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  • How Will the Iowa Wild Deploy Their Young Defensemen?


    Image courtesy of © Bruce Fedyck - USA TODAY Sports
    Luke Sims

     

    While there is a lot of focus on youngsters like Brock Faber and Calen Addison on the blue line, there is a bigger storm brewing down I-35. The Iowa Wild just hired a new head coach Brett McLean. Dean Evason’s former assistant takes over behind the bench, replacing Tim Army. A new era of Iowa Wild hockey is upon us, and with that comes a defensive facelift. 

    Last season, Joe Hicketts and Dakota Mermis were the two leading scorers with 48 and 26 points, respectively. Hicketts is off to Los Angeles, but Mermis is back on the team as an alternate captain. There was a trio of youngsters who complemented those veterans this past season. They helped lead a group that tied for 10th in goals against in the AHL last year.

    Simon Johansson, 24, had 14 points in 62 games in his first season with Iowa. It was the defenseman's first season in North America, and his play was satisfying, if not solid. Ryan O’Rourke played in his first full season (67 games) with the Iowa Wild after captaining the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL. 

    O’Rourke plays a physical game and doesn’t offer much offensively. The Ontario native had zero goals and nine assists on the year. Daemon Hunt was another rookie in the AHL. Pundits have lauded Hunt for his skating ability and hockey IQ, and that showed. The big club is a big fan of his, and he’ll look to refine his skills this season in Iowa.

    That trio is more well-known for their physical games and is looked at as “defense-first” types of players. The trio that is arriving this season? 

    Not so much.

    Carson Lambos, David Spacek, and Kyle Masters are all offensive guys from the CHL who will look to translate their scoring touch to the AHL. 

    Lambos landed at No. 7 in the Hockey Wilderness prospect rankings. His game is more balanced. He also has a superb defensive game. Lambos was Minnesota’s first-round pick in exchange for Jason Zucker

    Masters is coming off of injury, but he should be healthy by the time the season starts. Masters, who played for the Kamloops Blazers was injured in the Memorial Cup final and had to be stretched off the ice. When he was on the ice, Masters was a single point shy of being a point-per-game player (65 in 66). Spacek was a star in the international tournament for Czechnia and was also just a point shy of being a point-per-game player last season in the QMJHL. 

    The Wild have signed all of the players above for the next two seasons except for Mermis and Johansson.

     

    Screenshot 2023-09-12 153250.png

     

     

    McLean is excited to work with all of these young players. “I know the way Bill Guerin and Dean Evason, and everybody wants our players to play,” McLean said. “I’ve been in those meetings, and I really feel like that can help our players down there.”

    But exactly how will McLean deploy them? 

    There is an odd man out here. There are seven guys, and potentially more, with other AHL signings and tryout guys, who all need a spot in the Top-6. Mermis, O’Rourke, Hunt, and Johansson all have experience and deserve playing time. Lambos, Spacek, and Masters add something that the defensive core lacks. 

    You also have to consider handness. The Iowa Wild have three righties in Spacek, Johansson, and Masters. However, the other four shoot left-handed. That may not matter to the new head coach, but it’s something that may affect how he deploys lineups. In a perfect world, you’d have three righties and three lefties. In the NHL, there are more lefties, that’s why the right-shot defenseman is so valuable. 

    It would be a long shot for any of these players to make the NHL roster. Mermis has 27 games under his belt in the NHL, and no other player has any. Lambos is the high pick and the most complete prospect. There are a lot of mouths to feed and limited spots on the ice. 

    My prediction for how they will distribute playing time is as follows: 

    • Let Mermis and Hunt lead the defensive core as the top guys.
    • Play Johansson and O’Rourke because they have experience.
    • Play Lambos and Spacek in sheltered roles at first to allow them to warm up to the game.
    • Let Masters completely heal and have him fill in for injuries or poor play. 

    A potential core with that plan: 

    • Hunt - Mermis 
    • Johansson - Lambos 
    • Spacek - O’Rourke

    Let the experienced guys hold down the fort while the new guys get moved in. It seems logical to me. Only time will tell if that’s the path they choose to follow. 

    That may not be the plan that Iowa puts into place. But the Wild needs to develop their defense, and Spacek, Lambos, and Hunt are the three most important pieces. The Wild may want to go all-in on Lambos and give him premier minutes immediately. He’s their prospect with the best shot to be a Top-4 defenseman. Those three guys all have legit NHL potential, and the Wild should do what they can to foster their development. 

    Oh yeah, this core will also have the best goaltending prospect in the world, Jesper Wallstedt, between the pipes. That doesn’t hurt. 

    While the Iowa Wild defensive core got a lot younger last year, it got even younger this year. How will they fix the log jam on defense? We’ll see. Armed with a new head coach, fresh faces, and a rising goalie, this team should be a lot of fun to watch this next season.

     

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    Jesper has to be licking his IA chops looking at this core of young studs meshing with what he saw last year.

    Hunt - Mermis 
    Johansson - Lambos 
    Spacek - O’Rourke

    Luke I like what you have put together. Another factor? Are our forwards ready for some D injection into their game because every line here possesses some blue line expertise. They all have speed/size/physicality and the protection if we extend the zone entries. Cant wait for the PP.

    No rush for Masters to get back, but the timing of him being back may coincide with a call up of one of these players also.

    It's crazy to imagine Peart possibly joining this crew next year!

     

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    35 minutes ago, FredJohnson said:

    I forgot Deano's mini-me is the Iowa head coach now. 😣 

    No chance that happens, he'll be his own man. BG is smart enough to know the young guns need a more candid approach, flexibility and patience or he would not have put McLean in charge of the FUTURE!

    I'm guessing BG's point was made in their first conference.

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    The talent we have in IA that we expect to become NHL ready in 3-5 years might explain why BG only has 5 people signed beyond 3 years.  BG needs to keep his focus on this talented group in IA.  Without them we will be stuck in first round purgatory. 

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    56 minutes ago, vonlonster67 said:

    No chance that happens, he'll be his own man. BG is smart enough to know the young guns need a more candid approach, flexibility and patience or he would not have put McLean in charge of the FUTURE!

    I'm guessing BG's point was made in their first conference.

    I truly hope you're right. Deano has his ride-or-die guys *coughFreddycough* he'll stubbornly put on the ice despite younger guys showing more upside. 

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    There's been an argument among our group about what DE has or hasn't done for the Wild and if he is truly the right coach for us moving forward. As a whole some agree and some agree to disagree.

    I feel that he is entering the "thin ice" zone and his focus better be on the Wild and not the Baby Wild. There will be a lot of moving parts in the next two years and I have to believe the BG is only going to give him so much rope before things change.

    Enough said..and debated

     

    Edited by vonlonster67
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    Quote

    My prediction for how they will distribute playing time is as follows: 

    • Let Mermis and Hunt lead the defensive core as the top guys.
    • Play Johansson and O’Rourke because they have experience.
    • Play Lambos and Spacek in sheltered roles at first to allow them to warm up to the game.
    • Let Masters completely heal and have him fill in for injuries or poor play. 

    A potential core with that plan: 

    • Hunt - Mermis 
    • Johansson - Lambos 
    • Spacek - O’Rourke

    Let the experienced guys hold down the fort while the new guys get moved in. It seems logical to me.

    This seems like a pretty decent starting point. If they're too young somehow, or don't seem ready, pick up another Sujstr type player off waivers maybe. Not really a tough get if needed.

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    42 minutes ago, Protec said:

    This seems like a pretty decent starting point. If they're too young somehow, or don't seem ready, pick up another Sujstr type player off waivers maybe. Not really a tough get if needed.

    Based off how these guys been playing in the playoffs of the WHL and World Juniors I'm guessing were flush as Masters will be back hopefully soon.

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    3 hours ago, vonlonster67 said:

    There's been an argument among our group about what DE has or hasn't done for the Wild and if he is truly the right coach for us moving forward. As a whole some agree and some agree to disagree.

    I feel that he is entering the "thin ice" zone and his focus better be on the Wild and not the Baby Wild. There will be a lot of moving parts in the next two years and I have to believe the BG is only going to give him so much rope before things change.

    Enough said..and debated

     

    Who me? lol. Looking forward to his young group of prospect coming up and hope McLean is up to the challenge!

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    6 hours ago, vonlonster67 said:

    Jesper has to be licking his IA chops looking at this core of young studs meshing with what he saw last year.

    Hunt - Mermis 
    Johansson - Lambos 
    Spacek - O’Rourke

    Luke I like what you have put together. Another factor? Are our forwards ready for some D injection into their game because every line here possesses some blue line expertise. They all have speed/size/physicality and the protection if we extend the zone entries. Cant wait for the PP.

    No rush for Masters to get back, but the timing of him being back may coincide with a call up of one of these players also.

    It's crazy to imagine Peart possibly joining this crew next year!

     

    Can't forget about Peart!

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    5 hours ago, FredJohnson said:

    there is a bigger storm brewing down I-94
     

    35...Desy Moinesy is South of the Twin Cities on I-35.

    That's my bad. It's been too long.

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    I have to believe that if they're down here, and that's a big if, Lambos and Hunt will need to be ready by the end of the year to make the jump. 

    Everyone else has the same chance to shine, and I'm betting that Spacek really shows up. The others, I think, will end up being trade bait. If Spacek does show up well, I think Addison becomes expendable and is shipped out. Both Lambos and Spacek were excellent 2-way defenders, and it sounds like Hunt is getting there too. 

    It'd be nice to have a couple of these guys that are lesser known to come through and be excellent trade chips for what we have missing....though, with the draft this year, I'm not sure we're missing much. 

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    On 9/14/2023 at 2:13 PM, vonlonster67 said:

    There's been an argument among our group about what DE has or hasn't done for the Wild and if he is truly the right coach for us moving forward. As a whole some agree and some agree to disagree.

    I feel that he is entering the "thin ice" zone and his focus better be on the Wild and not the Baby Wild. There will be a lot of moving parts in the next two years and I have to believe the BG is only going to give him so much rope before things change.

    Enough said..and debated

     

    Regardless of what WE think of Deano, he is the HC the previous GM hired: will he get axed as part of the next talent wave?

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    1 minute ago, FredJohnson said:

    Regardless of what WE think of Deano, he is the HC the previous GM hired: will he get axed as part of the next talent wave?

    I like DE, but he is not what I want for a playoff coach, bottom line.

    I'm hoping for change. Nothing personal in regard to Deano, I like his fire and his gritty style as a player. He's just not willing to adapt to situations and I'm not willing to give him a free pass because of the salary cap excuse.

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    Dean's playoff record has been dismal but not entirely fair to put it all on him. There's been a couple issues with goaltending decisions and lack of adjustment but those weren't the only reasons MN lost to STL or DAL.

    I think Dean gets the Wild in the playoffs and he gets another chance. If it fizzles again in round one, I think the timing for an off-season change is probably as good as ever. If you keep DE at that point for the regular season success despite playoff shortfalls, you're probably making a mistake not finding a coach who can help the team win in the playoffs too.

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    On 9/14/2023 at 11:05 AM, vonlonster67 said:

    Jesper has to be licking his IA chops looking at this core of young studs meshing with what he saw last year.

    Hunt - Mermis 
    Johansson - Lambos 
    Spacek - O’Rourke

    Luke I like what you have put together. Another factor? Are our forwards ready for some D injection into their game because every line here possesses some blue line expertise. They all have speed/size/physicality and the protection if we extend the zone entries. Cant wait for the PP.

    No rush for Masters to get back, but the timing of him being back may coincide with a call up of one of these players also.

    It's crazy to imagine Peart possibly joining this crew next year!

     

    FYI the prospect game from last night is on you tube through Wild.com.  No Beckman, Rossi, Milne but Walker played and lambos stood out so there’s that

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    41 minutes ago, Pewterschmidt said:

    FYI the prospect game from last night is on you tube through Wild.com.  No Beckman, Rossi, Milne but Walker played and lambos stood out so there’s that

    I watched it all....Wow!!! Lambos and Spacek were amazing and also Kumpulainen, Heidt, Pavek, several others. Walker looked primed as did Hunt and O'Rourke as the Captains.

    They got blowed out, but were playing against a stacked older Blues team as you know/watched also. Just shows, Wallstedt needs to mesh with that "D" as they did not give him much help in close.

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    28 minutes ago, vonlonster67 said:

    I watched it all....Wow!!! Lambos and Spacek were amazing and also Kumpulainen, Heidt, Pavek, several others. Walker looked primed as did Hunt and O'Rourke as the Captains.

    They got blowed out, but were playing against a stacked older Blues team as you know/watched also. Just shows, Wallstedt needs to mesh with that "D" as they did not give him much help in close.

    I watched it also and your comments are right on. Spacek, Lambos and Sammy were the stars for the Wild in my opinion and yes, Wallstedt was hung out to dry too often.

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    41 minutes ago, Up North Guy said:

    I watched it also and your comments are right on. Spacek, Lambos and Sammy were the stars for the Wild in my opinion and yes, Wallstedt was hung out to dry too often.

    I'm shocked that the talking heads haven't been more keen to Spacek after what he did at World Juniors and the past season. He is definitely someone who has stepped up his game from a 5th round pick, what a gem they have found. Love his nasty too!

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