Missed chances impact Minnesota Wild’s Top 20 prospects

By Peter Prohaska
Tyler Graovac - Minnesota Wild

Photo: Tyler Graovac leads the Minnesota Wild’s thin prospect depth at center. (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

 

If the Minnesota Wild should fail to qualify for the post-season, a lack of organizational depth is a key culprit. With Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Darcy Kuemper and Jason Zucker all graduated since the last Top 20, the depth chart looks as thin as it has been since spring 2010. Some questionable calls around the 2011 draft, plus the picks and assets traded away for Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson, hampered the team’s ability to acquire elite talent. There are some promising young players, but not many from this list will be suiting up in St. Paul next season. Restocking prospect depth the team lost out on in recent years is something the Wild needs to explore.


1. (1) Matt Dumba, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 7th Overall 2012

Matt Dumba still has some doubt surrounding his projection, but his tools are looking more impressive by the game as he approaches graduation from prospect status. Skating, shooting, and stick-handling all seem like above-average aspects of Dumba’s skill-set. He is not an elite processor of the game, but has started to settle into Mike Yeo’s up-tempo system. As he gains more confidence from the coaching staff and gets rewarded with additional power play time, Dumba is capable of putting up points in the NHL. He may be a player who makes the occasional reckless hit, pinch or rush into the offensive zone, but the Wild has the defensive talent to compensate for it.

All in all, Dumba is a young player who has skills that are in demand throughout the league. He could hit a ceiling that makes him a liability, but more likely he will understand pressures and breakouts just fine with repetition, use his mobility and growing strength to cover up errors, and calm down his game in due time.

2. (2) Alex Tuch, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 18th Overall 2014

Tuch has size, shooting ability, strength and a good read on the game at the NCAA level, where he is just under a point-per-game pace as a freshman. Given this smooth transition to a tougher league, it is not hard to imagine Tuch, with his size and skill, on an NHL top line two years down the road. A strong player who can retrieve pucks on the forecheck is a top item on most team’s wishlists.

Tuch will have to continue to improve his skating to hit that level and also refine his decision-making and control with the puck. Another criticism one could make is that his scoring ability projects as complementary, but he has put up points at every level so far. Tuch is in a good place for his development. He can work with Boston College’s excellent coaching and training staff and play in meaningful hockey games this spring.

3. (3) Gustav Olofsson, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th Overall 2013

Olofsson is experiencing a lost development year but still possesses the kinds of good tools that might allow him to be an impact player in the NHL. He played just one game with Iowa after being injured in the preseason, and shoulder surgery rehab can take half a year in many cases. In the case of Olofsson it may also be a matter of Iowa’s lost season buying him extra time to work on strength, flexibility and healing. There is little reason for the talented Swede to rush back to game action.

When healthy, Olofsson is a player who can do a lot of different things as a defenseman. He has offensive instincts, but plays positionally in his own zone very well. If this year had gone differently, Olofsson might have been pencilled into next season’s bottom-pair at the NHL level, but as it stands he will benefit from more development time.

4. (15) Tyler Graovac, C, 7.0C
Drafted 7th Round, 191st Overall 2011

Graovac has improved his stock the most this season of any prospect in the system. His scoring at the AHL level has impressed the organization, but his ultimate upside is still uncertain as is his true range of skills. The Wild will probably be battling for a playoff spot right down to game 82, so Graovac is unlikely to get many more chances to show his game off at the NHL level this season.

In his three-game debut, he had the natural confusion that comes with the greater speed of the NHL game, but to Graovac’s credit the AHL game has begun to slow down for him. He has enough skill to score consistently in the AHL, but the next step is showing that he can win puck battles in the NHL and contribute from the bottom-six. A little offense would be a welcome bonus.

5. (7) Michael Keränen, RW, 7.0C
Signed as Free Agent, June 2014

Keranen has been a good soldier and put up points in the AHL despite Iowa’s struggles. If he has any long-term future with the Wild one would expect a call-up at some point, but if not Keranen has shown that he might be a decent option for some team in search of some solid playmaking skill and some veteran experience. That said, his most likely path is back to Europe, barring a one-way offer. Signing Keranen was a decent gamble that might have worked in a deeper organization.

6. (9) Mario Lucia, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 60th Overall 2011

Now a junior, Lucia is not one of the NCAA’s top 50 scorers, although his 18 goals are top ten. Notre Dame is a deep team, but Lucia has not quite emerged as a dominant player in the NCAA. Watching him, one can see why the Wild traded up to get him when he was in high school. Lucia blends skill with a big body and an efficient skating style. One would certainly like to see more aggression and strength from him and more ability to win battles. Though he does score from in front of the net regularly, Lucia can appear somewhat casual with the puck and thus does not get many assists, despite his talented teammates.

It would seem logical for Lucia to turn pro soon, dedicated as he has been to the full collegiate experience as a scholar-athlete. He has all the right skills to further his hockey career and might need a new challenge soon.

7. (14) Christian Folin, D, 6.5B
Signed as Free Agent, March 2014

Folin has been the odd man out for the Wild of late, but his game is surprisingly polished for a rookie. With Iowa, Folin has been one of the team’s best defenseman, scoring at a decent rate. With the Wild, Folin was guilty of a poor turnover or two despite an overall good performance and this may have led the staff to prefer veteran Nate Prosser. Folin still brings much that the Wild needs on the blueline. While he is not as physically imposing as Clayton Stoner was and does not skate as well as the other Wild defensemen, Folin is a sturdy and safe presence that the team should find a place for next season if possible.

8. (10) Kaapo Kähkönen, G, 7.5D
Drafted 4th Round, 109th Overall 2014

Kähkönen is still years off from Minnesota’s plans, but he gets some extra credit for playing a position of need and in doing well so far this season. The Finnish ability to produce high-quality goaltenders is well-known, so Kähkönen’s status as perhaps the third-best Finnish goalie in his age group should be taken seriously. He did not get playing time at the 2015 World Juniors but accepting the honor to represent his country again bodes well for future opportunities.

Kähkönen was on loan to TuTo of the Finnish Mestis this season and the assignment worked out well. He appeared in 35 games and put up a .923 save percentage which was second-best in the league. The young netminder will likely be in Finland again next year, probably playing with Blues of the Liiga.

9. (13) Zack Mitchell, RW, 7.0D
Signed as Free Agent, March 2014

Mitchell has been a solid presence for Iowa this season as a rookie. Again the team has been challenged to score, but the situation has not seemed to deter Mitchell’s efforts this season. The ex-Guelph Storm standout is second on the Wild in goals and fifth in points. Though the team has struggled with poor goaltending and other chaos, Mitchell’s fine season is one positive. A player who manages to bring a good effort every night, finding ways to score and be effective, will always have a place in an organization.

10. (12) Zack Phillips, C, 7.0D
Drafted 1st Round, 28th Overall 2011

Phillips is looking like a poor pick at this point, one that had plenty of warning signs that the Wild’s scouts ignored. He is a late birthday who put up inflated points for a thoroughly dominant junior team and had some question marks about his overall ability, from skating to size to defensive acumen.

Phillips led a very bad Iowa team in scoring last season, but expectations are way down for the first-rounder. Nagged by injury, Phillips has only managed 14 points in 46 games this season. He appears to lack enough strength and speed that, instead of a possible second-line center in the NHL, he has turned out to be an average AHL player. Phillips deserves credit for hanging tough on bad teams for three seasons now, but he has been passed as a prospect by several players in the organization and by a growing list of later picks in his draft class.

11. (NR) Avery Peterson, C/RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 167th Overall 2013

A freshman performing well in one of the NCAA’s top conferences, the NCHC, Avery Peterson is beginning to erase concerns about his skating. He brings a very impressive package of size and skills. Nebraska-Omaha has been one of the best teams in the nation this season and part of that has to do with Peterson, who has put up 19 points in 28 games, playing mainly second-line minutes. The Wild has not often been able to leverage its geographic advantage in scouting Minnesota high schools, but Peterson could be a win for the club if he continues to progress. A force for Grand Rapids high school, Peterson is a Mr. Hockey award winner who was productive in limited USHL stints as well, so this level of production should not be too much of a surprise.

12. (NR) Chase Lang, C/RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 167th Overall 2014

Chase Lang is having a very good season for the Calgary Hitmen. Though he benefits from good linemates to some degree, his first post-draft season is indicating a solid selection by the Wild. Lang might not have any elite skills, but a point-per-game season is still a sign that the young man has upside. He is in the younger range of his draft class, which points to additional skill.

13. (NR) Reid Duke, C, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 169th Overall 2014

Duke and Lang will be inevitable players to compare as they progress through the ranks, due to similar ages and their draft proximity. Duke is also at a near point-per-game pace and his Brandon squad has been one of the best in the WHL. The trade from Lethbridge has worked out for him and the pressure will be on for his squad in the playoffs. He has been mainly a second-line center.

14. (16) Adam Gilmour, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 98th Overall 2012

Gilmour had a very good freshman season for Boston College, one overshadowed by Johnny Gaudreau’s stunning campaign, but remarkable for the trust the coaches put in the young man’s ability even in high-stakes moments. As a sophomore, Gilmour has really been asked to contribute some offense that went missing with Gaudreau and company’s departures, and he has managed to do so, already surpassing last year’s very good point total of 20 points in 40 games. Gilmour is growing into his 6’2 frame and with his on-ice intelligence and skill level could help shore up the Wild’s center depth down the road.

15. (20) Dylan Labbé, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 107th Overall 2013

Labbé’s team circumstances have finally improved and with them the defenseman’s numbers. Labbé is having easily his best statistical season, aided by the likes of Anthony Beauvillier (2015) and Marvin Cüpper. The defenseman has some considerable upside though, having learned to play in many adverse circumstances in his young career, and possessing the skill and experience to thrive despite them.

16. (19) Louis Belpedio, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 80th Overall 2014

Belpedio had some questions about his size prior to the draft, but he is a high-character player who has contributed well to his squad’s offense as a freshman. His 13 points in 28 games put him in the top-five amongst under-19 defensemen in the NCAA. Belpedio should continue to thrive as he puts on muscle and gains experience.

17. (18) John Draeger, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 68th Overall 2012

Draeger has scored some in his collegiate career, but his pro career will mostly likely depend on continuing good health and appreciation of his solid, conservative play. He has missed quite a few games with knee issues, but when he is healthy, the Michigan State junior is a reliable presence who can make safe plays. He might lack a little aggression in his game, but his recognition is excellent.

18. (NR)  Christoph Bertschy, C/RW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 158th Overall 2012

Though Bertschy’s future with the Wild is still somewhat vague, a player who has been a professional for four seasons now and is still only 20 years old has some promise. Bertschy has played for Switzerland internationally since his U-16 days, and this season represented his country in the Slovakia Cup. With his club team, he put up 30 points in 44 games while serving as an alternate captain. Out now with a hip injury, Bertschy may not be durable enough for the AHL, but he has the speed and skills to remain an intriguing option.

19. (NR) Carson Soucy, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th Round, 137th Overall 2013

Soucy is a good-sized defenseman who has tremendous athletic skill. He needs some skating and gap-control improvements but he does offer offensive upside. As a sophomore, Soucy has cut down on penalties to his credit. The Bulldogs have been a very good team this year, and Soucy is an important part of the team’s depth. More NCHC seasoning should help him refine his game even further.

20. (NR) Pavel Jenyš, C, 6.5D
Drafted 7th Round, 199th Overall 2014

It has been a very difficult year for the Sudbury Wolves, and Jenys may long for home, but the Czech-born youngster has done well to compete. His 33 points in 46 games do not translate well for the OHL’s huge scoring numbers, but he should finish the year atop his own team’s scoring charts. Despite all this, Jenys compares pretty well to other Czech talents of his generation. With his size and skill level, he could potentially get an AHL tryout late this season and start in Iowa in the fall. A player who has some pro experience already, Jenys might be better served in a different environment.