The Minnesota Wild are languishing near the bottom of the standings at the All-Star Break. With only 47 points through 49 games, the Wild are 27th in the NHL, just outside the five worst teams. They'll be in line for the sixth-best draft lottery odds if things hold.
Imagine, for a moment, that good things can happen to Minnesota. After all, the PWHL Minnesota team landed the No. 1 overall draft pick and Taylor Heise, why can't the Wild get a fortunate bounce? That would mean the Wild would be the odds-on favorite to land Boston University's Macklin Celebrini.
If so, that's a franchise-changing moment for the Wild. Celebrini is currently dominating the NCAA, racking up 18 goals and 35 points in only 22 games. He won't celebrate his 18th birthday until June, either, so there's plenty of room for him to get even better. Minnesota would have a Jack Eichel-type star making near the league minimum for the next three seasons. It's a big deal under any circumstance. But it'd be divine providence with the Wild's cap situation.
Fans hoping that the Wild can turn things around and make up the seven-point gap between Minnesota and a Wild Card spot will quickly point out that landing the No. 1 overall pick doesn't guarantee a winner. That's true, and we can look at Eichel to prove it.
The Buffalo Sabres snagged the second overall pick in 2015 to land Eichel, who was available after Connor McDavid and may be the best consolation prize in hockey history. Eichel never made the playoffs in Buffalo, struggling to carry the team year after year and failing to make it over the hump.
Celebrini probably won't be able to single-handedly turn a bad team into a contender. Even McDavid can just barely do it, even with Leon Draisaitl helping out. But that shouldn't be a problem if Celebrini lands in Minnesota. And from his standpoint, maybe he should be rooting for the Wild to snatch up as many ping-pong balls as possible over these last 33 games.
Why? Well, look at what went wrong with Eichel in Buffalo. First, he landed with a team that was bad enough to be in the position to draft him. That's pretty inevitable with any team picking No. 1 overall, though. So, what was uniquely terrible about the Sabres?
Not only was Buffalo awful, but they had almost no infrastructure for Eichel to succeed with. Poor drafting was partly to blame. The Sabres had five picks in the top 16 from 2012 to 2014 and came away with Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Zemgus Girgensons. Even when the picks landed, that's hardly a championship core. Their luck in later rounds was much worse.
The Sabres also nuked their team to pursue McDavid or Eichel, leaving few NHL-caliber players to bring their new star along. Instead, they had to make up for it with splashy additions. Perhaps that could work, but acquiring Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, and later Jeff Skinner certainly didn't do the trick.
So, where's the worst place for Celebrini to go? Arguably, it's a team that's as barren as the Sabres were in 2015. Unfortunately, that describes many of the teams in the mix for the presumptive No. 1 pick.
The San Jose Sharks are probably the most direct comparable to the 2015 Sabres. They have Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture (when healthy) anchoring top-six roles. But past that? Yikes. Their top scorers are Hertl (34 points in 48 games), Mikael Granlund (29 points in 38 games), and William Eklund (24 points in 50 games), who went No. 7 overall in 2021. Add in Fabian Zetterlund, and that's it for Sharks players with 20-plus points.
The Chicago Blackhawks have Connor Bedard, but he's in a bleak situation. Thanks to injuries and a low talent level, Chicago is icing an AHL team. There are intriguing young players like Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar, Oliver Moore, and Nick Lardis, but most of them aren't in the NHL yet.
Theoretically, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators should be able to provide a soft landing spot for Celebrini, given their young talent. However, neither team has a core that's materializing into much of anything. Ottawa is the more talented of the two, but having Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk, Jake Sanderson, and Thomas Chabot in their core isn't clicking. Maybe Celebrini could change the math, but something doesn't seem right there.
Things start looking up when we get to the Anaheim Ducks. They mostly have mediocre veterans, but Anaheim's star players Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras create some infrastructure for Celebrini to gel with. There's also the possibility that the Ducks' recent acquisition, Cutter Gauthier from hated rival Boston College, could make his debut around the time Celebrini would.
Then there's Minnesota, just outside of the league's bottom five. Is there infrastructure for Celebrini to step into? You bet there is.
The Wild would have the choice of what star-level winger they'd want to pair with Celebrini. Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy offer a combination of finishing talent and playmaking that would make defenses have to deal with multiple dual-threat players rather than focus solely on shutting Celebrini down.
Even better, they'd have the option of easing Celebrini into the NHL with easier defensive assignments. With Joel Eriksson Ek serving as a No. 2 (or No. 3, depending on where he'd wind up in the pecking order with Marco Rossi) center, Minnesota would be sure to keep using him as a shutdown defensive center. They could even bring Celebrini along as a winger to start his career, allowing him to excel offensively before easing into center-type responsibilities.
Celebrini would also be joining a relatively complete team with a track record of recent success. Say what you want about the Wild this season; they're not much different from the team that racked up 103 points last year. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin are the kind of reliable veteran defensemen that few first-overall picks get the luxury of playing with right away.
Minnesota doesn't even have to build out its talent pool. Brock Faber and Rossi are thriving in the NHL. Marat Khusnutdinov might make his debut this month. Jesper Wallstedt is knocking on the door in net. There are just very few weaknesses for Celebrini to worry about.
Celebrini will probably have a great NHL career no matter who drafts him, and maybe he doesn't care where he ends up. But if he's hoping for a smooth transition to a ready-made competitive team instead of having to build one from the ground up, he might want to keep tabs on whether Wild continue to stumble for these last two months.
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