 5’10” Weight: 175lbs Shoots: Right
Central Scouting: #9 (Euro skater) Hockey News: #27 ISS: #12
TSN Bob McKenzie: #12 HockeyProspect.com: #25
Future Considerations: #11 The Athletic – Wheeler: #13
Talent Analysis: It might seem strange to some that I have Lysell last on my list. He might be the most gifted player of this group, a righ-shot winger who possesses terrific speed and explosiveness which make him a highly elusive player to go along with terrific hands and offensive skills. His blend of quickness and ability to dangle can make defending skaters look silly. His shot is ok, but lacks the zip you’d expect from a player picked to go so high in the draft. Lysell has that ability to flash to that dead spot in the offensive zone and make the easy tap in goal and the awareness to find teammates with a deft pass. He probably will improve his shot by adding more strength to his frame, but he has the scoring instincts you can’t teach. So what’s the catch? Effort can very greatly from shift to shift and his attitude raises some red flags for some. The attitude questions are about whether he’s team-centered player or one that simply looks to pad his own stat sheet whether that’s best for the team or not. At times he can be very pesky in puck pursuit and in others he can appear as though he couldn’t give a damn.
Bottom Line: Many scouting lists have Lysell going way before the Minnesota Wild are set to draft so it may not matter to mention many doubts about him. He’s an explosive, fast, flashy, scoring right-shot winger who has that ‘game breaking’ ability, but can you rely on him to do what’s best for the team when its crunch time? For some, who don’t really put a lot of stock into a player with character issues they would love to have the chance to draft a player like Lysell. For others its a dealbreaker because a player like that could prove to be so temperamental that they will become problematic if the team struggles or he isn’t happy with his role. He’s probably a no-brainer if he’s available as he has that ‘home run’ quality and with two picks you can bet Minnesota would probably take that swing and hope for the best. If he works out you could have another dynamic scoring threat on your team if it doesn’t you end up with Pontus Aberg. In my opinion its that difference of opinion that makes him a prime candidate to slide a bit in the draft but will he slide far enough for the Wild to end up having a chance to take him?
What draft-eligible forwards interest you? Tell us on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!