With the 2016 NHL Entry Draft firmly in the rear view mirror and the dust mostly settled, it’s a good time to look back and give an objective assessment separated from the excitement and emotion of draft night. From a 10,000 foot view, draft day came and went without much of the expected flurry of activity as teams position themselves not only for the coming season, but also to begin posturing for the Expansion Draft, which is set to occur following the 2016-17 season. The biggest trade of the night came when Brian Elliot found a new home in Calgary. The biggest draft choice shocker was the Blue Jackets selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi, who fell just one spot of his expected slot into the open arms of the Edmonton Oilers. But the big names rumored to be on the trading block all stayed home and the intrigue of the lingering expansion lives on toward free agency, which begins July 1.
From a Wild perspective, the big trade many have been waiting for, nor did the team move up, move down, or amass more picks. It stayed the course and held true to what Chuck Fletcher mentioned last week in paying the butcher’s bill for all of the draft picks he’s traded away over the last few seasons, without continuing to “kick the can down the road.” The pundits have given some mixed reviews regarding the Wild’s 2016 draft class, so let’s take a look at what some are saying:
- Ryan Lambert, Puck Daddy: C-
- Cory Pronman, ESPN Insider: C+
- Corey Abbott, Yahoo Sports: B-
- Allan Mitchell, Bleacher Report: C-
- Ryan Lund, Fox Sports North: B
- Charlie Roumeliotis, NBC Sports: C
This grades out to around a C+ average, but these grades almost universally punish the Wild for having only 4 picks. The graders would have liked to seen the Wild take more action to grab a couple of extra picks, and remember that the grades are given in a vacuum around the draft with no regard to what the effects outside of it may have been. While the Wild could have scored higher if they traded a current player for picks, their draft grade would have no bearing on the current state of the team.
Today we’ll take a deeper look at grading the draft class out with respect to maintaining the picks of the future and not mortgaging the current team in order to amass more picks. We won’t penalize the team for having only 4 picks, instead we will simply grade the picks that were made and create a report card from that.
Pick #15 (Round 1) - Luke Kunin
Kunin was the best available player on several draft boards when the Wild took the podium, but several boards had another highly regarded prospect with Minnesota lore attached to his name in Kieffer Bellows. Defensive prospects Jakob Chychrun and Dante Fabbro were rated in the same vicinity on most boards as Chychrun had fallen from a top-5 spot over the course of the past season. None of the 4 were clear-cut favorites and their were many opinions on each, so it is very hard to declare which player was truly the best available. However, it appears that the Wild selected the most dynamic of the bunch with potentially the highest ceiling. Kunin scored 32 points in 34 games for a poor University of Wisconsin team as a 17 year old playing against men in the NCAA instead of junior hockey. Scouts will tell you there is a lot of development that happens to a young player’s body at the age of 17 and there can be a major difference in the ability of a player to perform at such a high level while the body is still developing.
It is possible to poke a few holes in the games of the others: Bellows appears to be a finisher, but there are questions about his skating and he spent his entire season being fed pucks by playmaker extraordinaire Clayton Keller. Bellows may need an elite playmaker to make him go. Chychrun plummeted down draft boards as his stock fell throughout the season. Questions emerged about his decision making with the puck and conditioning. Dante Fabbro was all over the boards from the top-10 to below 25. He has offensive talents, but the jury is out on his defensive reliability. Kunin is known for his speed, hockey sense, and ability to put the puck on the net. He needs a couple more years of seasoning to clean up a few issues with breakout passing and finer points of his game, but is known to be solid on the backend as well. His ability to play center meets an organizational need, and he should be a solid addition for the Wild in a couple of years.
Pick 106 (Round 4) - Brandon Duhaime
It’s nearly impossible to rate the best available player when you are this far into the draft. There just isn’t quite enough information gathered on each individual player to be completely objective. However, this pick seems to be one of the safer ones the Wild made. Duhaime is a two-way forward with a little bit of everything - size, speed, and grit. He doesn’t really excel at any one skill, but has an even package of talents. He put up 32 points in 39 games for Tri City of the USHL, which is a high scoring league. But Duhaime is known as much for his defensive play as his offense.
Pick 196 (Round 7) - Dmitry Sokolov
Sokolov has the potential be the steal of the draft. At one time, he was considered a top-5 pick by certain scouts and pundits, but his stock took a tumble over the course of the past season, and continued to fall as the draft went on. He was considered a mid-round pick as the draft began but fell all the way into the Wild’s lap in the 7th round, and Chuck Fletcher was wise to take a gamble on the Russian goal scorer. Sokolov has a wicked shot with a quick release and elite puck-handling abilities. His stock fell due to his reputation as a one dimensional scorer and conditioning issues, but he did put up solid assist totals in the OHL as well. Since most players drafted in the 7th round don’t play a single NHL game, this was absolutely the place to take a chance on a player, and Sokolov’s availability gave the Wild the ability to do so. Here’s a look at what Sokolov can do:
Pick 204 (Round 7) - Braydyn Chizen
Chizen is a hulking giant of man, listed between 6’6” and 6’8” and returns to the team’s modus operandi of the last few draft classes by drafting for size. There isn’t a lot of data available on Chizen, but he is believed to be a late bloomer, and the Wild are hoping they found another bargain pick flying under the radar, though there isn’t data available to give us a clue as to what he will become
With the 4 picks they had, the Wild parlayed them into one solid pick in an important place, a couple average picks and a potential lottery winner. Put it all together and the Wild could have 2 NHL scorers out of the group, and when 50% of your picks make it to the big show, you’d have to say it’s a successful draft. Of course, we can’t truly grade this class out until we see how the players work out over the next few years, but at this point in time, it looks like a small but might draft class.