It’s that time of year, where teams begin scouting and planning the shape their team will take with prospects and potentials. Being an ardent fan, the following is my top 10 list of all of the Minnesota Wild’s prospects, an update on their progress as well as a projection of their potential based on what I’ve seen, read or a combination of factors.
A few things to consider before we begin. The ranking is based on who appears to be the most NHL ready right now. Their long-term projection may be higher even though they may be ranked lower than other prospects on this list and this is genuinely relevant information to be taken advantage of at William Hill NJ. That may be confusing for some, but some of these prospects have been seasoning in the minors or other professional leagues while others are in major junior or the college ranks. So naturally, players plying their trade in the professional leagues are more likely going to be more highly ranked on this list than those who haven’t made that step yet in their careers.
#1. LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ This is a pretty easy pick. Without question, he is the most talked-about Wild prospect probably since Mikael Granlund and that’s from a fanbase that called Granlund ‘Baby Jesus’ as they hoped he’d be the team’s savior. Much of those same ‘savior-like’ expectations are being fairly / unfairly heaped upon the talented Russian winger. The expectations are high because all he’s done since the Minnesota Wild drafted him in the 5th round (135th Overall in 2015) was break records and be a point per game player in perhaps Europe’s best professional league to go along with strong performances at World Juniors and the Winter Olympics in 2016. He netted the gold medal winning goal and helped his team win the Gagarin Cup (KHL championship) last season. Despite the fact the Minnesota Wild have had 3 different General Managers travel to Russia to meet with him face-to-face since we drafted him, he seems motivated and on track to join the team next year. Current Wild GM Bill Guerin has tried to pump the breaks on some of the hype surrounding Kaprizov.
He is an offensively gifted winger who is equally adept pulling the trigger or setting up teammates. Kaprizov is not afraid to go to the tough areas of the ice and seems to have the knack for netting the clutch goal. He has the ability to score from the dots with a quick release or the hands to make a nice play from in close near the blue paint. Kaprizov has an infectious energy and exudes confidence that will likely make him an instant fan favorite. The only question is can he deliver on those pretty expectations the fanbase has for him? A lot of his game reminds me of something in between David Pastrnak and Jonathan Marchessault although I think he’ll score more of his goals from in close than from the perimeter. He has thrived for years in the KHL, so he’ll be fast-tracked to the NHL as soon as he arrives and more or less been told that’s the plan from Wild executives over the years. Projection: Top line winger, maybe not next year, but eventually he will be.
#2. C – Nico Sturm (Iowa, AHL) ~ Perhaps an understated accomplishment of the Paul Fenton-era (can we even call it an era?) was signing the big, power-forward after his college career was done at Clarkson. Ever since a late-season stint with the Minnesota Wild last year, all he’s done is impress team brass and coaches for his physical and mental maturity as well his tremendous work ethic both on and off the ice. He hasn’t managed to score at the NHL level yet, but the 24-year old has the size, speed and defensively-responsible game that coaches covet. Since his latest stint with Minnesota a few weeks ago, Sturm has been lighting it up in the AHL and that’s exactly what the team brass hope he will do when given more ice time and opportunity than receiving limited minutes on the big club. He also exudes natural leadership qualities and was the Wild’s best player at its prospect camp and at the Traverse City Tournament. The only real question mark in Sturm’s game is what his offensive potential is at the NHL level but he has all of the other qualities teams want. His ability to win draws and his defensive prowess at the very least make him an ideal shut-down forward and penalty killer. His game reminds me a lot of a Nick Bonino or a more skilled Adam Lowry. If there was not a log jam of players at his position, I’m confident he’d probably be on the Minnesota Wild right now. Projection: Bottom 6 shut down forward, ideally suited to anchoring the 3rd line.
#3. G – Kaapo Kahkonen (Iowa, AHL) ~ The development (knock on wood) seems to be fairly steady since the Finnish goaltender arrived last season. After spending his first year as the backup to Andrew Hammond, he has transitioned to being the starter quite nicely and has handled the increased workload rather well so far. The former 4th round pick (109th Overall in 2014) has worked his way up from Finnish Junior, to the Finland’s top league for a few seasons and seems to be adjusting to the North American-style of play. He also had a good initial start in a few games this season, before being sent back to Iowa where he has been excellent. He did have a few somewhat rough outings in his last few games with Minnesota, which likely means more development is needed but the promise is there that the Wild have a viable NHL goaltending prospect in their system. Kahkonen is plays his angles well, and moves efficiently and quickly post-to post but like a lot of young goaltenders has a tendency to drop to his pads a bit too soon and will need to continue to improve his rebound control. The big question is whether he has the potential to be Devan Dubnyk‘s heir-apparent for the starting goaltender spot. The good thing for Kahkonen is the Wild are not in a hurry to put him on the big club with Dubnyk having another year on his contract and Alex Stalock signed for another two seasons. So he will have more time to season and play quality minutes in Iowa. Projection: Maybe with more development he might develop into a potential starter, but I am leaning towards him being a very capable backup goaltender at the NHL level.
#4. D – Brennan Menell (Iowa, AHL) ~ It has been the road-less traveled for the Woodbury, Minnesota-native but he continues to defy preconceived notions after the Wild signed him a few years ago out of Prospect Development Camp. After being the leading scorer among Iowa Wild defenseman last season, he’s doing so once again and earned a spot in the AHL All Star game along with goal-scoring machine Gerald Mayhew. With an injury to Jared Spurgeon, Menell got his first chance to play in the NHL and did not look out of place as he demonstrated the same ability to move and distribute the puck. He is a natural as the power play quarterback and while he doesn’t pile up a lot of goals, he has good on-ice vision but also does a nice job of reading plays defensively. The 22-year old is a right hand shot and has always put up points when given time and opportunity to do so. While the Minnesota Wild blueline is pretty well set, if the team wanted to save some cap space and perhaps move a defenseman, Menell looks like he’s fairly ready to step in and do the job after having spent the last few seasons in Iowa. The fact the team called up Menell instead of Louie Belpedio as the first defenseman called up from Iowa was a bit telling. He does not possess great size, but he’s fairly mobile and possesses a good hockey IQ. Projection: He probably best projects as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman who has the ability to be used on the penalty kill or the power play.
#5. C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ The Wild drafted Khovanov in the 3rd round (86th Overall in 2018) after what was a fairly difficult season for him personally. He had battled Hepatitis A, which left him in a weakened state so when he returned to play in the QMJHL with Moncton he lacked explosiveness in his skating and thus he fell in the draft. But his misfortune appears to be the Wild’s gain so far as he is following up a strong 2018-19 season with an even better effort in 2019-20. Khovanov was impressive at Wild Prospect Camp and the confidence and skill has continued as he’s been one of the better players for Team Russia at the World Junior Championships. The jump in his skating has returned and he has fantastic hands that make him a very dangerous dual-threat player in the offensive zone. Khovanov is extremely competitive and at times that gets the best of him as he does have a penchant for piling up penalty minutes in scrums after the whistle, which is something he’d be wise to limit at the professional level. He also will need to work on his defensive game a bit as well as his draws which are a little inconsistent. Still, he has tremendous on-ice vision and offensive instincts that you just can’t teach and appears to terrific potential as a scorer at the next level. I’d also say he’s probably bit more adept as a playmaker than a goal scorer, but he has a good, quick release. Projection: Top 6 center or perhaps as a scoring winger if he remains inconsistent on his draws.
#6. LW – Adam Beckman (Spokane, WHL) ~ The Saskatoon-native had a slow start, but boy has he made up for lost time. The 2019 3rd round pick (75th Overall) has been lighting the lamp with regularity and is producing at a pace of nearly 2-points per game. He earned Western Hockey League ‘Player of the Month’ honors for December after notching 15 goals and 20 points during the month. Beckman has a wickedly smooth release and an accurate shot. While he needs to continue to improve his skating, his scoring ability and his high hockey IQ puts him in great places to score goals. Spokane has always been a good development club for well-rounded players and the Wild seem fairly savvy for taking the late-bloomer when they did. His game kind of reminds me of Vegas’ Mark Stone. Projection: A top 6, goal-scoring winger with some more improvement with his skating. He’s a bit more risky in his development simply because his game (and his skating) doesn’t really have the versatility to be used in another capacity. A top 6 or bust kind of player.
#7 G – Hunter Jones (Peterborough, OHL) ~ Minnesota recognizes that it needed to get more quality goaltenders in its pipeline and they targeted Jones in last year’s draft, selecting him in the 2nd round (59th Overall). Last season, Jones played lots of minutes on an underwhelming Peterborough squad. Towards the end of the season, he wore down from facing so many shots and his goals against average and save percentage looked a bit ragged because of it. As the Petes improved in front of him, and with better off-ice training leading up to this season Jones has been one of the best goaltenders in the Ontario Hockey League. While missing out on the World Juniors no doubt was disappointing to him personally, the gregarious goaltender has so far used it as motivation as his goals against average has shrunk beneath the 2.7 range and is getting closer to .920 save percentage. He has all the attributes you want in a modern-NHL goaltender who has a big frame, reasonably athletic and maximizes those gifts by being technically sound. Projection: I think he has the potential to be an NHL starter, but obviously he is still years away from being there. But so far, he is showing plenty of potential.
#8 RW – Gerald Mayhew (Iowa, AHL) ~ I know this might seem like a controversial pick as he’s the oldest prospect on this list at age 27, but he just continues to be a standout for the Wild’s AHL affiliate. The Wyandotte, Michigan-native was a free agent signing out of Ferris State and he has been Iowa’s best finisher the last two seasons. He brings plenty of positive energy and isn’t afraid to go into the tough areas on the ice or throw his body around. In an organization that has struggled to develop quality finishers, Mayhew has proven he doesn’t need a lot of time and space to find the back of the net. He has good speed and while he’s not a big player he gives you everything he has on each shift. Projection: Bottom 6 winger with scoring ability and can play on an energy line.
#9. RW – Ivan Lodnia (Niagara, OHL) ~ The Minnesota Wild’s top pick in 2017, in the 3rd round (85th Overall) has had to battle some highs and lows since we drafted him. At first it was limited ice time with Erie and his production reflected that. Injuries have also provided its share of set backs, but when he’s been in the lineup he’s been very productive and is dominating like you would expect an overage player to do. The Minnesota Wild admitted they wanted him to play in Iowa this season, but they felt he’d develop more playing bigger minutes back in junior. So far he’s piling up points at nearly a 2 points-per-game pace as he serves as the Ice Dogs’ alternate captain. Lodnia has good skill and decent hands and while he will need to continue to hone his defensive game to be able to carve out a spot at the NHL level. Projection: He probably best projects as a 3rd line winger with some skill and scoring ability.
#10. C – Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ This is another selection that will probably raise some eyebrows, but the former Totino-Grace star is having a fantastic sophomore season at St. Cloud State. Currently, he’s leading the Huskies in scoring and I don’t think many thought that was a likely outcome for the player we drafted in the 7th round (210th Overall) in 2018. Hentges has mostly been anchoring one of SCSU’s top two lines and uses his frame well to protect the puck and shown a knack for scoring in tight. He also has good instincts and is an excellent passer. Some may feel this is too high on the list, but he’s leading the way on a decent Huskies team playing in arguably the best conference in all of college hockey. While he does not have the speed of an Erik Haula, both players kind of surprised people with their productivity despite being late-draft selections. His game reminds me a bit of St. Louis’ Ivan Barbashev, a player who has skill but uses his physical gifts (strength, size) to their fullest effect. Projection: Bottom 6 forward who can play at center or on the wing, who could be a quality depth player with more development.