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  • Will Size Matter At the Wild's Draft Table?

    Image courtesy of Bill Streicher - USA Today Sports
    Tony Abbott

    Inside your State of Hockey, there are two Minnesota Wilds. There's the one that has the Bill Guerin/Dean Evason identity. Guerin was a 6'2" power forward who scored 25 goals eight times and racked up 100-plus penalty minutes in nine seasons. However, Evason played at only 5'10", but he was a tough customer in his own right, cracking the 100 PIM barrier in four of 13 seasons.

    That big, gritty version of the Wild can be seen in players like Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Hartman, and Marcus Foligno. All those players are known for being tough and have scored 20-plus goals recently. Add players like Ryan Reaves, Brandon Duhaime, Jake Middleton, and Matt Dumba who are also unafraid to drop the gloves and mix it up, and you'll see why Minnesota has a reputation as a bruising team.

    Then there are Minnesota's actual engines who don't really fit that mold. Eriksson Ek is a member of that core, but his power stands out among the rest of the group. For players like Kirill Kaprizov, Jared Spurgeon, Mats Zuccarello, and Jonas Brodin, they get by not on strength and size, but skill and hockey IQ. Even 6'2" Matt Boldy caught criticism for being too much of a finesse player in the playoffs. 

    Look at the height chart, and you'll see that Kaprizov, Spurgeon, and Zuccarello are listed at 5'9" or lower. Looking at how the Wild draft, this is also shaping up to be the way of the future.

    Minnesota's twin hopes at center, Marco Rossi and Marat Khusnutdinov, are both listed at 5'9". The Wild are apparently so concerned with the former's strength that they may trade him this summer. Khusnutdinov doesn't have those concerns, but he's also about 18 months away from Wild fans seeing him in action in the NHL. Will he thrive instantly like Kaprizov? It's a tall order to fill, even without any questions about being undersized.

    You can add St. Cloud Huskies defenseman Jack Peart and skilled OHL winger Hunter Haight to the list of smaller prospects the Wild spent high draft picks to grab. Both are listed at 5'11". Even when the Wild have gone bigger, they're still not particularly big. Danila Yurov, Carson Lambos, and Ryan O'Rourke are both 6'1". Liam Öhgren looks like he has a chance to be a more physical forward and is still only 6'0".

    Minnesota has three picks in the first 64 selections of the 2023 NHL Draft. Is this the year for them to focus on adding size to their prospect pool?

    If so, this might be the draft to do it in. In a very loaded draft class, Corey Pronman of The Athletic has 15 prospects in his top-32 rankings that are listed at 6'2" or higher. His compatriot, Scott Wheeler, has only 10 such prospects in that range. But going off their evaluations, about 33 to 48% of first-round caliber prospects will give the Wild some beef. 

    The question is: What might Minnesota be sacrificing by focusing on size? There's an opportunity cost to almost every draft pick, and getting a player with one set of attributes means that you're leaving something else on the table. And there's a reason why players like Rossi, Khusnutdinov, and Haight fell to the Wild: The league still undervalues undersized players. No doubt, some extremely talented but smaller youngsters will be available for the Wild to pick at 21st overall.

    Will it be worth it to pass on these players in favor of bulking up? Hockey Prospecting has 18 players in this draft class as having a 30% chance or greater to become a star player. Notably, just four of them are 6'2" or above: Adam Fantilli, Matthew Wood, David Reinbacher, and Samuel Honzek.

    Fantilli and Reinbacher might go in the top five picks, and they certainly won't fall down to the Wild's range. As for Wood and Honzek? It's within the realm of possibility, but most mock drafts have those players gone in the teens. 

    If that holds, Minnesota's going to have to debate between bringing a player with more size, or bringing in a player whose production suggests they have more potential. There's not going to be much getting around it.

    For example, it's very possible that on defense, the Wild might have a chance to take a big swing on 5'10" Mikhail Gulyayev, who is a smart puck-moving defenseman with huge numbers in the MHL, or someone like Dmitri Simashev, a smooth-skating 6'4" defenseman who fits Minnesota's need for size on the blueline.

    Who do you pick?


    If the Wild scouts favor Simashev and hit it big, that's a huge win for them. You can imagine someone like Simashev becoming a Colton Parayko-type, using his length and speed to control the game in his own end. But on the other hand, Gulyayev's statistical profile looks like the next Scott Niedermayer, while Simashev's stats suggest he'll become some guy you've never heard of.

    The same dynamic happens with forwards, at least in the situation the Wild are likely to face. Look at someone like the Kelowna Rockets' Andrew Cristall, who has the 5'10" knock to go with a reputation for not being a great skater. Other than that, he's an incredible prospect, with skills for days and an elite hockey brain.

    And yes, he also proved it on the ice, potting a ridiculous 39 goals and 97 points in 54 games. That production is incredible. Only two WHL players had more points per game than Cristall last season: Connor Bedard and top prospect (and fellow short king) Logan Stankoven. But we will absolutely see players who profile much worse statistically go higher in the draft. 

    Take fellow draft-eligible prospect and WHLer Nate Danielson. By no means is Danielson a bad prospect. In fact, you may well see buzz for the Wild to grab, and maybe even trade up for him. He's a 6'2" center who skates very well and had a very solid 33 goals and 78 points for the Brandon Wheat Kings. In a typical draft, he might look like exactly the kind of prospect the Wild should hope to get at 21.


    But we're not in a normal draft. The depth of this class guarantees the Wild many quality options, some that might even persist until late in the second round, where Minnesota has two picks. That depth also presents director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett with a unique opportunity to get a player with massive upside at 21st overall... as long as he can stomach ensuring that the team's prospect pool remains full of undersized but talented players.

    Looking at Brackett's tendencies, he sure seems to lean toward the players who put up big numbers, even if it means sacrificing size. It's worked so far in building up that Wild talent pool. It will be interesting to see if that continues, or if they feel the need to gamble on bigger prospects while leaving perhaps more skilled, smaller players on the table.

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    I do think we need to get bigger, but it's a little relative. Height matters more on defense as the reach to block lanes is definitely a plus, and the ability to clear the net.

    I think weight is more important for the forwards. Take Oliver Moore, for instance. He's listed at 5'11" but is already up to 195. That's pretty stocky, and he performed well in strength testing. 

    A guy I mentioned in another thread might be a nice pick at 64-Mattheo Mann. He's a 6'5.5" 222 RHS defender. He has good mobility too. 

    I think it is obvious that Brackett is a skills guy and doesn't really put the big emphasis on size. But, in the playoffs, the size guys are who get it done. I think Guerin, his boss, needs to tweak the importance of size in the evaluations. He might also need to tweak the tendency to take an LW. 

    Moore is thick, Danielson and Ritchie both have height and will fill out. Edstrom has some height too and it looks like he's finding his skill. 

    Now, when comparing Guyayev and Cristall to the group, they're too small, stay away from them. How do you compare Guyayev to a stat line of Niedermayer? They're 2 completely different players. Is Guyayev going to box out, and bodycheck like Niedermayer did? Not a chance. There's really no comparison to players here, they're completely different. Cristall, at this point will get crushed, stay away. 

    I do have to challenge some of the heights Tony mentioned. Kaprizov is listed at 5'10", Ohgren at 6'1". But, while the point may be height, both are thick players, and for forwards, thick works. 

    Where we're really lacking the size is on defense. I'd like to see us go after a few large targets this offseason on the back end. Guys who are in the Middleton class.


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    Every draft board is so different. One of the guys at the Hockey Writers has:

    Rank  Player
    1  Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)
    2  Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
    3  Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro HK (SHL)
    4  Will Smith, C, USA U18 (USDP)
    5  Matvei Michkov, RW, HK Sochi (KHL)
    6  Zach Benson, C/LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
    7  Ryan Leonard, RW, USA U18 (USDP) 
    8  Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
    9  Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
    10  Oliver Moore, C, USA U18 (USDP)
    11  David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (SUI) 
    12  Matthew Wood, RW, University of Connecticut (NCAA)
    13  Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
    14  Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skellefteå AIK J20 (Nationell)
    15  Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
    16  Otto Stenberg, C/W, Frölunda J20 (Nationell)
    17  Eduard Šalé, RW, HC Kometa Brno (Czechia)
    18  Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
    19  Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
    20  Riley Heidt, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
    21  Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
    22  Gabe Perreault, RW, USA U18 (USDP)
    23  Tom Willander, D, Rögle BK J20 (Nationell)
    24  Gavin Brindley, RW, University of Michigan (NCAA)
    25  Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
    26  Koehn Ziemmer, RW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
    27  Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yasterby (MHL)
    28  Gracyn Sawchyn, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
    29  Oliver Bonk, D, London Knights (OHL)
    30  Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
    31  Jayden Perron, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
    32  Trey Augustine, G, USA U18 (USDP)
    33  Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
    34  Luca Cagnoni, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
    35  Kasper Halttunnen, RW, HIFK (U20 SM-sarja)
    36  Carson Rehkopf, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
    37  Luca Pinelli, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
    38  Daniil But, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
    39  Theo Lindstein, D, Brynäs IF (SHL)
    40  Dmitri Simashev, D, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
    41  Bradley Nadeau, C, Penticton Vees (BCHL)

    The next site might have guys 10-15 spots different. Calum Ritchie and Otto Stenberg are around the mid-20s on another board I just looked at. I suspect the top 15 here will almost certainly be gone, and some of the guys listed after 21 might also be gone when the Wild draft.

    Assuming the Wild will not be interested in the goalie, it would be nice if the Wild can add 2 of these other top 40 guys to their prospect pool.

    Makes sense to steer clear of guys under 5'10" for the most part, but at some point, elite skill has to trump size, so I wouldn't count on the Wild only looking for players 6'1" and taller.

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    Middleton and Merrill have good size.  We are in dire need of a 6' 4''+ D man to finish off the rotation.  If they don't find one in the draft then they need to trade for him.  I'm not so concerned about the wings.... but the guys down the middle need to be big, skilled and fast.  Ek is the only center we currently have that has the physical makeup for the position... and it shows.   

    The article questions what we will sacrifice to go big.  Yet look at what we have sacrificed by not going big.  

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    Give OCL the atta-boi for his confidence in Chuck Fletcher and hiring of Fenton. 😟

    2016-2019 drafts are just okay in the big picture. Sure there’s some elements from those drafts that are still around or developing but that is the crux of the Wild’s current problems.

    Haula is still a fast NHL center. Tuch has been a beast since he got away from the Wild. 2017. No 1st in 2017. Wasted 1st in 2018. Right there is the solution to three of the Wild’s issues. Time does tell and that’s why I hope Brackett gets the balance needed after his selections up til now. 

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    Go BIG or go home, Brackett! 

    If either of the Russians are there at #21, we should take them! How you gonna take Yurov last year and pass on a 6'5'' power forward or a smooth-skating 6'4'' RHD? Even if Simashev only becomes a 3rd pairing guy, that's the kind of size we need up and down the blue line. 

    If somehow both those guys are gone, then take Honzek. He is pretty much an Ek clone based on the scouting reports I've read. 

    If he's gone, and Danielson as well, then I say we pivot to the next best thing as an offensively gifted center.. a more defensive center with size! Charlie Stramel at #21 would be considered a slight reach, but a 6'3'' 205lbs C isn't going to last until our 2nd round pick anyway. 

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    22 hours ago, MNCountryLife said:

    The article questions what we will sacrifice to go big.  Yet look at what we have sacrificed by not going big.  

    Exactly. I mean its great that those undersized guys have higher star potential than the larger-sized prospects.. but look at what the high-star small-size prospects have done for us lately. 

    Addison? Healthy scratch, potential trade chip after less than a year since he was no good in moving guys defensively.

    Rossi? Unspectacular NHL play, bounced back down to the AHL in back-to-back seasons.

    3 strikes and you're out! We need size and this is a draft with some enviable sized prospects. I really hope we don't get too cute and just grab the beef with our picks because we need it for the post-season run. 

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    1 hour ago, B1GKappa97 said:

    Even if Simashev only becomes a 3rd pairing guy

    I like Honzek over him if both are available. Simashev has excellent size, but many questions regarding upside. Not overly excited about him in round 1.

    I'm in favor of the Wild adding size, but part of me thinks they should maybe worry about that more beyond the 1st round. There were several larger centers drafted ahead of Sebastian Aho(maybe 6', less than 180 pounds), for example, but the 2nd round pick has routinely bested 60 points per 82 games since he was 20 years old, scoring at a 30+ goal pace each of those 6 years.

    They did add Bankier in the 3rd round a couple of years back because he had decent skills, a good frame and solid work ethic, even though some other guys might have been higher skill guys(better point producers) at the time.

    It seems like they don't exclude size as a consideration, but the Wild have also seen size guys who didn't move the needle at all as far as winning in the past as well. The Wild got Charlie Coyle for Brent Burns back in the day, and he had excellent size, but wasn't very exciting.

    The 6'3" 220 lbs Charlie Coyle, drafted 28th overall in the 2010 draft, has now seen regular playing time in 10 seasons. In that time, he's scored 20 goals once in his career, and exceeded 45 points just once in his career.

    It's possible the Wild will get Coyle-level results, or better, from the 6'2" Bankier once he's ready to make his NHL debut(currently 20 years old and likely moving to AHL for 2023).

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    Solid historical comparison. Coyle was always the late 1st rounder who MN fans expected to become equal value to Burns. What a bad deal looking back. Not that Coyle is junk or Burns is a HOF player necessarily but look at the known value factor. Had the Wild hung onto Burns or Haula & Tuch it's totally possible they would have had just as much success since then as they had with Suter & Parise. 

    The Wild aren't fresh at the start of GMBG Era with new outlook at the draft. They're carrying draft baggage and looking at potential busts that make this draft so important. The Wild went from a marginal prospect pool to top rated somehow based on writer opinions. In other words, meaningless and unproven. They need to get players early in the draft who make it. If a Coyle level center is the best they can do so be it. More big ceiling, hype-guys or undersized players are too risky. If the Wild had got a nice player who's a couple years into their NHL career in 2020, then I'd say they have more flexibility now. Instead, they've added zero size and had to trade to get an NHL defenseman in Faber.

    I mean, I like Knudi but the Wild could've picked Faber or Bordeleau in the 2nd and they'd be playing NHL ahead of ORourke or Knudi. Brackett's record of duds or long-term projects is way bigger than his top 5 hit with Pettersson. It's gonna take a lot of high-cielingism to make up for all the NHL level guys he didn't pick or who are ahead of Minnesota's prospects. Am I the only one who makes those comparisons and wonders why MN picks take so long or are sandwiched between prospects who already arrived. That paints a crappy picture while other Central teams are taking leaps ahead and MN is baby-step'n.

    Edited by Protec
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    3 hours ago, B1GKappa97 said:

    Rossi? Unspectacular NHL play, bounced back down to the AHL in back-to-back seasons.

    Rossi also isn't 22 years old yet. The Wild not forcing him into heavy NHL minutes before he's fully ready is probably best for him long-term. His story has just begun as a pro. He may yet look like a star when he's approaching the prime of his career.

    The high skill undersized guys might need a little more time to add strength after their draft year, but it doesn't mean they are blown picks just because they haven't set the hockey world on fire before age 22.

    I'll continue to point to the fact that Zuccarello was about 25 before he started succeeding at a decent level in the NHL, and Daniel Briere was 24 before he broke through with a great season. I suggest the Wild give Rossi a bit more time and some added skill in his line to work with his next time up at the NHL level.

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    Like I mentioned in the comment section of a previous article, I think the best combination, is to mix a big player with a smaller player. The Spuregon and Middleton combo works well, so expand it to other line pairings. 

    Brackett could draft a big center to play on the Kaprizov line, or draft a big defenseman to play with Addison. 

    Instead of trying to pick between small or large, just get one of each.

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