The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is 12 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. We are at pick number 20 today.
About Minnesota's Prospect Pool
With a spate of recent graduations (Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, Dumba, Haula, Kuemper, etc.) the Wild's prospect pool, unsurprisingly, doesn't look as great as it did a couple of years ago but I would say the cupboard isn't quite as bare as you might think. Although there is an overall lack of star prospects and high end talent, some solid NHL contributors could still emerge from the Wild's system.
Kaapo Kahkonen looks like a very good goalie prospect, RW Alex Tuch has had a fine season, LW Mario Lucia looks to have an NHL-ready game (as long as the Wild get him signed) and Gustav Olofsson is a much-raved about defensive prospect who could make his NHL debut next year. There are other intriguing d-men starting to make a name for themselves in the system, such as Louis Belpedio, Dylan Labbe and John Draeger. At centre, Tyler Graovac seems to be improving at an alarming rate and, with Avery Peterson, Reid Duke, Chase Lang, Christoph Bertschy, Adam Gilmour and Pavel Jenys, there's an interesting group of centres with possible NHL futures behind him on the depth chart.
So while that elite talent doesn't appear to be present, the Wild could still find a few players out of this current prospect pool to fill out the middle 6 forward group and the bottom two defensive pairings, as well as a possible future NHL starting goalie.
A big issue in the Wild's system is their lack of depth on both wings. Right now, the only RW prospects are Alex Tuch, Michael Keranen (who turns 26 next season), Zack Mitchell (who is likely a career AHLer), Jared Knight (who is definitely a career AHLer), Brett Bulmer (who's NHL future has become doubtful after a bright start) and Kurtis Gabriel (who projects as a 4th line facepuncher).
On the left side, things are even worse, with Raphael Bussieres (currently bouncing between the AHL and ECHL), Louis Nanne (extremely long shot to make the NHL someday) and Curt Gogol (AHL facepuncher) the only LW prospects listed behind Mario Lucia.
The Wild need to add some young LW and RW prospects to their system this Summer via the draft and free agency.
About Dennis Guryanov
Dennis Guryanov is a Russian left-shooting right wing who just turned 18. He's listed at 6' 3" and 192 lbs. He has spent his whole career in the system of, his home town team, the KHL's Lada Togliatti. He posted 29 points in 27 games for their junior team last year and played 8 KHL games, registering 1 assist. He also scored 15 points in 17 games for the Russian u-18 team last year.
Here are some reports on him:
A dynamic goal scorer who is full of surprises, he is a strong, tough, power forward who goes hard to the net using his physical strength and size. He protects the puck well, is difficult to stop when at full speed and always tries to use his strong shot.
- NHL Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb
A highly skilled forward who intimidates with his speed and proficient puckhandling ability, Denis Guryanov may have one of the highest ceilings as a forward prospect for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Very strong on his skates and uses his size to protect the puck well. Drives the net hard and knows where he will shoot before he is even in a position to do so. Possesses a heavy and accurate release on his shot, which he likes to get off near the faceoff dots; if he can't shoot from there, he will either dangle or bull his way through to the blue paint. While he is proactive and aware defensively, he still needs to work on consistency in his own end. All-in-all, a dynamic offensive threat that has room to grow defensively
Pro-style wing whose powerful legs get him to the front. Has shown his superiority, starting in the Five Nations Tourney, by making plays and taking shots while completely covered due to the size and hands. Terrific heavy shot and quick release. Strong board player and and on the cycle. Plays a 200 foot game with strong defensive commitment. Potentially a top end pro-style wing prospect who gets most boxes checked in terms of size, skill, skating, hockey sense, hands and power. His powerful stride makes him almost unstoppable as he goes were he pleases and can release his cannon shots while defenders attempt to drape themselves on him. Strong three zone player who is very responsible on the back check. Owns the wall and his powerful stride lets him bull his way towards the net and unleash the puck while in full-flight. Was the biggest standout in the World Junior A Challenge were he was dangerous on most of his shifts. There is always a question with the Russian prospects who haven't committed to coming over to North American. Are they willing, will they adjust to the culture/language, or feel more comfortable to stay home?
-Bill Placzek, Draftsite.com
Guryanov is ranked #7 among European skaters by NHL central scouting, #22 overall by McKeen's Hockey, #24 by both Future Considerations and ISS Hockey, and #16 by Hockeyprospect.com. Draftsite.com has the Dallas Stars taking him with the 12th pick in the draft.
How He'd Fit With The Wild
This is both a risky and unlikely pick. The Wild don't seem to be big on drafting Russians and we're all well aware of the oft talked about issue of Russian players having to learn a whole new language and culture and of the lure of the KHL. But I think now is the time when the Wild need to make a high-risk/high-reward type pick in the first round. A big problem for this team has been lack of elite talent. They're developing safe and reliable players like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, but none of them possess real game-breaking offensive ability.
As I previously mentioned, the prospect pool (as well as dips into college free agency) should provide the Wild with plenty of bodies on cheap contracts to fill out the depth parts of their roster. What they really need to add to the system is some elite talent, and Guryanov could be that guy.
The "Russian Factor" is an overstated concern. The benefits of getting a prospect who will be coming over, battle-hardened from a couple of years of KHL hockey, ready to be inserted into an NHL lineup is worth the risk.
If the Wild add a guy with Guryanov's goal-scoring potential and high-end offensive ability, it could give them a real chance to get competitive again in the near future once the current core has aged beyond usefulness. Theoretically, they could let him develop in Russia for the next 4 seasons and then, if he does fulfil his ability, bring him over to North America as a 21 year old and they've got a top prospect to build a new youth movement around as players like Koivu, Vanek, Pominville move on and the likes of Suter and Parise take on smaller roles.
The Wild are in an interesting position where they are very much all-in for a Cup and, whether they are successful or not, eventually the other shoe is going to drop and they will need to rebuild. Using this 1st round pick to try to attain some high ceiling talent rather than a guy who is solid but unamazing is, for me, the right move.