Luke Kunin, Minnesota's 15th overall pick in the 2016 NHL entry
draft, has good intangibles to offset questionable athleticism.
The Minnesota Wild remained relatively quiet on draft weekend with no deals made on the floor and only four picks over seven rounds, two of which were in the final round.
They didn’t make any big moves up the draft board for the sake of garnering attention but that doesn’t mean they didn’t roll any dice with the picks they did make. This stockpile, or lack thereof, of selections is indicative of the team’s recent efforts to try to cobble together a winning team primarily by way of acquiring active players by way of trade or signing rather than filling the roster by cultivating talent generated from within.
While they didn’t trade for a marquee prospect or proven on-ice commodity during the draft, they did make a front-office change, landing the coach they had their sights on to change the complexion of the team’s approach to the game considerably this fall. (More on that later.)
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15th Overall – Luke Kunin, C
Simply put, Kunin is one of the better blends of optimal risk and reward in the draft. He makes for a good leader of the future for the Wild and it showed as he arguably gave the best interview of anyone this draft. He plays with feistiness and has skills that tallied 32 points in 34 games in his rookie campaign in the NCAA this past year. While he’s got skills and character, his athleticism leaves something to be desired. A strong first step would make him lethal when he elects to turn pro.
Playing Future: Kunin return to Wisconsin next season, where he’ll look to work on his acceleration and also try to curtail his on-ice abrasiveness.
106th overall – Brandon Duhaime, C
Duhaime gives the Wild’s prospect crop some always-appreciated versatility. He makes good use of his head on the ice and knows where he needs to be and what role he needs to assume, which bodes well with his capability to wear many hats for his team. His multi-faceted game and his ability to play in the crowds in the offensive zone draws comparison to Lee Stempniak, which is good value in the fourth round should he flourish to that extent at the professional level.
Playing Future: Duhaime will report to Providence College this fall, to better build his body and work on his consistency.
196th overall – Dmitry Sokolov, RW
The Wild were without a pick until Round Seven, where they elected to roll the dice on Sokolov with pick 196. Once considered a potential lottery pick, Sokolov’s conditioning and commitment to being an impact NHLer have raised concerns, thereby lowering his draft stock. Through it all, his offensive acumen hasn’t been called into question. His lethal shot will only get him so far, though, as he won’t be able to hold onto the puck as much as he does in the OHL and get away with it when he goes pro.
Playing Future: Sokolov will return to junior to allot more time to get into better hockey shape. Progress has been made, with him reportedly working out as much as three times a day but he still has his work cut out for him.
204th overall – Brayden Chizen, D
With their final pick of the draft that was acquired from February’s Sean Bergenheim deal, the Wild selected this Kelowna Rocket. He’s a true project as his skill set is raw but that’s not uncommon for a towering rearguard at this point in his development. In the meantime, he does an adequate job of throwing his body around, although his heavy feet can lead him to being out of position at times.
Playing Future: Chizen will be returned to the Rockets this fall and will need to shore up his offensive game and mobility if he’s going to make good on what chances he has of making it to the big leagues.
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Jason Zucker was signed to a reasonable two-year contract to show what he’s worth. He’ll need to pick up the pace if he’s to take much playing time away from other players in the Wild’s top nine.
Tyler Graovac and Zac Dalpe were each signed to one-year contracts. Both will need to make a seriously good impression to get meaningful playing time in the fall.
Likely the Wild's biggest off-season signing was landing head coach Bruce Boudreau who, judging by the following post-game playoff critique of the Anaheim Ducks, is not shy about telling his players what they need to do to improve.
Minnesota landed the most prized head coach available on the open market this off-season when they acquired the services of Bruce Boudreau. His track record in the post-season is questionable but if he can recreate the success he’s had running teams in the regular season then the Wild should at least be in better matchups heading into the playoffs.
Alex Stalock was signed to a one-year, two-way deal. He’s got the inside track to start the season as the Wild’s backup goalie over incumbent Darcy Kuemper.
Victor Bartley was signed to a one-year contract but he’ll likely be a depth defenseman that will be played on an as-needed basis given the team’s talent on the blueline.
Pat Cannone has signed a one-year contract but is expected to suit up for the Iowa Wild for the foreseeable future, as he’s 29 and shows no signs of improvement to suggest he’s NHL bound.
Chris Stewart returns on a two-year deal that will give the Wild some winger depth but is unlikely to see more than the occasional spot start in the top six after his decline in play last year.
Eric Staal, the most noteworthy acquisition, was landed after agreeing to a three-year deal. He could make for a late-round steal in your fantasy draft if he centers key cogs in the Wild’s offense. The cap hit makes the signing a lot more palatable than what was originally expected given Staal’s lucrative agreement he previously had signed with Carolina. He’ll also be overlooked due to his lackluster totals in New York that he put together after the trade deadline only further suggesting a player on the decline.
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The Wild are holding their development camp from July 12 to 17at their home base, the Xcel Energy Center. A few observations worth noting:
Alex Tuch has been impressing the powers that be both on and off the ice. His maturity and early buy-in of Boudreau’s philosophy that underscores the importance of a strong work ethic has turned heads, if his showing up in remarkable shape hadn’t done so already. He’s also been clicking in scrimmages as part of a unit with fellow prospects Sam Anas and Joel Eriksson-Ek.
Speaking of Anas, he continues to flourish while making those around him better. He looks like he’ll be a tougher cut towards the end of the coming training camp and will most likely report to the Iowa Wild in the fall and give their offense a much-needed jumpstart.
Jordan Greenway has returned to the Xcel Energy Center with a new confidence, which in turn results in his increased assertiveness getting involved in the play within close proximity to the goal. He’s blessed with terrific athletic tools and he needs to harness them to continue making the most of his time with Boston University and of course the Wild in due course.