The 2022 NHL Draft is just around the corner, less than a week away, and scouts will have their entire year of work come to fruition with just a handful of draft picks made by their employers. Luckily for the Minnesota Wild, because of the Kevin Fiala trade that happened earlier, Judd Brackett, the team’s head of amateur scouting, will have another first-rounder to play with.
There should be still some mighty fine prospects available at 19th overall and some of these players could hopefully benefit the Wild at the right time and build upon the core that GM Bill Guerin is trying to slowly build around the current team. Here are some names to look out for on Thursday night when the Wild make the first of their two picks.
D Denton Mateychuk
Mateychuk has been described in almost everything written about him as an electric blueliner that has this aching desire to be involved in every play. This season for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, it felt like he had possession of the puck almost every other second while he was on the ice. Driving play at both ends of the ice and being the most active of active defensemen.
There are essentially four CHL defensemen that are slotted to go anywhere from top-10 to late in the first round: Owen Pickering, Kevin Korchinski, Pavel Mintyukov, and Mateychuk. Pickering is a swift 6-foot-5 defender that some teams will drool over, Korchinski has top-tier passing ability, and Mintyukov has been just very very good. It might be a toss up between all four, but since Mateychuk might not have the size that some teams like, some scouts are projecting that he will be the fourth selected out of that group. This is where Minnesota can come in and swoop up a very skilled blueliner. Since this team is so dam good at developing these agile defenders that stand under 6-foot into NHL defensemen, maybe Mateychuk is someone Brackett already has circled as a potential pick.
The only issue would be if you want to determine that the Wild already have too many prospects on the blue line. With the addition of Brock Faber in the Fiala trade, and players like Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke, Jack Peart, and Daemon Hunt in the system, adding another one could either solidify the future Wild blue line as being potentially the best in the whole world, or just overkill and not necessarily as exciting as selecting a center we can rest our hopes and dreams on. That’s just personal preference, but Mateychuk might be too good to pass on just because our dream 2026-27 lineup has more focus on the forward lines.
RW Danila Yurov
With the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Russian players being able to actually leave the country — especially considering Philadelphia Flyers goaltender prospect Ivan Fedotov was recently detained for trying to do exactly that — some rumors and reports that NHL clubs are cautious about drafting Russian prospects in the draft, are starting to get louder and louder. There is no end really in sight and if some teams don’t want to go through the international hassle of getting a young player to come to North America, they might just opt to go the “safer” route and select a non-Russian player.
Well, Danila Yurov is certainly one prospect that should by all accounts and statistics go in the top-15 of the draft, but might just fall into another team’s lap that doesn’t mind taking that risk. Strictly on the ice, Yurov is a dream. He already is a strong, two-way winger that has some size standing at 6-foot-1 and plenty of top-tier experience with 21 games played in the KHL this season. He did not put up any points during that stretch, but he hardly played — typical for KHL clubs to do that to teenagers. While in the MHL junior league, he was an intense scoring threat while also being responsible. Yurov scored 13 goals and 36 points in just 23 games, which is more than our very own Kirill Kaprizov did in his draft year.
It will be one of the interesting stories surrounding Thursday night, but whatever team selects Yurov is either fine taking that risk and selecting him in the top-20, or taking advantage of teams being cautious and grabbing him way later than he should be. Maybe the Wild will be that team with either of their first-round picks.
LW Isaac Howard
One of the several prospects from the U.S. National Development Program that should be taken in the first 45 picks or so, Howard is one of the more mobile forwards in the entire draft class and will forecheck like a madman — which seems like a perfect fit if the Wild keep on playing their current style of hockey. He managed to score 33 goals and 82 points in 60 games for the program and was the motor behind fellow top prospect Frank Nazar’s creativity. It could be said that Howard created the space on the ice for linemate Nazar to dazzle scouts with his stickhandling and agility that should earn him the top-20 selection.
Not only can Howard skate well and play in a strong system, but he is one of the top shooters in this draft as well. It might not be the standard mid-range snipes that we have come to know from watching teenagers play this sport, but Howard will crash the net and generate boatloads of chances, enough to have some of the highest individual expected goals rate in the class.
Howard does feel like a very typical Minnesota pick, anyway. Where he played, his playstyle currently, not being the most skilled player but most likely will make it to the professional level; it’s just a Wild pick, and considering that Judd Brackett has two chances in the first 24 picks to get a good one, Howard might be the easy decision.
C/RW Brad Lambert
What will not be an easy decision is if any team selects Brad Lambert in the first round. Lambert was heralded as a top-3 pick for most of last year, but as more scouts watched more of him and as he played more into his draft year, his ranking slowly lowered down into the mid-to-late-first range. From everything that is said about Lambert, he appears to have all the talent in the world — a beautiful, mature skater that can shoot the puck and has some capable passing ability — but just doesn’t seem to have it all together right now. It is an issue of awareness and doing all those necessary little things on the ice to determine if he is a projectable NHLer.
Again, it’s probably easier to take Lambert if you have two kicks at the can like the Wild do, but it will be a lot of work for any development staff to try and hone in the player and make him increase that on-ice intelligence level. Considering the Wild don’t really have any top-tier prospects beyond Marco Rossi at forward, maybe this is a pick to try and solidify that position since they already have piles of defensemen and a goaltender that by all accounts should make it.
F Jagger Firkus
Jagger Firkus — his incredible name and all — is on the rise and doing an anti-Lambert. The Moose Jaw Warriors forward has scored 80 points in 66 games on a decent team. Firkus has demonstrated an innate ability to create offense from anywhere in the zone and can shoot the damn puck. He doesn’t need loads of room to get his shot off, which made him hard to defend and that is evident considering he got most of his 33 goals this season from high-danger and congested areas on the ice.
For the Wild, this would continue their recent trend of drafting out of the WHL with consistency. Whether it’s Lambos, Hunt, Kyle Masters, Caedan Bankier, Josh PIllar, or Pavel Novak, these two drafts with Brackett running the show, has been extremely WHL heavy. Nabbing Firkus would just be the cherry on top and might solidify the predictability for Minnesota’s drafting strategy. It would also be fun to have a prospect named Jagger.
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