The 2019 Minnesota Wild draft primer
One draft can’t break your team, but one draft sure can make it.
The Minnesota Wild’s future, for example, is currently wrapped up in the 2015 class: First-round pick Joel Eriksson-Ek, second-rounder Jordan Greenway and fifth-rounder Kirill Kaprizov all figure heavily into their plans.
Flush with picks and drafting 12th overall, general manager Paul Fenton has the assets to make 2019 another potentially transformative draft for Minnesota.
He’ll have eight picks in Friday’s draft: one in each round, plus an extra sixth. If Fenton keeps them all, and his stated goal since taking the job seem to indicate that he will, it would be the first time the Wild have picked in all seven rounds since 2012.
They’re widely expected to address their offense in the first round, and for good reason.
Minnesota finished 27th last year in goals per game, while the top scorers in their system last season — Connor Dewar and Alexander Khovanov, both 19 — are still a ways off.
That they’ll pursue scoring early, then, seems like a logical conclusion. Fortunately for Fenton, there are plenty of goals to go around this year.
Star forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are alone at the top, but they’ll be followed by a healthy group of potential top-six forwards: Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Vasily Podkolzin and Cole Caufield, among others, with just one defenseman, Bowen Byram, expected to go in the top 10. It could simply be a matter of which one falls to Minnesota.
However, a wildly different pick has been gaining steam in recent weeks: Spencer Knight, the top goaltender in this year’s class by a wide margin, is frequently projected to go right around No. 12.
It’s a slightly unorthodox proposition, historically, given the position’s mercurial nature. No goaltenders went in the first round last year, while Boston University’s Jake Oettinger was the first goalie off the board in 2017 at 26th overall.
Still, the position could become a pressing concern for Minnesota in the not-so-distant future. Starter Devan Dubnyk turned 33 last month, and a quick look at the Wild’s pipeline doesn’t yield an obvious successor.
With mock drafts still rolling in as draft night approaches, here’s a look at the latest projections.
Peyton Krebs, LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
TSN, The Hockey News, Sporting News, NJ.com and Newsday have Krebs headed to Minnesota, while two of NHL.com‘s three analysts picked him as well. Krebs’ numbers don’t jump off the page — he had 19 goals and 49 assists in 64 games last season — but neither did the Ice, who won just 13 games. A freak Achilles injury earlier this month made headlines but shouldn’t affect his draft stock. A smooth-skating playmaker, his hockey IQ is often cited as a major strength.
The other member of NHL.com’s panel, Adam Kimelman, has 6-foot-4 center Kirby Dach falling to the Wild. A playmaking power forward, Dach had 25 goals and 48 assists in 62 games for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades last season. Mike Morreale has him going No. 4 in that same mock draft, however.
Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
The Chicago Sun-Times, Detroit News, AZCentral and Hockey Writers have all mocked Kaliyev to Minnesota. If scoring is indeed the focus it’ll be hard to do much better than Kaliyev outside of the top 10. The fifth player in OHL history to score 50 goals in a single season before turning 18, Kaliyev scored 51 in 67 games during the regular season, finishing with 102 points. TSN’s Bob McKenzie named Kaliyev the best goal-scorer in the class after Caufield, and also its biggest wild card. “Inconsistency of effort” has apparently spooked some pro scouts. That’s either a worrying red flag, or a great chance to nab a top-end talent at No. 12.
Spencer Knight, G, USNTDP
The Athletic’s prospects writer, Corey Pronman, floated Knight as a strong possibility while USA Today‘s Kevin Allen and (former Minnesota Vikings beat writer) Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are on board as well. A high-end puck handler, Knight has shined with Team USA over the past few years. The Wild last drafted a goaltender in 2015: Ales Stezka, who has spent the past several seasons struggling in the Czech second division. Kaapo Kahkonen, drafted in 2014, made his AHL debut last season. The Wild also signed Gophers alum Mat Robson as an undrafted free agent earlier this year following two successful seasons at Minnesota. Knight, however, projects as a franchise-caliber goaltender, and a game-changer at an underdeveloped position.
Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP
As many as four or five USNTDP products could go in the top 10, but Bleacher Report and Sportsnet are expecting one of them to fall to the Wild. Named the MVP of this year’s All-American Prospects Game, Boldy had 33 goals and 48 assists in 64 games last season on a loaded under-18 squad. A power forward at 6-foot-2, Boldy is committed to Boston College in the fall.
Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg
Another polarizing scorer, Podkolzin was discussed as a potential top-three pick when projections for the 2019 draft began to trickle out, but he’s The Athletic and SB Nation‘s Wild pick. He dominated at the under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2018, leading the tournament with eight goals and 11 points in five games, but has struggled to match that production back in Russia. One potential hitch: He’s under contract in Russia for the next two seasons, a situation the Wild are all too familiar with.