Leading up to the NHL Draft this weekend, the Minnesota Wild spoke highly of the depth of this year’s pool of draft-eligible prospects.
After seeing the draft play out, General Manager Chuck Fletcher, Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr and Minnesota’s scouts are particularly thrilled after adding seven players to the organization.
“Our scouts are happy,” Fletcher said. “The players we were picking late were still rated fairly highly on our list. So, I think it was a good day. It was a very deep draft and I think this year, again, there were some pretty talented players that fell probably further than they would in a normal year. Being able to draft three defensemen late, again we were surprised all three of them lasted until the sixth and seventh rounds but hopefully that works to our benefit.”
The Wild stayed with an offensive lean early, selecting 6-foot-5, 222-pound forward Jordan Greenway in the second round. Without a third-round pick because of the trade for goaltender Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota waited until the fourth round where it drafted goaltender Ales Stezka from the Czech Republic before going back to offense in the fifth round with Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov following a trade.
With its final three picks, the Wild focused on defensemen with Nicholas Boka, Gustav Bouramman, a Swedish player who played in the Ontario Hockey League last season, and finished with Minnesota native Jack Sadek, who played at Lakeville North High School.
A deep draft led the defensemen to fall further then the Wild expected.
“This year we had a number of guys (that fell), and we still had a couple of guys that we would have liked to have drafted and we didn’t have any more picks,” Flahr said. “It’s just one of those years. Obviously we were concentrating on forwards early and then a couple of defensemen that were on our list kind of fell and we were happy to get them later.”
For the second year in a row, Minnesota drafted two players from the U.S. National Team Development Program. Greenway, who is committed to Boston University, had 23 goals and 55 assists in two seasons with the development program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Boka, committed to the University of Michigan, had four goals and three assists as a defensive defenseman for the U.S. Under-18 team last year.
The Wild drafted Alex Tuch and Louis Belpedio with its first two picks out of the USNTDP last year.
“It’s very nerve-wracking,” Boka said of the wait to be drafted. “But I’m glad to be a part of the Wild and I’m so proud to be in a great organization. A lot of guys who played at USA before have been drafted by Minnesota. It’s just a great place to be, great organization.”
Greenway and Boka played together at the 2015 Under-18 World Junior Championship last season, winning gold medals in the tournament. Greenway, born in New York, had one goal and six assists in the tournament. Boka, born in Michigan, had one goal in the tournament.
Greenway also played prep hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. He said he would visit the Twin Cities and attend Wild games with teammates.
“I’m just fortunate,” Greenway said. “Just to be at the draft, being drafted here to Minnesota is a great accomplishment. Everyone dreams to be in the NHL Draft one day and now that I’m here and I’ve been picked, it’s just unbelievable.”
Size was a big factor with Greenway, who said he tries to pattern his game after big NHL forwards like Wayne Simmonds, Jamie Benn, James Van Riemsdyk, and Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.
“He’s a power forward; tall, powerful skater, big shot, tough kid, plays a physical game,” Flahr said. “He’s a little raw but he’s got tremendous upside.”
Stezka had a 2.74 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 27 games for the Czech Republic Liberec junior team last season and is expected to play next season with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League.
“A big athletic goalie,” Flahr said. “Obviously needs to get stronger and needs time to develop but a talented goalie that we’re excited about.”
Kaprizov was drafted after the Wild sent a 2016 fifth-round draft pick to Boston. Kaprizov had four goals and four assists as a 17-year-old in the Kontinental Hockey League last season and had five goals and two assists in four games at the 2015 Under-18 World Junior Championship.
Minnesota finished with Bouramman, who had five goals and 39 assists in the OHL last year, and Sadek, who had five goals and 20 assists for Lakeville North and is committed to play at the University of Minnesota.
“It’s awesome,” Sadek said of being drafted by the Wild. “Been to plenty of games with the Wild, also played there a lot with the state tournament there in high school. So, overwhelmed with all of this. It’s a good feeling.”
Flahr echoed Sadek’s positive feelings.
“It was a very good couple of days,” Flahr said. “Obviously yesterday we’re very happy with the first-round pick and our second-round pick today is a big, strong winger that we’re looking for and plays a power game, and he’s got tremendous upside. From there on, we found a number of players that we’re really happy with at different positions. The guys are all really excited.”