How would you grade the Wild 2023 draft?

Marc Elliott

MOUNT ROYAL – The annual NHL Entry Draft has come and gone. The free agency signing period kicked off on the 1st. The Wild's Development Camp has been held and is now complete. It is now time to welcome the dog days of hockey summer. It's OK though.

The break is needed and will give ample time to sort through some topics for the upcoming NHL 2023-24 season. For our Minnesota Wild, I know I have had some indifference toward the club in the recent past, especially as this past season wound down and we were treated to yet another disheartening first-round playoff ouster. As a reminder it isn't just the Wild that has added to my State of Hockey malaise. Nope.

I was also a NorthStars diehard when they were still the local team and suffice it to say, they were exciting to follow but their list of accomplishments wasn't exactly upper-level either. They did get to the Stanley Cup Final on two occasions, only to meet up with one team (NYI) on the doorstep to their own hockey dynasty (4 SC wins) and another (PIT) that would win two in a row and be ultra-competitive for many seasons afterward.

At the end of their tenure here though they were 758-970-334 in 2,062 tilts. The 334 total represents the days when games that were still tied after a brief five-minute OT were finished and the final result was a tie. And of course, it is just typical Minnesota sports that a scant six years after moving south, the Dallas "Stars" would win the Cup, rubbing much salt into the wounds of the fanbase here regarding the loss of their favorite team. I

n 27 seasons in Minnesota the NorthStars won 14 playoff series. In 22 seasons in the Saintly City the Wild have won 4 playoff series. If you think I'm building a case for the level of fan frustration here that I and many thousands of other hockey fans hold within our hockey hearts, you would be right. It hasn't been easy to stay on board this ship. ‘But that's yesterday's news.

Does that mean the Wild is about to turn the corner into hockey happiness and love? That's at least as possible as it has been at any time in the recent past. I caution that there will be a bit of a brief wait here, but when the teams cap penalties are over with they just might be poised to start moving upward, aided by a prospect pool that many analysts rate as the top one at this time or at least in the top three.

Considering who is signed and ready to go for the next campaign here is how the club forwards chart at this time, Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello Johansson-Eriksson Ek-Boldy Foligno-Rossi-Gaudreau ***N/A***-Dewar-Maroon Brandon Duhaime/RFA is still unsigned but is expected to play on the 4th line on the left side. To round out the 23-man roster, Vinni Lettieri, Sammy Walker and Adam Beckman are expected to compete for the extra spots. And from what I can see, do not discount Michael Milne. And on the backend: Middleton-Spurgeon Brodin-Faber Goligoski-Addison Merrill Also battling to get on to the roster are Daemon Hunt, Dakota Mermis and Carson Lambos. I would not discount Lambos getting a strong look at camp and if he performs he could be the 7th D-man on the 23-man. Between the pipes: Marc Andre' Fleury Jesper Wallstedt Zane McIntyre Filip "the Bus" Gustafsson is an RFA and has yet to sign. The team did make a qualifying offer to him and his camp responded by filing for arbitration. Hopefully for the team a deal will get done before the arb hearing and everyone will be happy with the outcome.

These matters are normally handled before a hearing takes place. Considering who is in the roster mix and looking for a big-league job, what sort of expectation should fans have for the team going in? For myself, just based on how things "feel" to me, I expect the team to take a step back this year. Gustafsson will be more of a known entity in goal this time around, and once again a Wild offseason has resulted in the loss of some much-needed experience. Matt Dumba is gone, along with Ryan Reaves and the wily veteran Gustav Nyquist.

Others have departed too, but I see the absence of these three players as being detrimental to the club overall. Just within the division you can say that CHI has gotten better even if we do not yet know how the #1 overall pick Connor Bedard will translate to the NHL. COL and DAL will be better. STL will be slightly better, as NSH will be too. My jury is still out on WPG and ARI. Will the Wild slide into a playoff spot or do they miss out? If they get in what could they do, if anything? We know the history. In the recent Entry Draft the club selected local talent Charlie Stramel, a good sized 6'3"-223lb center at 21st in the first round. 

At 53rd they took Rasmus Kumpulainen, a 6'3"-192lb center. At 64th they took Riley Heidt, a 5'11"-179lb center. To complete the day the team selected Hermantown product (149th) Aaron Pionk, a 6'1"-172lb prospect who is destined for UMD in the fall on defense.

Then another D-man, Kalem Parker at 6'0"-192lbs. And at 213th, James Clark, a 6'0"-179lb LW from Edina. At this time I see Stramel and Kumpulainen as the two players from this draft with the best chances at making the show within 2-4 years. B

ut things change and each of these players will develop at their own pace. Since I think this team will have some indifferent results until the cap penalties are completed, what will the 2025-26 team look like? Considering the current prospects and veterans who will still be here, this is a possible depth chart: Kaprizov-Rossi-Yurov Ohgren-Eriksson Ek-Boldy Firstov-Stramel-Gaudreau Milne-Kumpulainen-Novak On Defense, Lambos-Spurgeon Brodin-Faber Peart-Masters Spacek In Goal, Gustafsson-Wallstedt Obviously I am engaging in some heavy speculation here. I

t is unknown what the next two drafts might yield while still under cap penalty. I haven't accounted for possible trades and so forth. And there is an even chance that the 25-26 season might be Kaprizovs last one in St. Paul if the club doesn't perform or achieve. Would he pack up for greener ice somewhere else? It is possible. Is GM Bill Guerin still the Captain of the ship then? Is Dean Evason still the Coach? These are all great questions with nary an answer to be found.

So you want to be an NHL GM? It would be a challenge of epic proportions. You would want to have a large supply of aspirin and antacid on hand. If you are a person who accumulates stress in the neck and shoulders you would need to have one of those back massager devices nearby at all times. Befriend the media. Exude confidence at all times and be straightforward. Most folks around the game can usually tell what's going on and why. And for crying out loud, win a CUP here. You would be remembered in the State of Hockey forever and a day. PEACE