The Minnesota Wild's prospects had a great summer. The Wild added more talent to an already highly touted stable. Prospects like Brandon Duhaime, Matt Boldy, and Connor Dewar graduated to the NHL full-time. Marco Rossi is poised to do the same this season. Plus, the smaller purse to pursue free agents has left ample opportunities for more prospects to get a chance. Oh, and the chances are on a team that will remain competitive throughout it all. It’s a perfect storm for success.
Duhaime, Dewar, Boldy, and Rossi are all former Wild draft picks. That doesn’t include other draft picks that are next in line, like Adam Beckman, Mason Shaw, and Sam Hentges or Nick Swaney. Beckman made a strong case to make the club in training camp last season. He also captained one of the groups in prospect camp this summer. The Wild like Beckman and are invested in his success. Shaw is another prospect who has a lot of promise. Finally, a full season of health allowed him to tally 52 points in the AHL and make two separate injury fill-in stints with Minnesota.
Where does that leave Mitchell Chaffee? Minnesota announced on July 17th that they had re-signed the former UMass captain, who scored 23 goals and 16 assists in Iowa last season. The Wild signed Chaffee as an undrafted college free agent in 2020-21, and he is a right-shot forward who can play in various situations. Last season, he scored nine power-play goals as the benefactor of the outside shooting of Calen Addison and Rossi. His 39 points in 49 games ranked fourth on Iowa.
And when Chaffee made his NHL debut on April 19th, he looked solidly in place next to Duhaime and Dewar.
Chaffee has earned a chance to be in the same conversation as Beckman and Shaw, even though the Wild didn't draft him. But Chaffee is not a fourth-line grinder type. Dewar and Duhaime, his linemates in his two NHL games, can slide in and do the dirty work required of a fourth-liner. However, Minnesota is wasting Chaffee’s skill when they play him seven minutes with few opportunities to play offensively.
Chaffee scored a natural hat trick against the San Diego Gulls on Jan. 29th. He scored each of his goals in different ways, displaying the talents and versatility of the soon-to-be 25-year-old. Unfortunately, that’s where Chaffee's problems as a prospect begin.
The names ahead of him on that list are all offensively gifted. Rossi is a future top-six forward. The same goes for Boldy. Beckman might be a middle-six shooter, and that’s already with a third line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, and Jordan Greenway excelling in those spots. Liam Öhgren and fellow 2022 first-rounder Danila Yurov project as top of the line-up players too. Add in the tendency of GMs to fill out the rest of the line-up with NHL veterans on cheap deals that can be “trusted,” and suddenly, there is little room left for Chaffee.
I'm not saying Chaffee can’t or won’t play games for Minnesota. He showed well enough in a sheltered role during the two games the Wild called him up for. The Wild controlled the shots when he was on the ice, and they didn’t give up much in terms of scoring chances. Chaffee was perhaps the best of the call-ups that played fewer than five games not named Rossi.
The few spots left on the NHL roster will be highly competitive. In theory, the cream will rise to the top. Unfortunately, for Chaffee, the cutthroat nature of the business will allow the draft picks a little more leash to develop. He may end up as the superfluous by-product of such a deep talent pool. And while Chaffee might never graduate to Minnesota full time, if he can fulfill a crucial assignment. He might not be a part of the Wild’s long-term plans, but he’s going to make the future of the Wild earn every bit of their keep on their path to the NHL.