Now that the American Hockey League season is about a month in and the rest of the junior schedules are well underway, let’s check in with the baby Wild and see how the future looks for the Minnesota Wild’s prospect pipeline...
The Iowa Wild have recently cooled a bit after a strong start on the young season. Despite jumping out to a 3-1 start to the 2021-22 season, Iowa has gone 1-2-1 over their last four and currently sits only three points off the division lead after dropping two games last weekend in an overtime loss against Grand Rapids and a regulation loss against Milwaukee.
UMD graduate Nick Swaney led the way over the first month of the season with four goals and three assists over his first six games. In a two-game series against the Rockford Icehogs back on October 22nd and 23rd, Swaney picked up four goals and an assist after starting the season point-less. After scoring twice in Iowa’s 6-3 Friday night win over Rockford, Swaney kicked things off early in the rematch the next night, scoring on the power play just 1:11 into the game. Swaney then extended the Wild lead to two later in the first period, this time shorthanded, one-timing a sweet, sweet feed from Cody McLeod.
Heading into Wednesday’s tilt against Rockford, Swaney continued to lead the baby Wild in goals (5) and points (9).
Kyle Rau also had a fine start to the season before being called up to St. Paul to fill in for injuries and illnesses on the main roster. Before he left, Rau more than doubled his point production on the season in a single game against the Warthogs with three assists, bringing his season point total to five (two goals, three assists). He’s now back with Iowa since Jordan Greenway, Mats Zuccarello and Rem Pitlick have returned to the Minnesota Wild roster, so hopefully Rau will pick up where he left off.
In his first season with the Iowa Wild, first-round prospect Marco Rossi has caught fire over the past couple weekends, earning a goal and five assists in his past four games. While he’s only earned a pair of goals on the season, his total of seven points ties him for second on the roster with Mason Shaw (4-3=7), Joe Hicketts (2-5=7) and Joseph Cramarossa (2-5=7), including this beauty of an assist against Milwaukee, hitting Will Bitten with a stretch pass for a breakaway goal.
Western Hockey League
A pair of 2021 draft picks are off to phenominal starts with the B.C. division-leading Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. Third-round draft pick Caedan Bankier is second on Kamloops in goals with seven scores in twelve games and recently saw a six-game points end back on November 3rd. His higlights include this nice rebound in a 5-0 win over the Vancouver Giants.
Bankier’s linemate and fourth-round pick Josh Pillar leads the Blazers with 20 points on seven goals and thirteen assists. Pillar was named the first star of the game in the Blazers 7-4 win over Vancouver back on October 22nd on the strength of a three-point night, including this nifty move and score past Giants goaltender Will Gursky:
Forward Pavel Novak of the Kelowna Rockets is also playing well with thirteen points in nine games, including scoring twice in the season opener and earning two assists in each of his next two contests. Novak currently leads the Rockets in goals (7) and assists (6).
The Wild defensive prospects have been seeing some success this season in the CHL as well, led by 2021 first-round selection Carson Lambos currently ranks second amongst all defensemen in the WHL with 15 points in 15 games (five goals, ten assists), and his Winnipeg Ice squad won their first 11 games before suffering their first loss back on October 29th against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Lambos has multiple points in five games, and his quick hands and accurate shot have been evident, as shown in his goal against Moose Jaw where he got the scoring started for the Ice in their 10-2 victory.
Fellow defensive prospects Kyle Masters and Dameon Hunt are also settling in to the season, with Hunt earning three goals and four assists over his first ten games, while Masters had an impressive plus-11 in his first 10 contests, and finally got on the scoresheet for the first time this season back on October 22nd, scoring the eventual game-winning goal in the Red Deer Rebels’ 6-3 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Ontario Hockey League
Defenseman Ryan O’Rourke sits just off a point-per-game pace with the Soo Greyounds with 11 points over his first 12 contests with two goals and nine assists. The 2020 second-round draft pick had a three-point game back on October 10th and carried a four-game point streak before it was broken on October 29th. O’Rourke has scored a goal and an assist in each of his last two contests.
Also known as Wild University (ok, no one calls them that but me), the Boston College Eagles roster three Minnesota prospects, and they’re all off to a flying start. Forward Jack McBain is tied for fourth in the entire NCAA in scoring with 14 points (five goals and nine assists), andstarted the season on an eight-game scoring streak, earning him Player of the Month honors for the Hockey East conference.
BC’s 5-1 win over Denver on October 23rd was a fantastic outing for the future Wild guys, as the third period saw McBain score his second goal of the season, followed by goals from fellow prospects Marshall Warren and Nikita Nesterenko.
With six points over his first ten games (three goals, three assists), Warren is already on pace to eclipse the 11 points he had in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons. Nesterenko’s sophmore season has been just as prolific, with three goals and five assists over the first month-plus.
St. Cloud State
St. Cloud State boasts not only the top spot in the USCHO D-1 men’s hockey poll, but also a senior and a freshman as their Wild prospects in Sam Hentges and Jack Peart, respectively. Each got their first goal of the season in the controversial 5-4 OT loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers back on October 16th. Here, Hentges gets the scoring going for St. Cloud State with this scrappy rebound.
Both Peart and Hentges sat out last weekend’s action due to injury. Hentges currently has a goal and four assists in five games, while Peart has added a goal and three assists over four contests.
University of Connecticut
UConn’s Vladislav Firstov started out strong with three goals over his first two contests, and after a brief scoreless streak has gotten back on the board with two goals and two assists in his last four. Firstov currently sits second on the Huskies in goals (5) and tied for fourth on the team in scoring (7).
If you follow @SpokedZ on Twitter dot com, I’m sure you’re acutely aware of the season that 2020 second-round pick Marat Khusnutdinov is having for SKA St. Petersburg. For for those who aren’t followers of моча ракета’s #1 fan account, Khusnutdinov has been having a strong year despite dwindling minutes on the fourth line, earning four goals and 11 assists in 21 games in Russia’s highest professional league. Two bits of good news - one, Khusnutdinov broke a seven-game drought without a goal by scoring a power play tally back on October 25th, a 5-1 win over Avangard.
Second, Khusnutdinov was named to Team Russia’s Karjala Cup roster, which is considered a preview for the World Juniors starting in December. So even if SKA St. Petersburg continues to cut his minutes, he should see significant ice on the upcoming junior squads as one of the alternate captains.
Meanwhile, 2019 fifth-round pick Matvei Guskov has two goals and three assists over his first 19 games with CSKA Moscow.
Starting with the name you all want to know about... 2018 first-round pick Filip Johansson already has as many assists as he did all last season, with two goals and five assists in 17 games...
Seriously, of course you would rather hear about the Wild’s goaltender of the future, 2020 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt. Outside of one rough outing where he gave up four goals, Wallstadt has allowed two goals or less in his other 11 apperances (including shutouts in his last two starts), and owns a .925 save percentage for the 9-7 Lulea squad.
Several of his saves have been nominated for “Rescue of the Week” (gotta love Google Translate), including this one against Brynas: