Let's be clear, the Minnesota Wild should try their luck in the draft lottery to get Macklin Celebrini to address their top center concerns. However, general manager Bill Guerin is committed to present and future success, making it less likely that the Wild will be in a position to win the lottery. So, why not experiment with Danila Yurov using the Ryan Hartman approach?
The Wild already have a player worthy of a draft lottery pick in Yurov. And unlike some Russian players, he can return to his KHL team if things don’t work out in the NHL. Currently the top scorer for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL, Yurov is evolving into a player who resembles Kirill Kaprizov. But unlike Kaprizov, Yurov can play center.
If Hartman can play between Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, Yurov can also fit there. However, the Wild would think long-term by looking to solidify their center depth. Putting Yurov on the first line would establish three scoring lines, shifting the focus away from targeting Kaprizov. Yurov will respond if anyone tries to intimidate Kaprizov. While he may not dominate fights or instill fear in opponents, he will make his presence felt and support Kaprizov.
Yurov has been a productive KHL player, but he’s emerging as a superstar due to his development despite Magnitogorsk giving him minimal ice time and even healthy-scratching him. During his draft year and the following season, he averaged just under 4:30 minutes of ice time with 12 shots on goal and a minus-2. But he has averaged nearly 11 minutes of ice time this season, and in his draft plus-2 year, posting 93 shots on goal and a plus-13.
Yurov's performance has demonstrated growth and impact despite initially seeing limited ice time. His progression from a depth player to a more substantial role has resulted in a noteworthy increase in shots on goal and a significant improvement in his plus/minus rating. Yurov’s advancement demonstrates both individual development and the ability to take advantage of increased opportunities, establishing him as a more influential player in the KHL.
But Yurov truly broke out this year. He's firing on all cylinders with 131 shots on goal in 53 games and has a plus-13 rating. With 19 goals, including 6 on the powerplay, Yurov is proving he's not just a powerplay specialist. He has capitalized on his opportunities. Yurov's dedication to improving his shot is paying off.
The Wild will have three forward positions up for grabs in the 2024-25 season. Yurov needs to secure a spot on the roster and not be concerned about finding a role, particularly after Guerin extended Zuccarello, Hartman, and Marcus Foligno. The team's priority has been acquiring centers, adding Yurov, Marco Rossi, and Joel Eriksson Ek as legitimate center options.
The Wild have plenty of fourth-line center options. Whether it's Freddy Gaudreau, Ryan Hartman, or potentially Connor Dewar if they extend him, the Wild can be confident that all three lines will be effective with Yurov, Rossi, and Eriksson Ek anchoring them.
While you'd expect Yurov to contribute as a winger, his well-rounded skills and defensive prowess make him a reliable center. Kaprizov wants to play alongside him, and he will have the opportunity to do so. Head coach John Hynes also gets another chance to prove he can develop young talent after a few unsuccessful attempts. Yurov is prepared for the next challenge, and the Wild must maximize his versatility.
Considering where Yurov will fit on the powerplay is intriguing, but it’s not hard to imagine him playing alongside Kaprizov on the top unit. Kaprizov possesses a superior shot, and Yurov projects to excel as a playmaker, taking Zuccarello’s role. While Zuccarello still deserves a place on the powerplay, he may find himself playing as a passenger to Kaprizov and Yurov. Kaprizov and Yurov would be the driving force of the top unit, with Eriksson Ek remaining a dominating presence at the net and Brock Faber controlling the point, solidifying an elite top unit.
Yurov wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Evgeni Malkin. Experts have compared Yurov and Elias Pettersson, one of the NHL's best centers. I see Yurov as a lesser version of Pettersson, mainly due to Pettersson's superior shot. However, Yurov's edgier playstyle sets him apart, which is a crucial factor.
There's a lot of speculation about Yurov's potential impact at 6-foot-1, 172 lbs., especially in comparison to Nico Hischier. The 6-foot-1, 174 lbs. New Jersey Devils center has 314 points in 417 games. In Hischier's breakout season, he scored 31 goals, nearly achieving a point-per-game average. Yurov will likely bulk up to around 180 pounds in the off-season, but Hischier's success suggests that immediate bulk isn't necessary.
Yurov can potentially make an MVP-level impact for the Wild, significantly bolstering the team's chances at a championship. Additionally, with the Wild likely to secure a high draft pick, they can acquire more star talent, further strengthening their position as future contenders. Can Yurov persuade Kaprizov that they can pursue the Stanley Cup together? Their combined star power is a surefire advantage. Yurov can make it happen. He rightfully belongs on a high-caliber roster alongside Marat Khusnutdinov, Carson Lambos, and Jesper Wallstedt.
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