The Minnesota Wild prospect pool has some very high-end potential talent in the big names of Matt Boldy, Calen Addison, and Marco Rossi, but they have more and more been able to slowly accumulate a depth of future contributors that can solidify their lineup beyond the top layer.
Nothing is guaranteed, but after witnessing how Vladislav Firstov was able to battle through a pandemic-laden season and still produce while playing for the University of Connecticut Huskies. He already has the label of being a top-50 selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, and that doesn’t help when it comes to future and present expectations, but Firstov is certainly continuing to go through a very tough league and is increasingly getting more opportunities to earn those points.
Firstov has somewhat lost his shine as a prospect. Being outperformed by even fellow recent second-rounder Marat Khusnutdinov as a future forward to pencil in your hypothetical 2024 Wild lineups, but even while he wasn’t able to play a whole lot of hockey this past season, he was able to produce at a rate that can sort of force you to tilt your head and go “huh.”
The steady progression from earning 23 points in 34 games during his freshman season to scoring over a point per game with 13 in 12 last year is a common enough occurrence in prospects, although it just feels a little more special on a collegiate team that doesn’t have any other stars. This isn’t your Boston College with first-rounders all the way down the lineup, but a UConn team that is not really given any hope and Firstov was able to play some damn good hockey.
His goalscoring might have taken a slight hit, opting for way more assists than goals compared to his freshman year where they were almost even, but he was also averaging less shots on goal per game. He was able to get 66 on net in 34 games (average of 1.94 per game) while he just got 22 in the 13 games he played last season (1.69). It’s not a massive difference, but it is something to look out for in the future.
Such a small sample size is hard to really make any significant conclusions on where he is at in his developmental path. Especially when it comes to just the standard counting stats, Firstov was able to produce way more points but some slight regression in other, more fickle stats when it comes to only 13 dang games. Everything will be taken with a grain of salt, but at least we can look at his point total and see some progression.
Especially taking into consideration his World Juniors appearance — five games and zero points — where he was either warming the bench or able to play a whole six or so minutes in the games he did play in. That Russia team was extremely top-heavy so it only makes sense they would try and lean on those players, but it’s just unfortunate for the deeper guys like Firstov to not get the proper attention.
Roll the Tape
Now let’s take this time to look at some highlights from Firstov’s first couple of years in which we were actually able to see him play some hockey.
Firstov (No. 10) here shows some knack in front of the net and right by the mouth of the goal, keeping the high-danger areas clear for him to pounce on any opportunities and dish it to his teammates.
And speaking of serving up those nice, tasty, beautiful assists.
Easily the foremost significant and impressive highlight that was readily available, here Firstov takes the puck in stride at center ice, quickly shifts around the defender, swipes his way to the outside and makes a backhand pass that results in a goal. Some assists should just be worth more.
He clearly has an ability to make plays from the wing and has previously put up a solid number of goals. If everything breaks right, his offense is right there to take advantage of. While there has been remarks if his indecisiveness and inability to really get that extra effort defensively, it helps that he’s playing in collegiate hockey which just tends to breed two-way hockey players like nowhere else.
Firstov certainly has time to figure out his future, that’s the true benefit of going the NCAA route from spending a year in the USHL as he did. Even for the Wild, who have until 2023 to sign the player to his entry-level deal, are able to see how he progresses and this upcoming season is incredibly important to determine exactly where he can go in the organization.
On the surface, it seems like an easy decision to sign him to a nice little rookie deal if he continues the same level of production. There’s no true hockey reason for him to age past his senior year before he turns professional and at least gets a taste of the AHL. Especially considering that he seems to be in that upper level of the second tier of prospects, Firstov might eventually be able to provide some financial relief, being a solid middle-six winger down the road when the Wild need players outperforming their cap hits due to the Ryan Suter and Zach Parise buyouts. (Is everyone else as tired as I am talking about this?)
At 20 years old, it’s difficult to really be overly critical of a player, but if he’s able to develop the defensive side of his game that he wasn’t particularly known for (or he can just be so damn good offensively that it overshadows any lackluster efforts) then his projection will be more solid than someone that’s either a very solid offensive winger or someone that will never leave the AHL.
He might just be a hit-or-miss type of prospect right now, but he’s doing too much at a young age to discourage any negative thinking. That’s sort of why he’s at No. 13 of our 2021 Top 25 Under 25.
Hockey Wilderness 2021 Top 25 Under 25
23) Kyle Masters, D
22) Damien Giroux, C
21) Ivan Lodnia, RW
20) Hunter Jones, G
17) Mason Shaw, C
16) Jack McBain, C
15) Jack Peart, C
14) Daemon Hunt, D
13) Vladislav Firstov, LW