The Minnesota Wild appear to have already locked-in their six defensemen they will be primarily using during the 2020-21 season, but one blueliner playing overseas right now is making the future plans, a more difficult decision with each game.
Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba are completely secure in their top-four roles. Barring anything surprising or tragic, those will be the four defensemen we see most when the next season begins. Brad Hunt and Colton Soucy established themselves as NHL-caliber defensemen last year and the hope is that they continue doing so in that bottom pairing, but if either one of them slips up, there’s someone that Minnesota management can quickly call upon.
At just 23 years of age, Brennan Menell is terrifying opponents in the Kontinental Hockey League, playing for Dinamo Minsk. The 5-foot-11 defender has one goal and 11 points through 11 games for the Belarusian club. He is also averaging the highest time-on-ice on the team and only defenseman Dominik Masin for Amur Khabarovsk has averaged more time in the entire KHL.
Playing 25 minutes a night in one of the best leagues in the world while his North American playing opportunities are shutdown, isn’t a bad way to spend your winter.
For the last three seasons, Menell has steadily earned himself the reputation of being able to produce from the blue line. As a rookie in the American Hockey League with the Iowa Wild, he was able to score eight goals and 25 points through 72 games. The significant jump into professional hockey is sometimes too much for a defenseman, but Menell handled it easily when it came to offense.
For the next two campaigns, the young defenseman was able to stay come in 13th and then 2nd in league scoring among his position.
Unfortunately, AHL statistics only reach so far, but we can get a glimpse into the player that Menell is and can be, during his five-game stint with the big club last season.
A call-up in December due to Spurgeon’s hand injury, he made quite the impression in those dire circumstances. Partnered with Hunt, the right-handed defender wasn’t able to secure any points, but underneath of it all, it’s promising.
Together, the pair was able to hold an on-ice expected goals for percentage of 73.73 and the team was able to get 64.41 per cent of the unblocked shot attempts too. It might have been only five games and just over 50 minutes, but there is some positive takeaways from his short time with Minnesota.
Still a restricted free agent, Menell will need a contract before he laces up in the AHL or NHL again, but as The Athletic’s Michael Russo mentioned earlier this month, he will likely stay over there for the entirety of the season. It is also unclear if there is an out clause in his KHL contract for when the North American leagues start up again.
The Wild did tender a qualifying offer for the 23-year-old this offseason, so they will retain his rights until he’s either 25 as a Group 6 UFA — if he’s played less than 80 NHL games at that point — or as a regular UFA when he turns 27.
There are plenty of options for the future Wild blue line, with young players like Calen Addison and Marshall Warren coming through the ranks, but Menell is entering his prime shortly and the current defenders are only getting older.
For the time being, he will remain in Minsk, but he will no doubt stir up more conversation when the time is right.