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2021 Draft Grades: Wild still trade up for mixed bag

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The Minnesota Wild really targeted some key players and it sort of makes sense.

2021 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2021 NHL Draft is done. After the marathon second day that caused a lot of heavy eyelids all the way through multiple rounds of endless names and hectic searching where those players are playing next season, it’s time to just watch these guys develop.

For the Minnesota Wild, their draft class is headlined by some elite top-tier talent that fell into their lap — for a second year in a row — and a lot of mobile defenseman that probably watch Jared Spurgeon game tape as homework every single night. It was certainly an interesting crop of young players to go over and look at as a whole, so let’s not waste any time delving into what we think of these picks.

Before we get to the seven prospects, just keep in mind that I am no prospect expert myself, but this is just from what I have gathered from actual smart people and what they are saying and writing. Just a feel for what the Wild did this weekend.

Jesper Wallstedt: A+

Adding the context that the Wild traded up two spots to snag Jesper Wallstedt away before anyone else could get a hand on him is some masterclass level of work by GM Bill Guerin and his scouting staff. He was falling hard and as a projected top-10 pick — some even had him in the top-6 — you just go for it with those kind of players.

Especially considering that around that end of the draft, it was a really big wash of talent that would certainly fall down to the second round, and that they already had the second first-round pick at No. 26, it was easy to spend a third-rounder and get their crowned Goaltender Of The Future, and that’s simply what Wallstedt projects to be.

Outside of any number, the teenaged netminder is the only draft-eligible goaltender in the history of the Swedish top division league (one of the best league’s in Europe) to play over 20 games. Goaltending can kill your team, so to put your trust into someone that hasn’t even been drafted yet and for Wallstedt to just take that starting role ahead of established players, tells a whole lot of what he can do in between the pipes.

From even the most staunch “do not draft goalies in the first round” scouts, they were comfortable with projected Wallstedt to be a quality No. 1 goaltender in his future, with slight chances he becomes a star or completely crashes and burns.

For a franchise that desperately needs some sort of path in net, he has cemented his position as a home run pick and that’s good enough for me.

Carson Lambos: A-

Lambos has had a hell of a season, like in the bad way. After the WHL paused their season, they hyped-up defenseman went over to play in Finland for the JYP organization, but he never really found a temporary home over there. It all finalized into two games in the U18 division, 13 games at U20, and two more at the top division with the Liiga roster. He produced where expected (completely dominated the junior divisions) and when it was time for him to come back over to North America, a medical issue caused him to only appear in two point-less games for the Winnipeg Ice this year.

All of that, plus some general discussion and expectation for him to wow some scouts, where he was just solid, led him to slip down into the second tier of defensemen taken this past weekend. But the Wild snatched him up and were extremely happy to do so.

I was at first hesitant with the pick, especially with the forward talent left like Aatu Raty and Logan Stankoven, but in the end Judd Brackett knows these players about a million times more than I do, so Lambos ended up being a very solid pick. Someone that can project into the top-four of a defense and probably takes the reins over from Ryan O’Rourke as the top defenseman prospect (now that Calen Addison has made his NHL debut).

Jack Peart: A

I just love this pick. Everything from being a hometown kid and looking extremely stoked to wear the Wild hat in his post-draft interview, to the actual player on the ice and what he can do — it is just so damn good.

Peart is young enough to project a sizeable improvement in the future and it is perfect that he is staying close to home both in the NHL and when he heads to St. Cloud State next season. He was the best Minnesota high school player by miles and he didn’t disappoint when it came to showing his transition game in the USHL.

From everything I’ve heard, he will need to work on his offensive decision making, but outside of that it’s completely stable defense with a very good sense of gap control and defending the blue line.

There were some other defenders I liked in the second round as well, like Sean Behrens and Stanislav Szovil, but add in the context of being a hometown kid, it turns out to be a wash for me.

Three picks down, three very good results.

Caedan Bankier: B

The first forward taken in the draft happened in the third round, with Caedan Bankier from the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. Bankier isn’t the most skilled or the fastest skater or has the slickest hands, he just has a solid foundation of playmaking and awareness on the ice that those tools can catch up to in his development.

I’ve already mentioned his name earlier, but he was Logan Stankoven’s center for most of the year in Kamloops, so maybe it was a systems thing with the diminutive winger being the pinpoint for most of their offensive plans, but it’s certainly enough of a gamble to take any CHL player after the shortened season.

In terms of who was also available for the Wild, I would have preferred a little bit more of a riskier pick like center Ethan Cardwell or Dylan Duke, but Bankier is just a fine pick. Nothing flashy and just a lot of runway in terms of development to go. This is a project and it will depend on getting the right amount of focus to take his game to the next level.

He had more points per game than Connor Dewar when he was drafted, so there’s at least that silver lining.

Kyle Masters: B+

This is also a pick that I was extremely fond of where the Wild got him. Some scouting services absolutely love Masters and had him as someone that projected to go in the early-second round, but he was there available for the Wild in the fourth.

Either way, Masters is a pure mobile two-way defenseman that can lay out the body and sees the ice extremely well. He doesn’t have the best shot, but with his awareness and ability to read both the offense and defense, that shouldn’t necessarily matter. This is a pick purely based on what Masters can become with his already set of deceptive tools that tricks a lot of forecheckers currently.

He doesn’t have the top-notch production paper scouts like to see — 10 points in 20 games for the Red Deer Rebels — but he led his team in scoring for defensemen and basically had no one to pass the puck to. Again, those centers mentioned previously were still available, but I don’t really have a problem taking this chance on a WHL defenseman breaking through his ceiling.

Josh Pillar: C

The second forward taken by the Wild and the second forward taken from the Kamloops Blazers, Josh Pillar was taken after Minnesota traded up a little bit to get another fourth-round pick. This is his second time through the draft, as he was eligible in 2020, and frankly, he has an early birthday as well so he’s mighty old for this year.

I can no doubt be proven wrong, but in the mid to late rounds, you want to take massive swings that might turn out, not overagers that can certainly play hockey well, but might not be nothing more than a bottom-six dude. Some more eye-catching forwards were there too — Sean Tschigerl is a winger that so many scouts love, Joshua Roy is an interesting forward that was taken the next round, and Justin Robidas was projected to go in the third but dropped all the way down to the fifth — there’s just other swings that have higher ceilings.

Watch him now become that perfect complementary forward as he turns professional. The one benefit is that we’ll see him a lot sooner as next season will be his last time in junior and he will need to move on in 2022-23.

Pillar is not a bad choice, but I just have silly preferences. Maybe it was just due to more stability and a larger sample size for what player he is that they were willing to trade up to get him. They know more than I do.

Nate Benoit: C-

The last pick the Wild made was in the sixth round, taking defenseman Nate Benoit, a guy that was playing in Triple-A U18 this past year and is going to spend a season playing for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL before heading off to the University of North Dakota. This is a project, a complete long-term project that will last a handful of years.

There’s not a lot of stuff on him and he can be a diamond in the late-round rough, but there were more known quantities in the later rounds that were still available. But that’s the downside of doing some research — getting attached to other guys and just not being able to watch U18 Triple-A because of course that isn’t televised, because who would actually watch it?

The pick of Benoit just doesn’t really tickle that need for a real swing and a chance taken on a player that will most likely go undrafted. Or even Minnesota’s own Justin Janicke who went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final round — he’s definitely From Here and is a national product that is heading to the USHL next season and the NCAA the following year.

Maybe it’s just me being clouded with public reports, but it’s a confusing pick with other talent available that could have been absolutely going for it.

It’s fine.

Overall: B+

I thought the first three picks were near perfect and then it sort of trickled out with the Kyle Masters being the likely highlight of the second half. Wallstedt, Lambos, and Peart are the top three picks for a reason and really can cast a shining light on this entire draft class.

They took some risks by trading up to get their guys, but the entire crop headlined by Wallstedt makes this just an easy win and a lay-up to eventually make other teams look so damn dumb for doubting his ability to be a quality starting netminder. Those are so important — as we are far too aware of — so getting one with your late-first while you have another one to spare, is so easy.

Time will only tell how well the Wild did this weekend, but the outlook is generally very good.