The Minnesota Wild take pride in their small but very talented pool of prospects. They have a handful of skilled players who are either close to, or ready to make that jump into a full-time role in the NHL. With the recent departures of Marco Scandella, Alex Tuch and Erik Haula, there are some holes in the Wild lineup that need filling.
These top four prospects all possess the skill and potential to fill in those gaps and be key contributors to this team.
1. Kirill Kaprizov
The Wild were never really known to draft Russian-born players. For whatever reason, the Wild stuck to drafting primarily Swedish, Finnish and American-born players. In 2015, they decided to break that cycle when they drafted Kirill Kaprizov 135th overall. Flash forward and Kaprizov is one of the Wild’s best prospects. He may be small in size, but his speed, quick hands and hockey I.Q. make him a dangerous player.
During the 2016-17 season, Kaprizov shined in the KHL, where he posted 20 goals and 42 points in just 49 games played. He also captained the Russian U20 National team, where he led the tournament in goals with nine, accumulating 12 total points in just seven games.
Kaprizov is by far the Wild’s best prospect, but he won’t be seeing NHL ice anytime soon. According to Mike Halford of NBC Sports, Kaprizov signed a three-year extension with arguably the KHL’s best team, the CSKA. This means that the Wild won’t see their prized prospect till the 2020-21 season. Although it’s a blow, there are benefits to this situation.
Kaprizov is going to have three more years playing against the best players in Russia. The Wild still own his rights, so he will be theirs when he does come over to North America. Not only that, Kaprizov will be just 23-years-old if he were to join the Wild for the 2020-21 season.
Looks like Kaprizov is not going across the pond in a near future. pic.twitter.com/fs6MAs5VMa
— KHL (@khl_eng) July 7, 2017
2. Joel Eriksson Ek
Eriksson Ek is one of two players who have NHL experience on this list. He comes in at number two of the Wild’s top four prospects. Eriksson Ek played in 15 NHL games for the Wild last season. He started off hot, scoring two goals and five points in his first four games. After that, he cooled down, scoring no points in his next 10 games. He went back to Sweden following those 10 games. From there, he captained Sweden in the U20 World Junior Championships. In that tournament, he was a stud, scoring six goals and nine points in just seven games.
With Haula departing, the Wild need a full time third/fourth-line center. Eriksson Ek will have every opportunity to make the team out of training camp come September. If he can continue to grow as a player, and perform the way he did in his first five NHL games, he will be a valuable asset heading into the 2017-18 season.
3. Luke Kunin
As stated before, the Wild need a bottom-six center. Former Wisconsin Badger Luke Kunin is determined to take one of those spots this season. After finishing his sophomore season, where he was the captain of the Badgers, Kunin turned pro, spending the rest of the season with the AHL Iowa Wild. He was impressive in his short time in Iowa, where he scored five goals and eight points in 12 games. He had a solid year in Wisconsin as well, scoring 22 goals and 38 points in 35 games.
Kunin is currently participating in the Wild’s development camp and has been a standout player. “My first camp was about putting a footprint down and trying to get the organization to see what I’m all about,” Kunin told the Pioneer Press. “I want to show growth and get better every day. That’s the way I like to look at things.”
4. Gustav Olofsson
Now that Marco Scandella has departed to the Buffalo Sabres, Gustav Olofsson has a great opportunity to crack the Wild’s starting lineup. Olofsson was drafted by the Wild 46th overall in the 2013 Draft. He has been considered one of their best defensive prospects and for good reason. He’s a smooth-skating defenseman who has good size. He’s 6? 3? and pushing 200 pounds, but is very mobile despite his height.
Olofsson has only played in 15 NHL games but had shown tremendous potential. His play slightly resembles his teammate and fellow Swede Jonas Brodin. He isn’t flashy, but he keeps mistakes to a minimum defensively. He has a shot to make the team as a third-pairing defenseman but will have stiff competition. Mike Reilly will also be vying for a spot as well as Carson Soucy and Ryan Murphy.