2015 NHL Draft: Minnesota Wild draft review

By Peter Prohaska
Joel Eriksson Ek - Minnesota Wild

Photo: Joel Eriksson Ek, selected 20th overall at the 2015 NHL draft, becomes the Wild’s top center prospect (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

Coming into the 2015 NHL Draft the Minnesota Wild‘s prospect pool was one of the league’s weakest thanks to a combination of graduations, misses at the 2011 NHL draft, bewildering picks in other recent draft classes, valuable picks (especially the 2013 first-rounder) sent away for established players, and lack of late-round successes lately. The team needs to win more than one playoff round to justify such costly gambles, but it seemed to readjust its prospect development strategy for this draft. Moving away from drafting players with limited ability and upside is a major step in the right direction.

While it is far too soon to judge, the 2015 class looks like a strong group of young players. The Wild seems to have done well in making reasonable bets, especially with its late-round picks. The team strayed a little from its favorite sources of talent and in doing so managed to upgrade the pool in terms of upside, skill, and even positional strength.

Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Farjestad (SHL)
1st Round, 20th Overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 183

Eriksson Ek started to gain a lot of positive mentions in the scouting community as the season progressed. Perhaps most notably, he went from 22nd among European skaters in the Central Scouting midterm rankings to 4th. For the Wild, who operate under an internal logic that sometimes goes against the received wisdom of the scouting community, the hope is that this player can become a first-line center. It is a vague term to be sure, but with Mikko Koivu slowing down noticeably and Mikael Granlund hitting a plateau, there remains an organizational need for a player who can beat the other top centers in the western conference, not just hold his own.

The Wild returned to familiar ground to make this pick. The program that developed the Wild’s number two defenseman Jonas Brodin carries a mark of assurance for the Wild. Eriksson Ek is often described in similar terms as Brodin, as far as his intelligence goes. Eriksson Ek plays a well-developed game with the kind of high-level skating ability that allows him to cover a lot of ground on every shift.

As a center, he plays an aggressive style, anticipating play and disrupting breakouts. He brings a highly-rated shot, and most importantly, does not display many real weaknesses in his game. Eriksson Ek is not an immediate solution to the Wild’s problems at center, but he has the best upside of any center in the system, and brings honest top-line potential if his development continues as it has done. He may have been a safe pick, but the team is also betting that the first Swede taken in the draft is a special player ideally suited for the Wild’s current system approach.

Jordan Greenway, LW, United States National Development Team (USHL)
2nd Round, 50th Overall
Height: 6-5 Weight: 222

With the second round pick the Wild got a player who fits in with the team’s desire for size. Greenway was drafted at nearly 6’5 and 222 pounds. He received mixed reviews this season, but International Scouting Services had him at 31st in its ratings. A player of his size combining dexterity and balance means he can use the frame in creative and effective ways. He was in fact something of a playmaker for the USNDT, but his shot merits attention too. Players have gotten much bigger of course, but Greenway still pushes the needle.

Assistant Wild GM Brent Flahr called him “a power forward” who is a “powerful skater” but also “a little raw.”

Greenway is a player who is not afraid to engage opposition players, but then again, why should he be? He will face more mature players throughout next season as Boston University plays a schedule fit for a national runner-up. Greenway has some fine-tuning to do, but should be a fit on Jack Quinn’s team that looks to build on a tremendous campaign last season without phenom Jack Eichel.¬† Greenway will be part of an impressive incoming freshman class that includes Bruins 2015 second-rounder Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and St. Louis 2014 second-rounder Maxim Letunov (traded to Arizona) and should be able to put up impressive numbers.

USNDT teammate Nick Boka, selected by the Wild in the sixth round, also had praise for Greenway: “(it’s) so hard to take the puck from him, I think he made me better in practice…He’s an unbelievable player.”

Ales Stezka, G, Liberec Jr. (Czech Republic)
4th Round, 111th Overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 179

Again the Wild prove that their scouts put a lot of stock in the World U18 Tournament. Stezka was excellent there for the Czech Republic, garnering significant interest from the Wild. The team spent a high pick on a young goalie who is many years away from helping the team.

The Wild sees the need for patience both with 2014 fourth-rounder Kaapo Kahkonen and with Stezka. Stezka is prepared to come to North America next season to join the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. After that, he would be eligible to play in the NCAA, according to Brent Flahr, but as a European draft pick would have several options.

Stezka is a big-bodied goaltender who needs some work with aspects of his game such as lateral movement. That said, the Wild liked the way his stats improved in the playoffs.

Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Metallurg Novokuznetzk (KHL)
5th Round, 135th Overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 181

It was a surprise to hear the Wild select a Russian player for the first time since 2003’s pick of Georgi Misharin. Even more surprising is that the team would select a player already under KHL contract for the next two seasons. It is a testament to an outstanding age group of Russian players, highlighted by Ivan Provorov (PHI), Denis Guryanov (DAL) and Evgeny Svechnikov (DET) all going in the top twenty of the 2015 draft. It also speaks to the way Russian governmental policies have undermined its domestic hockey league while increasing confidence on the part of NHL managers that they can eventually get these talented players to commit to North America.

Kaprizov is an intriguing pick for this reason but he also has hockey skills, and the Wild’s selection here should be praised for all the potentially positive outcomes from it.

The 115th ranked player by ISS, Kaprizov was another standout at the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament as he scored seven points (five goals) in four games to lead Team Russia. The Wild scouts there saw, in Brent Flahr’s words, “a very smart player.” Kaprizov is an excellent skater who reads play well. He has a quick release and can pass creatively. In all, he is a small player at this stage of his career, but one with professional experience. With Metallurg Novokuznetzk of the KHL, Kaprizov played 31 games and scored eight points. All four of his goals came at even strength. Only averaging around eleven minutes a game, Kaprizov still managed a nice combination of production and defensive value. Five or six minutes more per game in his second season does not seem like much of a stretch, and Kaprizov should see his stat line ticking upward.

Nick Boka, D, USNDT (USHL)
6th Round, 171st Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 197

A right-handed defenseman who describes himself more as stay-at-home type, Boka is a Detroit-area player who came through the Compuware program before joining the US Developmental Program in Ann Arbor. Fittingly, he will join Wild prospect Nolan De Jong as a University of Michigan Wolverine next season.

Flahr mentioned Boka a player who fell a bit to them, and he was a player in the ISS top 100. Though offense is not his calling card, Boka did put up his fair share of goals at every level, while working on being a dependable and physical presence. He is aggressive when holding the offensive zone and a quick puck-mover who relishes contact. While he lacks the dynamic upside of, say, a Jacob Trouba, the well-spoken Boka is an excellent value pick at this slot and should be well worth tracking over the next seasons at Michigan.

Gustav Bouramman, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
7th Round, 201st Overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 184

Another player who fell somewhat to the Wild in Flahr’s estimation, the Swedish import defenseman was ranked 126th by ISS, 75th among North American skaters by CSS and 36th by TSN analyst and former Calgary GM Craig Button. This suggests he is another good value pick by the Wild scouts.

Bouramman was one of the highest-scoring defenders in the OHL this season, and somehow that impresses even knowing that the league’s top-scoring defender, Anthony DeAngelo (TBL) was his teammate. When one discusses the depth of the Soo as an organization, one has to remember that Bouramman played an important role in it. He had just one point less than Bruins first-round pick Zach Senyshyn, and these two players will be crucial to continuing the Greyhounds’ successes of this past season.

Self-described as an “offensive-minded defenseman (who is) poised with the puck,” Bouramman has the numbers to back it up. His skating and puck-moving were among the best in this draft class, but he seems to lack the size and strength (or perhaps the will) to battle effectively. He was scratched during the OHL playoffs for some undisciplined play.

As he builds muscle, Bouramman must focus on winning physical battles against bigger and stronger players. There will likely be more opportunity for him to play in the defensive zone next season in the absence of DeAngelo and Darnell Nurse (EDM). He and Colton White (NJD) will be asked to play many more important minutes no doubt, while also continuing to be a top offensive driver. There is enormous upside for Bouramman given his skills, and a bit of risk given his underwhelming physical presence at times.

Bouramman took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine that was held in early June. He spoke with Hockey’s Future at that event, a conversation that is captured in this HF video.

Jack Sadek, D, Lakeville North (MN HS)
7th Round, 204th Overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 185

The 85th ranked player by ISS is a natural fit for the Wild as he was a fan growing up and – though he has a longer projection – another skilled defenseman capable of a puck possession style. Along with St. Cloud State commits Jack and Nick Poehling, Sadek was a key component of his school’s successes in recent years: successes that included an undefeated season and a state championship in 2015 to avenge last season’s title game loss. No, Sadek didn’t put up numbers like Phil Housley, but he is a solid player who brings a good level of skill.

Sadek describes himself as “a two-way defenseman … I can skate the puck out (and) I’ll take the body if I need to.”

Sadek will join a University of Minnesota Golden Gophers squad that is jammed on the blueline next fall, even minus new Wild player Mike Reilly and Rangers prospect Brady Skjei. Wild prospect Nick Seeler, fresh off a year forced from games due to an odd NCAA rule, will be another player competing for minutes.

Nonetheless, weight room time and personal growth will be good for Sadek next season even if he receives minimal ice time.