The Minnesota Wild have completed the 2015 draft, and there are some very interesting picks. They include some good European players, some hulking monsters, and a small, high-scoring Russian.
The Wild don't really have a "biggest area of need" when it comes to prospects because their prospect pool is almost completely dilapidated. Many argue that the Wild have a some good young defensive players, and that is true to an extent. Chuck Fletcher has managed to capture the two biggest college free agents the past two years with Christian Folin and Mike Reilly, which adds some depth at the lower NHL level on our blue line. Alex Tuch and Michael Keränen are the most promising young players, with Tyler Graovac and Brett Sutter knocking on the door of the NHL. Those are about it. Louie Belpedio is promising as well, but when you only have four promising young forwards who aren't already in the NHL, you've got problems.
It's not surprising, then, that the Wild used their top four picks on three forwards and a goalie (which is a whole other bag of worms). In the first round they grabbed Joel Eriksson Ek (pronounced Yule), a Swedish 2-way center with some offensive upside. I can't hate the pick- JEE was one of my top guys who I thought would be available when the Wild picked at 20. Unfortunately, the Wild passed up one of the most exciting offensive players in Travis Konecny, likely because he is on the smaller side, has some defensive issues and has a reported possible "attitude" problem.
Eriksson Ek could turn out to be one of the best centers in the game- there's not really any question that he has that potential. The problem is that the same is true of any center taken in the draft (particularly in the first round). I don't believe so much the narrative that the Wild need a high-scoring center- the Wild's problems this last year weren't scoring goals, it was stopping them, and even if that were the case, their first round pick this year isn't going to help them in the near future regardless. Eriksson Ek projects to be a Mikko-Koivu type player, possibly with more offense than Koivu produces. This is anything but bad; Koivu was one of the best centers in the game for a long time. If the Wild just drafted his successor, I'd be fine with that.
In the second round the Wild took Jordan Greenway, a 6'5" monster who will be attending Boston University next year. The left winger seems to produce offense at a solid rate, and brings some size that the Wild have been fetishizing lately. Frankly, the addition of another promising forward at all would make me happy in the hard-to-predict second round. As long as Greenway can actually play hockey and not just hit people (which seems to be the case), I'll be happy to wait and see.
The Wild added another goalie prospect, which is smart- I think teams should draft one or two a year in the later rounds and see what happens. It's nearly impossible to project which goalie will be great and which will be terrible, so using a high pick doens't make much sense. Hopefully Ales will develop quickly and be able to give the Iowa Wild some hope in the next few years (with Stephen Michalek to mentor him, if things go according to plan).
The Wild added another winger, a Russian, which a lot of people will make a big deal about. Given recent events, and an influx of younger Russians, I think this will become more and more commonplace, as the KHL ceases to be any rival at all for the NHL. The smaller forward projects to be a top-6 scorer, which will help the Wild in 2-3 years when he has a shot at the NHL roster.
With their final three picks, that Wild added defenseman which, though not necessarily needed, is intelligent. Their current older defensive prospects either have some big question marks or are knocking on the NHL door (Mike Reilly, Christian Folin). Adding younger defenseman is necessary, and any round past the first two is basically a crap shoot.
I can't say I love the Wild's drafting this year, but nor do I hate it. I would have made a different pick with the first round, but I don't dislike their pick either. I think their drafting, from a positional standpoint, makes a lot of sense and seems to be setting the team up for a shot at a bright future; now it depends on how these players develop.
Particularly given Alex Tuch, Louie Belpedio, and now Joel Eriksson Ek's promise, the next few years should tell us a lot about the coaching level at the Iowa Wild. If the players who are developing there turn into good NHL players, they are probably doing fine. If the team continues to struggle and the players aren't developing, that will tell us that the personnel is not likely the problem.
Of equal import is the news that the Wild reached terms with Devan Dubnyk, at 6 years for a little over 4 million dollars per year. That's a high cap hit, but not preposterously so in today's market. 6 years is a long time, though, and that could be problematic down the road. The Wild were always going to have some issues later on, though, with the Parise and Suter contracts; that was the price of trying to rebuild the team.
I am not huge on the "grade the draft" ideas, but if I had to I would give the Wild a C: average. They didn't wow me, but I wasn't particularly disappointed. As for the players, now it's up to them and their coaches to make them the players they hope to be.