Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Minnesota Wild Prospects
In many ways, the 2017-18 season felt like more of the same for the Minnesota Wild. The team experienced another strong regular season, followed by another early round playoff loss. The Wild put up 101 points and finished third in the Central division. They fell in the first round to the Winnipeg Jets, bowing out in five games. A late-season injury to Ryan Suter seemed to doom their chances. The team failed to capitalize on a resurgent season from Eric Staal, who put up 42 goals and 76 points. Other key storylines included the emergence of Mathew Dumba as a top defenceman and Jason Zucker scoring 33 goals.
The off-season brought change as Chuck Fletcher is out as general manager, with former Nashville Predators assistant general manager Paul Fenton taking over. He’s added a lot of depth pieces in Matt Read, Eric Fehr, Andrew Hammond, Matt Bartkowski, J.T. Brown, and Michael Liambis this off-season. However, none of these players are expected to make a significant impact. If the Wild are to take another step forward, the improvements must come from within.
Top Prospect: Kirill Kaprizov
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born April 26, 1997 — Novokuznetsk, Russia
Height 5’9″ — Weight 185 lbs [175 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 5th round, 135th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Kaprizov had another outstanding season playing in the KHL. He scored 15 goals and 40 points in 46 games for CSKA Moscow. He put up two goals and 10 points in 19 playoff games. Kaprizov also played for Russia in the Olympics scoring five goals and nine points in just six games. He helped the team to a gold medal. Kaprizov also played eight games for Russia at the World Championships, scoring six goals and eight points.
Kaprizov is only 5-foot-9. He makes up for that diminutive in other areas. One of these areas is skating. Kaprizov has outstanding agility and edgework. He changes directions and makes quick cuts on a dime. This makes him extremely elusive and hard for defenders to contain. With good core strength, he also has good balance but will need to improve his upper body strength to be stronger on the puck. Kaprizov is also a fast skater, with excellent acceleration.
Kaprizov is extremely creative. He has very quick and has very soft hands. He can stick handle in a phone booth and has a wide variety of moves. When this is combined with his quick skating, he is very tough to handle one-on-one. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. He makes tape-to-tape passes, hitting teammates through tight spaces.
As good as his playmaking skills are, Kaprizov is a goal scorer. He has a strong wrist shot and excellent release. He also has an outstanding one-timer. Kaprizov has a knack for finding soft spots in the defence and getting that shot off. He also uses his speed to threaten defenders on the rush and when they back off so he does not get by them one-on-one, Kaprizov fires a shot, using them as a screen. He also works to get to the front of the net and is not afraid to be in battles despite his size. Kaprizov has the soft hands to finish in close to the net, burying rebounds and getting tip-ins.
Kaprizov works hard in the defensive zone and brings grittiness and tenacity. He also reads plays well and has strong positioning. The lack of size is an issue though, as he can simply be outmuscled by bigger defenders. He must continue to bulk up and get stronger to play his game on North American ice with the increased physicality.
Kaprizov has two years left on his deal with one of the KHL’s biggest teams in CSKA. The Wild hope that when his deal is up, he’s ready to come to the NHL. With the way he has developed since his draft, it is unlikely that he will need any AHL time after three more years in the KHL. Kaprizov looks NHL ready now, and the only thing keeping him out of the Minnesota lineup is his contract overseas.
#2 Prospect Jordan Greenway
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born February 16th, 1997 — Potsdam, New York
Height 6’5″ — Weight 230 lbs [196 cm / 104 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 2nd round, 50th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Greenway had a solid another good season with Boston University. He scored 13 goals and 35 points in 36 games. He made Team USA for the Olympics, scoring one goal in five games. Greenway signed his entry-level contract in the spring and played six games for the Wild with one assist. He also put up a goal and an assist in five Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Greenway is a decent skater for his size. He is especially strong on his skates and shows excellent balance making him very difficult to knock off of the puck. This gives him the ability to control the puck in the cycle game, creating time and space for his linemates to find openings. He also uses his strength and balance to win board battles and get loose pucks out of the corners. With Greenway’s powerful stride, he can fight through checks and quite literally bowl over defenders on his way to the front of the net. Greenway also has very good speed and acceleration for his size, generated by a fluid stride. His agility and edgework can be improved, however.
Greenway makes great use of his 6-foot-5 frame by playing a physical and gritty game in the offensive zone. He creates offence for teammates by winning battles in the corners, forechecking hard, and creating havoc in front of the net. He has a very hard and accurate wrist shot. His release is decent but needs to really be improved if he wants to score goals with it on pro goalies. One advantage is that he does have some soft hands and can make tips in the crease, or good passes to set up teammates. It is a bit concerning that despite the good tools in close he doesn’t seem to finish and score as many goals as he should. A bit of a tendency to pass when he should shoot could be an issue here.
Greenway plays a defensively responsible game. He doesn’t leave the zone early and maintains his support for the passer on breakout plays. He also gets back quickly to provide back pressure and support for his teammates on the blue line. Greenway uses his size and long stick to cut down on passing lanes, and block shots. He is willing to use his size and physical play in his own end of the rink as well.
There appears to be a spot open in the Wild forward core and with his play down the stretch and into the playoffs, Greenway has the inside track on it. However, there are also veterans like Liambis and Read fighting for the spot and other prospects who will get involved. Even if he doesn’t make the team, expect Greenway to be one of the first call-ups in case of injury.
#3 Prospect: Luke Kunin
Centre — shoots Right
Born December 4th, 1997 — Chesterfield, Missouri
Height 6’0″ — Weight 193 lbs [183 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round, #15 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Kunin played his first full pro season bouncing between Minnesota and their AHL affiliate in Iowa. He put up 10 goals and 19 points in 36 games in Iowa and two goals and four points in 19 games in Minnesota. Kunin’s season ended early when he tore his ACL in March, and had surgery in April.
Kunin’s skating is a work in progress. Once he gets going he has good speed but could use some work on his first few steps and acceleration going forward. This would help him to win more footraces and pounce on loose pucks. Kunin’s agility and edgework are good, so he should be able to improve that first step. Those improvements have started but there is more work to do. Kunin also has good balance and a strong stride, allowing him to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. This would be another area that can get even better if he can add some more strength to his frame, especially in his core.
Luke Kunin shows high-level hockey IQ. He seems to always make the right play with the puck on his stick. Without it, he is able to find openings in the defence and set up to fire a wrist shot, snapshot or one-timer. Kunin’s release is quick and his shot is heavy, fooling goaltenders. He can also score goals in front of the net, with quick hands to pounce on rebounds and the hand-eye coordination to tip-in shots.
Kunin also shows the good stick-handling to protect the puck, extend plays and work in the cycle game. He protects the puck well with his body. Kunin also has the vision and passing skills to set up others, making tape-to-tape passes when he finds a linemate open. He plays an intense game getting involved in board battles and in front of the net. Kunin could improve his strength and add muscle to his frame. This would make him more effective in the cycle game, in board battles, and give even more power to his shot, especially as he moves up to the pro level. He has the versatility to play at centre and on the wing.
Kunin is defensively responsible, bringing this intensity to his own zone as well. He was used as a penalty killer for Wisconsin and has seen some time in this role in the AHL. Kunin is not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots or cut down passing lanes. His high hockey IQ translates into his defensive play, as he reads the play extremely well, and his ability to anticipate what attackers will do with the puck leads to his ability to create turnovers and start the transition game. Kunin is effective in the face-off circle.
Kunin was looking like an NHL regular when he suffered his knee injury. It is not clear if Kunin will be ready for training camp. He continues to rehab his ACL injury and the Wild will not want to rush him. If he isn’t ready for camp, when he is healthy, he might even start the season in the AHL in order to give him a type of “training camp” and make sure he is back up to speed. Once Kunin is back to 100%, expect him to reclaim his spot in the Wild lineup.
#4 Prospect: Jack McBain
The Wild drafted McBain with the 63rd overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on McBain. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Louis Belpedio
Defence — shoots Right
Born May, 14th 1996 — Chicago, Illinois
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd round, #80 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Belpedio had the best season of his college career as a senior. He put up nine goals and 30 points in 37 games for Miami of Ohio. After Belpedio signed his NHL contract, he made an instant impact with two assists in his first NHL game. He then joined the Iowa Wild where he put up two points in 10 AHL games.
Belpedio is a strong skater, with good speed and acceleration in both directions. He has good edgework and pivots, allowing him to transition quickly from offence-to-defence and vice-versa. Belpedio also has good agility, which allows him to keep attackers in front of him on the rush as well as walk the line and create plays in the offensive zone. His low centre of gravity helps his balance, but he must get stronger to win battles on the boards and in front of the net.
Belpedio sees the ice well and has good passing skills. He utilizes these to start the rush with a good breakout pass, as well as to quarterback the powerplay. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Belpedio has good hockey IQ and makes smart plays that create scoring chances for teammates. He also has a good slap shot and one-timer. Belpedio is willing to sneak down from the point and shoot from the top of the circles. He has a quick release on his wrist shot.
Belpedio is also willing to lead the rush. He is a good stick handler who can skate the puck out of danger and lead the rush. He moves the puck effectively through the neutral zone. Belpedio is also willing to join the rush and can let go his wrist shot from that position.
Belpedio is willing to battle in the corners and in front of the net but must get stronger physically. He does well enough at the college level but his lack of size could be exposed with his jump to the pro level. He also needs to work on his positioning in his own end to make sure that he stays between his man and the net, as well as cutting down passing lanes. Belpedio is a hard worker and this should improve quickly as he goes through the Wild system.
Belpedio is likely to head to Iowa this year, where he will work on his defensive game and on adding muscle and strength. He was a very good college player but there is still some development time needed. He could be a year or two away from becoming an NHL regular, but may see spot duty as an injury replacement before that.
#6 Prospect: Filip Johansson
The Wild drafted Johansson with the 24th overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Johansson. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Dmitri Sokolov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born April 14th, 1998 — Omsk, Russia
Height 6’0″ — Weight 208 lbs [183 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 7th round, #196 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Sokolov started the season with 20 goals and 38 points in 35 games with the Sudbury Wolves before being traded at the OHL Trade Deadline. After joining Barrie he really broke out. Sokolov scored 30 goals and 58 points in 29 games down the stretch. He added eight goals and 15 points in 12 playoff games. Sokolov also played in the World Juniors, scoring three points in five games.
Sokolov still needs some work on his skating. His stride has improved over the last two years but is still a bit choppy and this takes away from his overall top-end speed and acceleration. He has good agility and edgework which can make him elusive in the offensive zone. He is also strong on the puck and has good lower body strength and balance. Sokolov improved his conditioning over the last couple of years. He has become leaner, which has made him stronger and more muscular, while not adding weight. There is still work to do but the changes have been positive.
Sokolov is a big power-forward type who uses his size to protect the puck well and drive the net. His wrist shot has an extremely quick release and his powerful arms and forearms put it on net quickly. He is very good in front of the net, with the quick hands and good hand-eye coordination to get tip-ins and rebounds. Sokolov also has good lateral agility and can make slick moves to open up passing and shooting lanes as well as create space.
He is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, but when he does see an opening, his passing skills are good. Sokolov’s goal and assist numbers both went through the roof when he was given some talented teammates to play with. Sokolov is willing to play a physical game, throwing hits in the corners, battling for position in front of the net, and fighting for loose pucks. He continues to improve his consistency.
Sokolov’s defensive game is a work in progress. He has a tendency to get caught puck watching, rather than moving his feet and being involved in the defensive end of the ice. He also must learn not to fly the zone too early, and to continue to support his teammates on the breakout rather than looking for the home-run pass. This is another area he has improved but still needs more work on.
Sokolov will head to Iowa this year. The Wild hope that he will continue to improve on his weaknesses. He has the high-end skill to be a real draft steal and become a top-six forward but there have always been a few question marks. He has worked on those but will need to keep working hard at his defensive game and skating stride.
#8 Prospect: Ivan Lodnia
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born August 31st, 1999 — Los Angeles, California
Height 5’11” — Weight 182 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd round, #85 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Lodnia put up 22 goals and 59 points in 62 games last season. His offensive numbers may have only improved slightly over his draft season, but it is important to consider his situation. He played on a rebuilding Erie team that lacked the talent to support him. He also got in his first pro games, playing six games for Iowa at the end of the season. In the off-season, Lodnia has been traded to Niagara.
Lodnia is not the fastest skater on the ice but his agility and edgework still make him one of the most elusive. He may not have great top-end speed but he does have a good first step and acceleration. He makes tight turns and can change directions on a dime. Lodnia also has good lower-body strength. His balance is very good. Lodnia has the power to fight through checks and is strong on the puck. He can battle in front of the net or in the corners.
Lodnia has a non-stop motor. He fights for loose pucks in the corners and continually drives the net looking for tips, rebounds or just to create havoc. Lodnia also has the quick hands to pounce when an opportunity presents itself, as well as the soft hands to beat a defender one-on-one and create that opportunity. From further out, Lodnia has a heavy and accurate shot but could use some work on his release. He could also stand to use his one-timer more often.
Lodnia has good vision and passing skills. He is creative with the puck, putting it through seams that other players would not try; as well as using his lateral agility and skating skill to open up new passing lanes. He is also a good stick handler. Lodnia has the poise to slow the game down and wait for opportunities. He protects the puck well down low and is strong in the cycle game.
Lodnia’s defensive game has improved as the season has gone on. He has been put in a third-line checking role and learned to play a responsible game. Lodnia shows the same tenacity in his own zone that he shows in the offensive zones. He battles on the boards for loose pucks. Lodnia is also good at containing his man on the cycle and on transitioning quickly from defence to offence.\
Niagara is making big moves in order to try and win the OHL Championship next season, and Lodnia is a big part of that. The Wild hope that playing with other talented players will lead to a break out offensive season. Once done in the OHL, Lodnia may need a year or two of AHL hockey before he is NHL ready.
#9 Prospect: Alexander Khovanov
The Wild drafted Khovanov with the 86th overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Khovanov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Mason Shaw
Centre — shoots Left
Born November 3rd, 1998 — Wainwright, Alberta
Height 5’8″ — Weight 180 lbs [173 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 4th round, #97 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Shaw suffered a torn ACL and MCL in September and missed almost the entire season as a result. He did not play any WHL games but did manage to get in a single game for the Iowa Wild before the end of the year.
In order to succeed in the NHL as a smaller forward, one needs to be a very good skater. Shaw checks that box off, and then some. He is very quick, with a great first step and excellent acceleration. He also has elite level top-end speed. Shaw is one of the fastest players in the WHL. Added to that speed is outstanding agility and edgework. Shaw is very difficult to contain in one-on-one situations. In addition to being able to get around a defender, he is also slippery and avoids getting hit clean. Shaw has a low centre of gravity, which helps him to fight through checks. However, he can sometimes be overpowered by bigger defenders, just due to sheer size.
Mason Shaw has very good vision and passing skills. He can use his agility and edgework to create seams and get the puck through to his linemates in good scoring areas. He also has the talent to make a saucer pass over a stick, as well as the talent to fit a puck through a tight opening. His speed and elusiveness also make him dangerous on the rush. Add in very good stick handling, and Shaw is an offensive spark plug. He can also score goals. Shaw has good power and a quick release on his wrist and snapshots. He could stand to be a bit more accurate though.
Shaw’s main issue is that he doesn’t get to the dirty areas of the ice. He prefers to create things from the perimeter than to cut to the net, or battle in the crease area. This is an area that he will have to improve going forward. Playing off the side boards will work for him on the power play, but it is not clear if it will translate into production at even strength at the next level.
Shaw shows good positioning in his own end and a willingness to come back in his own zone. However, he must work to improve his willingness to battle for loose pucks and engage opponents in his own end. He also suffers defensively due to his size deficiency. Bigger and stronger forwards can overpower him down low and get to the front of the net.
Shaw heads back to Medicine Hat as he continues his recovery from his knee injury. He and the Wild will hope that his knee injury has not taken away any of his speed and skating ability. With modern medicine as well as Shaw’s youth on his side, it is likely that he will achieve a full recovery. The biggest obstacle might be mental, as it may take Shaw some time to fully trust his knee.
Sleeper Prospect: Justin Kloos
Center — shoots Right
Born November 30th, 1993 — Lakeville, Minnesota
Height 5’9″ — Weight 180 lbs [175 cm / 82 kg]
Signed by the Minnesota Wild as an undrafted free agent in March 2017
Kloos had a solid rookie season with Iowa. He put up 19 goals and 31 assists for 50 points in 76 games. He was also given the opportunity to play his first NHL game, though he is still seeking his first NHL point.
Kloos is another undersized player, but more and more undersized players are succeeding in the NHL now. A common theme amongst those who do is their outstanding skating, and Kloos fits the bill. His outstanding speed and acceleration must be respected or he can blow past a defender on the rush and cut to the net. He also has the edgework and agility to make quick cuts to challenge defenders in one-on-one situations. Kloos has good balance thanks to a strong lower body and low centre of gravity. He is surprisingly good in battles along the boards.
Kloos pairs his skating ability with good stickhandling skill. He can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. As defenders back off to respect his speed, he can take the extra room to take a wrist shot. His shot is hard and features a quick release. Kloos can also use the extra space to create a passing lane to set up a linemate off the rush. Kloos is also strong on the powerplay.
There are some questions as to how well Kloos can do in a puck possession game. Due to his diminutive size, he will need to be paired with a pair of big and strong forwards to help him control the puck on the cycle game. As it stands now, the majority of his points are scored in transition on or the power play.
The big question for Kloos will be how much his lack of size will limit his defensive game. He is an industrious worker who may be able to overcome that limitation. He has done well enough in the AHL, using his speed to intercept passes and create turnovers. Kloos also is willing to battle in the corners and in front of the net despite his lack of size. He is an aggressive backchecker.
Kloos will battle for a spot in training camp, and has the advantage of being a bit older and more experienced than many of the other prospects in that battle. Still, it seems likely that he will start the season in the AHL, waiting for his opportunity to come due to an injury in Minnesota. Once he gets a chance, he might just make himself too valuable to be sent back down.
The strength of the Wild system is the forward group. Their best prospects are forwards, and it is also their position with the most depth. The Wild also have Andrei Svetalkov, Brandon Duhaime, Pavel Jenys, Bryce Misley, Dante Salituro, Chase Lang, and Connor Dewar as notable forward prospects.
The defence needs an infusion of talent, and with Fenton in charge is likely to get that in the coming years. For now, the system also includes Carson Soucy, Nick Seeler, Hunter Warner, Simon Johansson, Jacob Golden, Brennan Menell, and Gustav Bouramman.
Goaltending prospects include Kaapo Kahkonen, Dareck Baribeau, and Ales Stezka.
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