Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 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 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild Prospects.
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 2019-20 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
The Wild came into the 2018-19 expecting to be back in the playoffs. However, the team just did not score enough goals. A stagnant offence was the major reason why the team finished with just 211 goals for, 28th in the NHL. One bright spot was Zach Parise who put up 61 points. Defenceman Mathew Dumba seemed to have taken a step forward before his season was interrupted due to injuries. Overall though, the team just didn’t produce enough and finished in last place in the Central Division.
This result led to changes. There was the disastrous mid-season trade of Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask. The Wild also added Ryan Donato from the Boston Bruins. The Wild were also able to add a top college free agent in Nico Sturm. The off-season saw the Wild acquire Ryan Hartman from the Philadelphia Flyers. They also signed free-agent forward Mats Zuccarello. After all these moves were made, Minnesota made the most surprising move of their off-season, firing general manager Paul Fenton. As of the writing of this article, the team is searching for a new general manager.
2019 Draft Picks (Grade A): Matthew Boldy, Vladislav Firstov, Hunter Jones, Adam Beckman, Matvei Guskov, Marshall Warren, Nikita Nesterenko, Filip Lindberg
Graduations: Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Nick Seeler, Ryan Donato
Top Prospect: Matthew Boldy
The Wild drafted Boldy with the 12th overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Boldy. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Kirill Kaprizov
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born April 26, 1997 — Novokuznetsk, Russia
Height 5’10″ — Weight 192 lbs [178 cm/87 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 30 goals and 51 points in 57 games for CSKA Moscow. Kaprizov led the league in goals and game-winning goals. He also put up four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 19 playoff games. He helped CSKA to the Gagarin Cup. Kaprizov also played for Russia at the World Championships scoring two goals in nine games, winning a bronze medal.
Kaprizov is only 5-foot-10. He makes up for that diminutive size 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. Kaprizov has the ability to make these moves and handle the puck while moving at top speed. 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 one year 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 and could make the jump right away. In fact, Kaprizov looks NHL ready now, and the only thing keeping him out of the Minnesota lineup is his contract overseas.
#3 Prospect: Alexander Khovanov
Centre — shoots Left
Born April 12th, 2000 — Saratov, Russia
Height 5’11” — Weight 198 lbs [180 cm/90 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd Round, #86 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Coming off missing half of his draft season due to Hepatitis A, Khovanov was happy to come into the 2018-19 season healthy and ready to show why he should have been drafted higher. He put up 25 goals and 49 assists for 74 points in 64 games. Khovanov also added 10 points in 10 playoff games.
Khovanov has good, but not great top-end speed. He also has good acceleration, reaching that top speed in just a few strides. Khovanov’s stride has improved, and he is better able to fight through checks and maintain balance than he was in his draft year. This is still an area that could improve though as he adds lower body mass. As he has gained back some of the weight that was lost battling his illness, Khovanov has improved. The strength gains should continue in future years. Khovanov also has good agility and edgework. He can change directions on a dime, making him very elusive both with and without the puck.
Khovanov is an outstanding playmaker. He has the vision and the passing skills to put pucks through tight areas and on the tape of his linemates. He reads the play really well, slowing things down when necessary to give a teammate the opportunity to get open. Khovanov has soft hands and is a very good stick handler. He combines this with his skating ability to be a nightmare for defenders in one-on-one situations. He can either beat his man and cut to the net, or create a passing lane, or use his defender as a screen and take a shot on net. Overall he is a very smart offensive player.
Khovanov has a powerful and accurate wrist shot. However, his wind-up is a bit long at this point, and this takes away a bit of the element of surprise. It is not that bad, it just is a step below some of the better shooters in the game. He also has a strong snapshot and a very good backhand. Khovanov is a pass-first player though. He could stand to shoot more often, which would also help to make him less predictable.
Khovanov’s defensive game has improved. He is not afraid to be physical along the boards or down low and his added strength has been useful this year. He could be even better as his strength continues to improve with time. Khovanov has become more consistent in his own end. As his endurance improved he has provided more of a consistent backchecking presence, supporting the defence down low and creating turnovers.
Khovanov should start next season back in Moncton. If the Wildcats are out of contention at the QMJHL Trade Deadline, Khovanov could find himself traded to a contender. He should have a spot on the Russian World Junior team but given that he is playing in North America, politics could come into play. Look for Khovanov to push for an NHL job at the Wild’s 2020 Training camp. Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal don’t have that many years left and Khovanov could be in a good position to take one of their spots.
#4 Prospect: Louie Belpedio
Defence — shoots Right
Born May 14th, 1996 — Chicago, Illinois
Height 6’0″ — Weight 194 lbs [183 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd round, #80 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Belpedio put up six goals and 21 points in 70 games with the Iowa Wild in his first pro season. He also added a goal and three points in 11 playoff games. Belpedio also got in two games with Minnesota.
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 and he has added strength, helping him to win battles on the boards and in front of the net. However, he can still have some issues with particularly big and strong opponents as there are times he is just physically overmatched.
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 out of his zone. He moves the puck effectively through the neutral zone generating successful zone entries. Belpedio is also willing to join the rush and can let go of his wrist shot from that position. He seemed to really pick his spots last year in Iowa but could show these skills even more as he gains confidence in the AHL.
Belpedio is willing to battle in the corners and in front of the net but still must get stronger physically. He has done well to increase his muscle mass over the last year but his lack of size can still be exposed at times. 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 has already started to improve as he goes through the Wild system.
Belpedio is likely to head back to Iowa this year, where he will continue to 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 at the pro level. He could see spot duty as an injury replacement for the Wild but is likely a year away from challenging for a full-time NHL job.
#5 Prospect: Nico Sturm
Centre — shoots Left
Born May 3rd, 1995 — Augsburg, Germany
Height 6’3″ — Weight 207 lbs [191 cm / 94 kg]
Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Wild in April 2019
Sturm had an outstanding season with Clarkson, putting up 14 goals and 45 points in 39 games with Clarkson and helping them to the ECAC Tournament Championship. He also was named the best defensive forward in the conference, a part of both the ECAC tournament and regular season all-star teams, an NCAA (East) All-American, and most impressively a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Sturm signed with the Wild after his strong season and played his first two NHL games.
Sturm is a very good skater. He has good speed and this is true about both his forwards and backwards skating. His acceleration is also very effective and he has a quick first step. His edgework and agility are also very good, allowing him to be elusive in the offensive zone and to effectively defend in his own end. Sturm is strong on his skates. He is tough to knock off the puck, controlling the puck down low on the cycle and creating plays. He also wins battles on the boards and is good at establishing position in front of the net.
Sturm uses his size effectively on the boards and in the cycle game, winning battles, keeping possession and setting up teammates for scoring chances. He has the strength to fight off defenders and get to the front of the net for scoring chances as well. Once he gets to the front of the net, he has the soft hands to finish off plays. He can one-time a pass into the back of the net, pounce on a rebound, and get a deflection. Sturm has a very good shot and gets it off with a quick release.
Sturm combines his good skating ability with the hands to make plays with the puck. He is able to control the puck at high speed and make plays. This helps him to make plays in transition. His strong passing skills also help him on the rush as he can set up teammates. Sturm is able to use his ability to change speeds as a weapon, fooling defenders and opening up passing and shooting lanes.
Sturm does nearly everything well in the defensive end. He uses his size effectively and is willing to play a physical game in all three zones. Sturm wins battles along the boards and helps the defence to keep the front of the net clear. He keeps his man to the outside, pushing him into bad shooting positions. Sturm uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes and is not afraid to use his body to block shots. He is also very good in the faceoff circle. When a turnover is created, Sturm is able to transition to offence quickly.
With his already well-developed defensive game, and with Mikko Koivu likely to miss the start of the season, there is room for Sturm to take a role centring one of the Wild’s bottom-two lines and helping on the penalty kill. Already 24-years-old he is mature for a player coming out of college. The question now is how well his offensive game translates to the NHL level. His ceiling is likely to top out as a second-line centre in time, though he may be more likely to settle in as a very good third-line centre, capable in both ends of the rink.
#6 Prospect: Vladislav Firstov
The Wild drafted Firstov with the 42nd overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Firstov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Connor Dewar
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born June 26th, 1999 — The Pas, Manitoba
Height 5’10” — Weight 175 lbs [178 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 3rd round, #92 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
The captain of the Everett Silvertips, Dewar had an outstanding season. He put up 36 goals and 81 points in just 59 games. It was enough that Dewar was named to the WHL’s Western Conference 1st All-Star Team. He also put up five goals and 10 points in nine games during the WHL Playoffs.
Dewar is a good skater. He has a quick first step and good acceleration. His speed is well above average and defenders have to back off so that he does not go around them and cut to the net. Dewar’s strong skating ability helps him to excel despite his lack of size. His agility and edgework also help him to weave through traffic both with and without the puck. He can make quick cuts to get away from defenders. Dewar could stand to improve his core strength though. This will help him to be stronger on the puck and better in battles along the boards and in establishing his position in front of the net. He does well at the junior level but his lack of size creates questions at the pro level.
Dewar is an undersized forward who is willing to play a gritty game. He gets involved in battles along the boards and is willing to get to the front of the net to make plays. Once in front of the net, he can make plays including tip-ins, pouncing on rebounds, or quickly burying a pass. His soft hands help him to find openings in a goaltender. Dewar also scores goals with a strong wrist shot and a quick release. With his ability to fire the puck he can also score from further out. He gets himself open and also has a good one-timer.
Dewar improved his playmaking this past season. He uses his quick hands and his skating ability to change directions or move the puck quickly to open up a passing lane. Dewar sees open teammates and has the passing skill to put the puck on their tape to create a scoring chance. By varying his game and not always being a shoot-first player this past season, he improved his assist numbers while still putting up similar goal totals. The variety and ability to keep defencemen and goalies guessing made him even more dangerous.
Dewar is also strong in the defensive end, supporting his teammates in defending the cycle down low and providing effective backpressure against the rush. Dewar is not afraid to play his gritty game in all three ends but his size can give him some issues against bigger opponents. His quick stick helps him to poke-check opponents and create turnovers. Once a turnover is made, he transitions quickly to offence.
Dewar heads to Iowa for his first pro season. He will need some time to develop and prove that he can continue to provide offence even when playing against men in a pro league. Expect him to spend a year or two in the AHL before he’s ready to make a real push towards a spot on the Wild Roster. He played left wing through most of his junior career but has spent some time at centre as well. He projects more as a winger going forward though.
#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 17 goals and 45 points in 41 games for Niagara last season. However, an injury in December took him out of the lineup for quite some time and eliminated any chance he might have had in playing for the US World Junior Team. Lodnia scored four goals and 14 points in 11 playoff game.
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.
Lodnia should need some time in Iowa and will likely head there for his first pro season this fall. The Wild hope that he can continue to develop and move past any lost development time he had due to injuries this past season. Lodnia may need a year or two of AHL hockey before he is NHL ready.
#9 Prospect: Filip Johansson
Defence — shoots Right
Born March 23rd, 2000 — Västerås, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 187 lbs [185 cm / 85 kg]
Johansson played 47 games with Leksands in the Allsvenskan. The teenager played limited minutes and did not get a lot of power-play ice time. This is seen in his numbers with just four points on the season. He played 12 games in the playoffs putting up three points and helping Leksands to qualify for the SHL next season.
Johansson is a good but not great skater. He has decent speed in both directions, but it is not overwhelming. His acceleration is also above average. Johansson’s edgework and agility are plus skills. His ability to move side-to-side helps him in defending against the rush as well as playing the point in the offensive end. Johansson could improve his lower-body strength and balance. This would help him in battles along the boards and in front of the net. He’s good at the junior level, but playing against men, this has been the biggest concern.
At the junior level, Johansson showed poise and patience with the puck. He is effective at skating it out of his own end and starting the rush. Johansson can lead the rush, or join it as a trailer. He makes a good first pass and is able to throw long breakaway passes if a forward gets behind the opponent’s defence. He is also skilled at controlling the play from the point on the power play. Johansson can make tape-to-tape passes through tight areas and set up teammates for good scoring opportunities.
Johansson’s slapshot is decent, but not overpowering. He uses his good lateral movement to open up shooting lanes and gets his shot on net. Johansson also understands that he needs to keep his shot low, to create opportunities for rebounds and tip-ins. He likes to sneak in from the point and uses his wrist shot from the top of the circles. This shot is more effective, as he has a strong wrist shot and a quick release.
The goal will be to show the offensive skills which were previously seen in the U18 and U20 Swedish Leagues and bring them forward in the SHL next season.
Johansson is a smart defensive player. He has good positioning, cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He also maintains good gap control. If an opportunity to hit presents itself, he can be effective physically. However, Johansson plays a disciplined game and does not run around looking for hits and getting caught out of position. He uses his size well in the corners and in front of the net. Johansson can stand to bulk up though. If he was stronger, he would be even more effective. There are times when particularly big and physical forwards can cause Johansson issues.
Johansson should head back to Leksands next season. He will look for more ice time as well as the chance to show his offensive skills in the men’s league. Johansson could come over to North America in 2020 but will also need some AHL time before he is NHL ready.
#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
In his first pro season, Shaw put up eight goals and 33 points in 76 games for Iowa. He also added a goal in three playoff games. He was coming off a season where he missed all but one game due to a torn ACL.
In order to succeed in the NHL as a smaller forward, one needs to be a very good skater. Prior to his injury, Shaw checked 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. 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.
Shaw struggled to be that elite skater early in the season. but seemed to get better and more confident in his knee as the year went on. His skating was a lot better in the second half of the year than it was early. While the recovery hasn’t been 100% yet, he is young enough that there is a good chance he comes back as that elite skater this season.
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 pro 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 Iowa in his second pro season and continues to put his knee surgery behind him. He and the Wild will hope that his knee injury continues to recover and 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 in time. The biggest obstacle might be mental, as it may take Shaw some time to fully trust his knee.
Sleeper Prospect: Dimitri 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 his first pro season in Iowa, putting up 16 goals and 30 points in 60 games. He also played in one playoff game but did not record a point.
Sokolov still needs some work on his skating. His stride has shown improvements each year but they have been small. It 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 has improved his conditioning. 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. The release is also lightning-quick. His shot is close to NHL ready. 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 has shown the ability to set up teammates when he plays with talented players. 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 back to Iowa this year. The Wild hope that he will continue to improve on his weaknesses. He has the high-end skill to 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. Sokolov could be a real weapon on the power play.
The top two prospects in the Wild system are great, but there is a real drop-off from two to three. That said, the pool has some decent depth. Jack McBain, Matvei Guskov, Adam Beckman, Damien Giroux, Brandon Duhaime, Shawn Boudrais, and Will Bitten are forwards to keep an eye on going forward. On defence, the team has Marshall Warren, Brennan Menell, Fedor Gordeev, and Simon Johansson who are worth monitoring. In the crease, Kaapo Kahkonen, Hunter Jones, Mat Robson, and Dereck Baribeau are players the Wild hope will develop.
Minnesota Wild Prospects Main Photo:
ST. PAUL, MN – SEPTEMBER 19: Team Langenbrunner forward Matt Boldy (9) scores a 3rd-period goal on this shot during the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game between Team Leopold and Team Langenbrunner on September 19, 2018, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. Team Leopold defeated Team Langenbrunner 6-4.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)