The Minnesota Wild will select no. 21 in Wednesday night’s 2023 NHL Draft. The 2023 draft class is projected to be historically deep, sporting many franchise altering talents available at the top of the board. With the Wild still feeling the crunch of the cap from the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts, what are their options on draft day?
The looming cap crunch the Wild are feeling doesn’t offer much salary cap flexibility. However, the organization has left most of their pending UFAs and RFAs unsigned which gives them some roster flexibility to make moves on draft day.
General Manager Bill Guerin and Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett are unafraid to identify prospects they like and make moves to ensure they can snag them. This was evidenced back in the 2021 NHL Draft when vaunted goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt began to slide. Guerin and Bracket traded up two picks to grab him.
With a draft as talented as this one, moving up might be too expensive for the Wild to stomach. They currently have trade chips available in the form of six 2023 draft picks, including three in the first two rounds. Calen Addison, Sam Steel, and even spark plug Brandon Duhaime are possible RFAs that could be made available if the right situation arises. Despite being scratched several times last season, veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski has expressed interest in staying in Minnesota. This could make Jon Merrill expendable if needed. There have even been a few rumblings of fan favorite Marcus Foligno being moved.
It’s doubtful any of these pieces alone are enticing enough to move up significantly in such a stacked draft. Regardless, the Minnesota Wild top brass are an aggressive group and if the right player starts to slip don’t be surprised if a move is made.
Forward seems like the most likely route for the Wild to go with the 21st pick. The fan base has been clamoring for a franchise center since its inception in 2001. Finding a player of that caliber in the late first round is a big ask. The Wild can, however, find a strong prospect that will be NHL ready when the Wild are ready to truly compete in 2025-2026 after their cap crunch is over. Here are some players that Minnesota should have on their radar.
Dalibor Dvorsky, Center
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 3
Dvorsky is one of the younger players in the 2023 Draft. Currently playing overseas in Sweden, he’ll need a few more years to develop into an NHL ready player. Dvorsky boasts a wicked shot with a quick release. He also plays an excellent 200 foot game. With improvements to his skating Dvorsky projects to be a solid two way center in the NHL. It’s unlikely he’ll be available at pick 21, but a package deal could have the Wild move high enough to take him.
Eduard Sale, Right Wing
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 4
If the wild are able to land Sale at 21, it is because of his disappointing play in his draft year. Once projected to be a sure fire top ten pick, Sale’s 2023 numbers were inconsistent at best. He has speed, vision, and excellent puck skills. To fit in the Wild blueprint, Sale will have to get bigger and improve his play when the puck isn’t on his stick. Sale needs time to continue developing and figuring out exactly what kind of NHL player he’ll become.
Otto Stenberg, Center/Left Wing
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 6
Stenberg excels in transition and has an extremely high compete level. He’ll need to get stronger if he hopes to slot into an NHL lineup, but he does almost everything pretty well. He may not be the top end playmaker like others in his draft class, but he possesses a high motor. Stenberg could very well be a nightmare to play against, a cornerstone of the Wild identity.
Nate Danielson, Center
NHL Central Scouting North American Skater Ranking: 7
Danielson led the Brandon Wheat Kings last season with 76 in 63 games. He is an extremely smooth skater with elite speed. Danielson may not be a high end finisher yet, but his ability to drive the puck in the offensive zone and find teammates in space projects well at an NHL level. He may not be the flashy playmaker at center the Wild are looking for, but he is a solid player that should see success at the NHL level.
Samuel Honzek, Center/Left Wing
NHL Central Scouting North American Skater Ranking: 9
Honzek’s best attribute is his size. At 6-foot-4, his frame allows him the ability to protect the puck well and provides him an excellent reach. Honzek has a solid wrist shot paired with a decent skating ability, which gives him offensive upside. Despite his stature, Honzek isn’t an overly physical player and will need to improve in the defensive zone to land in an NHL top six role. If the Wild decide to go size on draft day Honzek will be at the top of their list.
Calum Ritchie, Center
NHL Central Scouting North American Skater Ranking: 13
If Ritchie can translate his game to the NHL, he would be the dream player to play between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. His skating can be clunky at times and he struggles with consistency in the offensive zone. Ritchie, however, has an extremely high hockey IQ and excels on maintaining possession in the offensive zone. Sound familiar? His inconsistency to rack up points has him slipping down boards lately which could be for Minnesota’s benefit.
Riley Heidt, Center
NHL Central Scouting North American Skater Ranking: 21
Playing for the Prince George Cougars Heidt had a breakout campaign this past season. He finished tied for the WHL league lead in assists at 79 with Connor Bedard. Heidt is a dynamic offensive playmaker and a heavy forechecker. He can play in all scenarios and could inject some much needed life in future Wild powerplay units.
Gavin Brindley, Right Wing/Center
NHL Central Scouting North American Skater Ranking: 23
Brindley is often overshadowed by fellow Michigan Wolverine Adam Fantilli. Literally. Fantilli is a full 5 inches taller than Brindley’s 5-foot-9. What Brindley lacks in size he more than makes up for in tenacity and compete level. He is an excellent skater and a shifty puck carrier. Brindley may not bring size to a future Minnesota lineup, but he fits well with the identity Guerin is trying to build.
David Edstrom, Center
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 25
The most accurate Edstrom comparison may be to another Swedish Minnesota Center, Joel Eriksson Ek. Edstrom is a nasty defender and battles in the dirty areas of the offensive zone. He doesn’t have the offensive flash like some of his peers, but does all the little things well. If Edstrom continues to improve he should be a strong two way center in the NHL. Edstrom’s low floor makes him a viable choice for Minnesota at 21.
The Wild organization is loaded with young defensive prospects. Addison and Brock Faber have already played NHL games and David Spacek, Daemon Hunt, Ryan O’Rourke, Carson Lambos, and Jack Peart could realistically play NHL minutes one day. One thing the group lacks, though, is size. None of the prospects break the 6-foot-2 mark. Size on the back end is something the Wild defensive pipeline needs. No matter the measurements, if the right player becomes available Minnesota will take them. Here are some of the defensive prospects available around pick 21.
David Reinbacher, Defense
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 5
Reinbacher may be the most NHL ready defenseman in the draft. He has an extremely high hockey IQ in his own end. Despite lacking top end speed, attackers rarely beat Reinbacher because of his excellent positioning. His offensive game needs work, but his shot finds the net through screens. If the Minnesota Wild want to add physicality to their blue line soon, Reinbacher should be their first choice.
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Defense
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking:7
Sandin Pellikka might be the most offensively gifted defenseman in the draft. He is a superb skater which allows him to jump into the offensive zone when given the opportunity. Sandin Pellikka’s high hockey IQ and playmaking ability make him capable of fielding a top power play unit at the next level. If the Wild move Addison this offseason, they will be in need of a quarterback for their powerplay.
Mikhail Gulyayev, Defense
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 10
Gulyayev is an offensive defenseman with excellent transition skills. At 5-foot-10 170 pounds he is a bit undersized. However, his skating ability and vision make him one of the top defensive prospects in the draft. The Wild may be looking to add size to their blueline, but if Gulyayev starts to fall the skill might be too hard to pass up.
Tom Willander, Defense
NHL Central Scouting International Skater Ranking: 12
Willander is a reliable two way defender who excels in both areas of the game. His mobility allows him to be smooth in transition and rarely plays himself out of position. Wild fans may see similarities in Willander and Brodin’s game. They are smooth skating defenseman who lack offensive flash, but are very solid in their own end. If the Wild take Willander, look for him to be a possible Brodin replacement down the road.
Goaltender is the most unlikely route for the Wild to go for their first round selection. No goalie prospect in this year’s group has the same projected ceiling as current Wild prospect Wallstedt. Minnesota also just extended projected AHL goaltender Hunter Jones on a one year, two way contract, as well. The Wild brass continue to work diligently on extending surprise star Filip Gustavsson, but any goalie drafted this year is likely years away from being able to step into the NHL. Minnesota could potentially bolster their goaltending pipeline later in the draft, especially with two second round picks they currently own. Nonetheless, here are the top goaltenders projected to be available in the 2023 draft.
Carson Bjarnason, Goaltender
NHL Central Scouting North American Goalie Ranking: 1
Arguably the top goalie talent in the 2023 draft, Bjarnason spent last season playing for a struggling Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. His numbers weren’t great, but that mostly had to do with the team in front of him. He has the most complete toolkit among goalies in this draft. Given the proper time to develop Bjarnason projects to be a solid NHL starter.
Michael Hraba, Goaltender
NHL Central Scouting North American Goalie Ranking: 2
Hraba, originally from Czechia, spent last season on the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. His .904 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average left something to be desired, but his monster 6-foot-6 frame and excellent agility more than make up for it. Hraba is committed to play at the University of Massachusetts next season and maybe be able to transition to Iowa in a few years.
Trey Augustine, Goaltender
NHL Central Scouting North American Goalie Ranking: 3
Augustine spent last season on the United States National Development Program, playing big games at both the U18s and the World Juniors. Augustine posted good numbers this past season including a .926 save percentage and 29 wins in 33 games. His small frame has scouts questioning an ability to compete at the next level, but he does possess great agility and positioning. Augustine may not be a consistent Vezina candidate next season, but he should see some NHL time down the round.
Adam Gajan, Goaltender
NHL Central Scouting North American Goalie Ranking: 6
Gajan exploded on the scene during the 2023 World Junior Championship, helping upset the United States and nearly taking down Canada in a 53 save performance. His showing vaulted him to win Best Goaltender of the tournament. Gajan possesses good size and superior athleticism that should vault him into the starting role at the University of Minnesota Duluth next Season.
The Minnesota Wild have a plethora of options with their first round selection. Center would be the preferred choice for a majority of the fanbase. Yet, Guerin and Bracket are sure to take the best player they deem available, even if they need to make some moves to ensure it happens. Tune into the 2023 NHL Entry Draft Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Stay tuned for more NHL content, including trades, signings, and various updates.
Featured image courtesy of Brandon McCauley