Wild’s future in goal comes into focus
The Minnesota Wild are looking to the future in goal.
Once thin between the pipes behind 33-year-old Devan Dubnyk and 32-year-old Alex Stalock, the Wild have addressed the position in earnest over the last year.
Minnesota drafted two goalies in 2019, landing Hunter Jones of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes in the second round and UMass’s Filip Lindberg in the seventh.
It’s the first time they’ve drafted multiple goalies in the same year since 2009, and the first time they’ve drafted a goaltender of any kind since taking Ales Stezka in the fourth round in 2015.
Kaapo Kahkonen, a fourth-round pick in 2014, arrived in Iowa last season after starting his pro career in Finland. The Wild added another goaltender to the pipeline in March, signing former Gophers standout Mat Robson as an undrafted free agent.
But while both goalies are further along, Jones could be the Wild’s future at the position.
Central scouting’s third-ranked North American goaltender following his first season in the OHL, the 6-foot-4 standout was a priority for the Wild after playing major minutes last year. Minnesota traded back up into the second round to get him, sending third- and fourth-round picks to Carolina.
It’s the first time they’ve drafted a goaltender in the second (they’ve never drafted one in the first) since taking Josh Harding in 2002.
So far, it’s looking like a savvy pick.
Jones, 19, posted a .943 SV% and a 1.67 GAA in October, going 3-0 in October en route to OHL goaltender of the month honors. He leads the league with 12 wins and ranks third with a .913 SV%, while his 2.66 GAA is second amongst goaltenders with at least 10 starts.
He registered his first shutout of the season Oct. 9, making 23 saves, and added two one-goal games last month. Jones is one of five goaltenders on Team OHL for the CIBC Canada Russia series, and is set to play in Game 4 on Monday.
Meanwhile, Lindberg has his first shutout of the season for UMass.
Lindberg, 20, remains something of an enigma after dominating down the stretch as a freshman last season.
A native of Espoo, Finland, Lindberg split time with fellow freshman Matt Murray after arriving in North America and missed four games in January while playing for Finland at the world junior championships.
However, he seized the starting job in March and never looked back, posting four shutouts down the stretch, blanking Harvard and Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament to help UMass to the Frozen Four title game.
Lindberg finished with a .937 SV% and a 1.60 GAA in 13 starts, one of the best stat lines in the NCAA last season.
He shut out Union on Oct. 19, making 15 saves in his second appearance of the year after allowing three goals in the Minutemen’s season opener and has a .912 SV% and a 2.00 GAA in three starts.
Down in Iowa, Robson is acclimating quickly in his first season as a pro.
The Gophers alum currently ranks sixth in the AHL and third amongst rookies with a .936 SV% and 13th with a 2.13 GAA through five games. He allowed just one goal in his AHL debut Oct. 12, a shootout loss to the Texas Stars, and has allowed more than two goals in a single game just twice.
Kahkonen has a .915 SV% and a 2.47 GAA in six starts, all wins, and posted his seventh career shutout (he led the AHL with six last season) Nov. 1, making 33 saves against the Milwaukee Admirals.
— Forward Alexander Khovanov (third round, 2018) has been on a tear since mid-October in the QMJHL. He stretched his point streak to eight games with a pair of goals in Cape Breton’s loss to Moncton on Saturday, and has 22 points over that span. He’s up to seven goals in his last five games.
— Forward Sam Hentges’ (seventh round, 2018) red-hot start continues. The sophomore has a point in all six of St. Cloud State’s games this season. He piled up two goals and three assists last weekend during the Huskies’ series with Princeton.
— Forward Nikita Nesterenko (sixth round, 2019) had his three-game goal streak snapped Sunday. He’s up to six goals and 11 assists in 20 games, and is committed to Boston College.