For months, the focus of the NHL Draft has been on two players, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, as the NHL sees superstar potential in the two young centers.
Only two teams will have a chance to add McDavid or Eichel when the first round of the NHL Draft begins on Friday. Edmonton and Buffalo have the right, in the top-two spots, to add the top talent.
In a draft highlighted by McDavid and Eichel, plenty of talent will remain for the league’s other 28 teams.
“We sure hope so because we’re picking 20th,” Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said, jokingly, Monday. “This is a draft that has quality at the top, but we think it’s a deep draft quantity-wise, as well. We’re really happy with picking 20 this year. Some years picking 20 you’re not sure who’s going to get to you. But there’s a group of at least 20 players that we really like, so that bodes well for our club. It’s a good year. I think even at 50 we’ll be surprised with the type of player that falls to us.”
For the first time in three seasons, Minnesota will enter the draft with first and second-round selections. A year ago, the Wild were in a similar position, drafting forward Alex Tuch at No. 18. A year earlier, they were out of the first round and added defenseman Gustav Olofsson with the 46th pick.
Minnesota owns the 20th and 50th picks in a draft that has depth to go along with the top-tier talents.
“This is a deep draft,” Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr said. “There’s a number of different positions. I think if you talk to a lot of teams, I think the top-11 or -12 players in the draft will be similar on each team’s list but probably a little different order. After that, there’s another grouping of players that are strong first-round prospects. There’s a number of defensemen, number of wingers, number of centermen and a couple of goalies all in the mix and it’s a matter of what teams do in front of us and we’ll take the best player we can.”
With so much possibly happening before Minnesota is on the clock, Fletcher and Flahr have their first-round names and plan to take the best player available, regardless of position.
“For the first round, we work really hard on our top-30,” Fletcher said. “We work hard to put them in order and we simply will cross off 19 names and the next name will be the player we pick.”
The Wild, fresh off a third-straight playoff appearance, isn’t focused on a particular position. After beefing up the defensive corps with its top pick in three straight years (Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Olofsson) Minnesota can look to any position with a deep and balanced NHL roster and young prospects unlikely to contribute immediately.
Even goaltender is in consideration for the Wild, who enter the draft knowing the team’s needs could change over the course of three years as the prospects develop.
“It’s something you’d consider,” Flahr said. “Obviously it’s got to be a special talent. There’s a couple guys that could go in the first round this year. One thing with goaltending, you have to have expectations of waiting and developing properly…You have to have patience and that’s why you see some teams stay away from drafting goalies early in the draft. We’re drafting young kids where being mentally strong is such an important part of the goaltending position. Sometimes you don’t know that for a couple years down the road.”
Goaltending at the NHL level is still being discussed with Fletcher planning to meet with Devan Dubnyk and his agent, Mike Liut, this week.
“That’s certainly a priority of ours, to try to lock him up,” Fletcher said. “Like any pending unrestricted free agent, he will control where he goes and that’s his right, and he’s earned that right through the (Collective Bargaining Agreement). He will ultimately decide where he wants to play and for how much.
“We think he was a great fit for us, but we also feel we were a very good fit for him with our defensive structure, the way we play. We think we’re a very competitive team. I’m hopeful it will work out, but it will probably take a little bit more time.”
In the meantime, Minnesota will look to a draft where they can add skill in varying forms.
“There’s guys that you can describe as goal scorers,” Flahr said of the talent expected at No. 20. “There’s two-way centermen, there’s more dynamic offensive players that maybe have some defensive deficiencies and then there’s some quality defensemen on both the offensive and defensive side. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”