The Minnesota Wild are cruising through any opposition right now, but can even better players be on the horizon? Well we’re going to get a substantial look at this team’s prospect pool at the upcoming 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton.
It all kicks off on Dec. 26, but here are some prospects you should keep an eye on, for potentially making their nation’s rosters.
Marat Khusnutdinov, Russia
The easiest of easy locks to make his team, center Marat Khusnutdinov started off his season extremely hot for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, but his decline back to being a normal 19-year-old forward in the second-best hockey league, has resulted in him earning just 11 points in 29 games. There are certainly some factors, and that is normal teenager numbers, so don’t fret about any sense of production.
Khusnutdinov will be able to absolutely shine no matter who he is playing with on Team Russia. Mostly because of his immaculate two-way ability, but also just because of how many damn talented young forwards this country is gifted with. Whether it’s Daniil Gushchin, Matvei Michkov, Nikita Chibrikov, or any other Russian winger that can skate through anyone as if they are not there; Khusnutdinov will be able to fit in perfectly and possibly contend for an individual tournament award or two.
Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden
Another Wild prospect that will certainly be in the running for an end-of-tournament award is goaltender Jesper Wallstedt. The Wild’s first pick at 20th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, Wallstedt is a future starter and has been making his own records over in Sweden this year. In his second full season as Lulea’s starter in the top division, Wallstedt has improved on his .908 save percentage last season by a whole 10 points and is even allowing less goals on average—down to 1.88 GAA from 2.23 last season. He is just getting better and it is remarkable for a 19-year-old goaltender to be doing this at that top level.
After not really earning Team Sweden’s starting role last year for some reason, he better be handed that job almost immediately for what he’s already done. Hell, maybe he should be on the Olympic team as a fourth-stringer or something.
Daemon Hunt, Canada
The first of the blue line trio for Team Canada that will be representing the Wild is known physical bruiser Daemon Hunt. The dark horse candidate to make the team has been stuck on the same terrible Western Hockey League roster for a while now—as a defenseman, he has more goals (9) than assists (7); that should tell you everything you need to know about his teammates.
While Hunt might not make Team Canada with their star-studded blue line full of the Owen Powers of the world, he will still impress enough to be an interesting option if they decided they want more physicality.
Ryan O’Rourke, Canada
O’Rourke is the more highly-touted blueliner compared to Hunt, but honestly might have the same chance at making the final roster. Both players are physical players that can put any forward on their back and move the puck up the ice in short fashion. Again, it’s just up to the coaching staff and whether any of the top picks underperform.
After playing a full season in AHL Iowa, O’Rourke returned to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and so far has 19 points in 21 games.
Carson Lambos, Canada
The younger blueliner and the Wild’s second first-round pick in the most recent draft, Lambos has had an interesting time trying to assimilate back to North American hockey. He spent the pandemic season (and his draft year) travelling around to the various levels of hockey in Finland, and never really found his footing anywhere. Then when it was deemed safe to return to the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, he suffered an injury just two games in.
Still, he got drafted by the Wild at 26th overall and has been producing almost a point-per-game (18 points in 19 games) at just 18 years old. It certainly helps that he’s on a very good junior team, but he’s leading the charge from the back.
Considering Canada’s options, Lambos will certainly get a lengthy look, but is still not guaranteed a spot. We would at least expect one of these Canadian Wild defensemen to make the final roster, and would be overjoyed with two.
Pavel Novak, Czech Republic
Finally, we have one of the oft-forgotten about Wild prospects in Pavel Novak. Not the most dazzling name of the bunch, Novak has just been steady through his development ever since he was selected in the fifth round back in 2020. In his final year of junior hockey, he does have 25 points in 20 games for the Kelowna Rockets currently and has 11 in 7 games for the Czech junior team in various tournaments this year.
No matter what, there’s going to be enough young prospects to make this an interesting tournament for us.