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  • The 2024 Wild Draft Class Was Built To Pick Up the Pace

    Image courtesy of Matt Krohn - USA TODAY Sports
    Tony Abbott

    "Bigger, stronger, faster, those are all nice things to have," Bill Guerin said at the Minnesota Wild's end-of-season press conference in April. It felt like the marching orders for this offseason, a pursuit to improve the organization's physical tools.

    We saw the Wild take this mentality into the 2023 Draft when they took Charlie Stramel and Rasmus Kumpulainen with their first two picks. Both players were big (6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2, respectively) and strong skaters, especially for their size. As the 2024 Draft neared, the question was whether we would see a similar targeting of physical tools this time.

    The answer turned out to be yes, we would. It just wouldn't be the attribute we were expecting. In a draft full of players, notably defensemen, who could make the organization bigger and stronger, Judd Brackett and the Wild's draft table opted for faster.

    The two headliners in this category come from their first-and-fourth-round picks, defensemen Zeev Buium and Aron Kiviharju. The two left-shot defensemen share a superpower in their ability to move the puck. Buium showcased this all the way to winning the National Championship for Denver University last season, while Kiviharju's gifts could have catapulted him to the draft's top-10 had it not been for injuries.

    Why is that so crucial? Because Minnesota was a slow team last year, and their speed problems started in their own end. Brock Faber was the only defenseman who was elite at breaking out of his own zone, and with Jared Spurgeon out with injury, the team struggled to get the puck up ice.


    If they turn out well, Buium and Kiviharju should be able to give Minnesota those clean, easy breakouts that lead to offense. Being among the better passers in the draft should enable Minnesota to play much faster in the neutral and offensive zones.

    Their sole forward, second-rounder Ryder Ritchie, also fits the mold of improving Minnesota's pace of play. According to Mitch Brown of Elite Prospects' tracking data, Ritchie is in the 86th percentile of forwards in the transition game. The outlet describes Ritchie as not being "a burner, but his functional pace – the speed at which he makes plays – is among the draft’s highest. At full speed, he dangles opponents, slips passes through them, and shoots in stride."

    He fits a similar mold as Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy, where he can move the puck despite lacking elite speed. If the overall goal for the organization is to improve the team's tempo, Ritchie can be a big part of that plan.

    Later in the draft, Minnesota started to target defense projects that brought size but also had that skating foundation. Fifth-round pick (No. 140 overall) Sebastian Soini brings a 6-foot-2 frame and solid wheels. "His skating is steady and reliable," reads McKeen's Hockey's report on him, "allowing him to stay in a good position and avoid getting caught flat-footed."

    It's not just skating fast, though, Soini's also about playing fast. "Soini's true calling card might be his breakout passing," McKeen's continues. "He has a knack for finding teammates in transition with crisp, accurate outlet passes that jumpstart the offense."

    The right-shot defenseman is also solid in his own end. FC Hockey notes Soini is "very strong in front of the net, doesn’t shy away from physicality, and can take an opponent’s stick away at the right times." His June birthday makes him one of the younger players in the class, and he's only played six games in Liiga, meaning Soini will be further off from the NHL than Buium or Kiviharju. But there's potential for Minnesota to develop another David Spacek-type sleeper.

    Perhaps the lone exception came in the sixth round when the Wild took a flier on Stevie Leskovar, a tough 6-foot-4 defenseman. Leskovar went through the 2023 Draft, but improved skating and a small uptick in production (12 points in 61 games for Mississauga Steelheads) were enough to make Minnesota spend a late pick on him. Again, Leskovar is a development project, but the Wild have successfully developed big, raw defensemen in Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler.

    Minnesota also drafted goalie Chase Wutzke from the Red Deer Rebels, taking him in the fifth round, two picks after Soini. He's a young goalie (July birthday) who put up solid results in the WHL. As a 17-year-old, Wutzke was tied for 12th in his league with a .904 save percentage in 36 games. He out-performed his 19-year-old counterpart, Rhett Stoesser, whose save percentage was just .892 for the season.

    The playoffs didn't faze him, either, even as an underdog. "Crucially, he saved his very best hockey for the playoffs, helping Red Deer handily upset the high-powered Medicine Hat Tigers in five games," noted McKeen's. Wutzke had a .924 save percentage in the postseason before going down with injury. McKeen's declared that "Wutzke should be a no-brainer pick for any team that wants to take a medium-upside goalie in the middle rounds," and in the fifth, who are we to argue?

    Minnesota's 2024 Draft class might not have been the one we expected, but the Wild entered the weekend looking to get bigger, stronger, and faster. They got faster, and while that's not everything, it's enough for a weekend's worth of work.

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    Tony's take here is spot on. There are a lot of commenters on the site who are looking for speed and skill and think we win with that. I believe one comment was at the end of the day it's about putting pucks in the net. 

    This is true to an extent, but putting more pucks in the net also suggests you at least tread water on giving them up. A nice structure can help, having forwards play a full 200' game, and we've got a lot of forwards who do that. 

    But, I thought we were after a Stanley Cup. Speed helps us get to the playoffs, but what happens once we get there? 

    I am not as excited about the way Brackett drafts and the tendency he shows to draft the same type of defender. A team is made up of several different roles, and we have to have players who can fill all those roles. When are goalies are our biggest players, both in height and weight, we're in trouble. 

    Many here have commented that a Middleton extension at 4 X $4m is a waste of money. But, look at this draft. Now, we have to extend Middleton, there's nobody there to fill his role. The same thing was happening with the forwards, as he was taking smooth skating, high skill guys who don't have size. Brackett simply doesn't pay attention to that uncoachable stat, and Guerin expects this team to play with a certain identity that requires that size. 

    Yes, we indeed got faster! Was that the right move with so many large defenders available that we now have to skate through? And here's where I think the problem lies: There is a different vision between Guerin and Brackett for what this team should be. And, if we look into the Canucks, we will see that under Brackett, they had no problems being undersized. He hasn't changed his MO one bit.

    I am convinced that Guerin took over the draft for the 1st 2 picks last season. Now with Stramel's troubles, I can see Guerin backing off a bit. Where the issue is is that Judd Brackett has a certain type of player he's looking for in every draft. He constantly drafts that specific type of player. The attributes are smart, great skating, skill. These guys are generally between 5'11" and 6'2" and weight doesn't really matter. He won't take the big rigs mainly due to them not skating very well. It takes them 2 years to get their feet under them from growing. 

    The pendulum can't fully swing the other way either. You can't just build a team on strength and size. There's also got to be some speed. And that's why a buffet of different types of players is necessary. To me, it looks like on defense, you just keep rolling these guys out pairings 1-3 and keep moving the puck. Who cares about defending leads and getting walked by bigger forwards? There's a place for those dynamic guys, but there's also a place for the big lunch bucket guys. 

    The same thing holds true with the handedness. We're way out of balance with lefties. We need more righties.  We've still got nobody to sit in Ovechkin's office. PKs can crowd the right side of the rink a bit more because there's no threat coming from the other side. In the NHL, that closing of margin for error almost guarantees it'll take a perfect shot to get in. 

    So, while Tony's article here is spot on, the question lies with was it the right way to draft this year? That remains to be seen. We did get faster. Speed is another uncoachable trait. But, I fear we also got smaller, and we didn't need to do that. 

    Also, reading up on Kiviharju, this guy was an absolute steal. Injuries was what was blamed for him falling, but, really, it was an ACL injury that kept him out half a year. Maybe we just say for our defense we've got BuKiviLameart. It seems like the same player 4 times. Left handed, puck moving defenders who lack size.

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    I agree this article is spot on. I also agree with mnfan s post. He was spot on as well. I didn’t see us get bigger. Just the same type players we’ve already been drafting.  I don’t see the vision of getting the right players to make a run for cup. Where is the size/length going to come from ? Getting one or two guys in free agency isn’t going to solve the problem. This draft was loaded with huge kids in every position. Stramel  could have been got in this draft with a 2-7 th round pick. There were so many kids bigger than him with more talent in every round !  I’ve given Judd enough time to say I’m not impressed with his drafting here or in Vancouver. Elias Peterson is the type of player we don’t want . He’s weak with no confidence.  We need Sam Bennett s , Matt or Brady T’s ,  Lundell s. . Guys with fight in them.  My other concern with Judd is his description of Rossi when drafted. . He said he was only guy who could play in nhl now. Well that was bs. It took a few years of the weight room . I’m not criticizing development I’m criticizing the scout who thought he was nhl ready.  Obviously our scouts are in there own little world . They must not watch the playoffs like Billy said he didn’t. Pretty hard to know what to do if you don’t scout the Stanley cup playoffs and think you know more than the rest of the league.  Our roster is small and average, our coach is average, our scouting is average to below average, our development of prospects is abysmal, our front office is abysmal imo. Getting out of buyouts isn’t going to change anything if management doesn’t change there priorities. 

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