A spurning never feels good, no matter the stakes.
The Minnesota Wild — their recent struggles aside — are a club on an upward trajectory. The pieces have been fitting together, and they’ve built one of the most robust prospect pools in the NHL. It would seem like an organization that a young player might want to be a part of.
Unless you are Jack McBain, wherein the depth in the organization presents an obstacle for the third-round pick from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
At 6-foot-3 and 201 lbs., McBain’s game is built on a combination of size and skill, lacking true top-end potential in the latter. Ranked at 16 in our preseason Top 25 Under 25, our own Brock Daylor had this to say about McBain; “a big kid who still could fill his frame out by a few pounds. He has great vision and distributing ability and an acceptable top speed. His biggest weakness right now is his foot speed, goal scoring, and consistency”.
At 22 years old and in his final year with Boston College, McBain has excelled. While not elite-level production, he tallied 19 goals and 14 assists in 24 games, leading the Eagles in points despite playing nine fewer games than the second-leading scorer and Boston Bruins prospect, center Marc McLaughlin.
Decent production, size and the leadership qualities that coaches and teams search for. “He’s exactly the kind of player every team covets: the bottom-six big man who can contribute offensively, provides defensive value, and gives a line a different dimension,” Scott Wheeler of The Athletic espoused in his preseason prospect rankings, “his ceiling is limited though.”
With the abundance of bottom-six forwards ahead of him in the Wild depth charts — Connor Dewar, Marco Rossi, Frédérick Gaudreau and new addition Tyson Jost — McBain’s best chance to have an NHL contract coming at the end of his NCAA career lies with another team. It’s why he has made it clear to the Wild that he won’t sign with the team and why it’s now on GM Bill Guerin to recoup any assets he can for the once-promising prospect. But what would it cost for another NHL team to pry McBain’s rights away from the Wild?
We have some recent comparables where an NCAA prospect had informed the team that drafted them that they won’t be signing their ELC, who were moved before they became eligible to sign elsewhere. Adam Fox (moved for a 2019 2nd and a 2020 conditional 3rd round pick), Zach Hyman (acquired from the Florida Panthers for NHL-tweener, Greg McKegg) and Jimmy Vesey (a 2016 3rd-round pick that became Minnesota Wild legend Rem Pitlick!).
The reported asking price for McBain’s rights is a second-round pick, and Vesey may be the closest comparable for a player of his caliber (sorry Jack, you aren’t Adam Fox). A second-round pick in return or the Vesey return would be palatable. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek have reported that the Winnipeg Jets, Arizona Coyotes, and Montréal Canadiens have all shown interest in McBain. They have the draft assets to meet the ask.
But the Wild could get try something a little better. In exchange for a potentially NHL-ready center, a draft pick kicks the can down the road. Are there possible options that could help the roster now?
The swap of McBain for flavor-of-the-week mediocre defenseman Ben Chiarot from the Canadiens is farfetched. Montréal is reportedly seeking a first-round pick for the hard-nosed defenseman. While his reputation for being a net-front sentry in the defensive end is what is lacking from the Wild’s roster, he does little else. McBain plus additional assets seems a high price for a bottom-pairing defenseman who is pending UFA.
Why not swap for another center whose relationship has seemed to reach an untenable impasse?
The Chicago Blackhawks, in all of their dumpster fire glory, are reportedly set to move on from former third-overall pick Dylan Strome. The 25-year-old has had an up-and-down career with Chicago, pairing well with young star sniper Alex DeBrincat and other high-end talent in the top-six but floundering when placed into more traditional checking roles. He’s an intriguing offensive weapon. Slow-footed but with excellent playmaking and vision, Strome has been a scapegoat for Chicago’s diminishing performance over his four years with the team. The team hasn’t performed because of its aging and poorly constructed roster, not something like “lack of commitment.” During a post-game interview, now-former coach Jeremy Colliton, Strome was once criticized for his poor-defensive play.
The strange thing is that Strome was sitting in the press-box after being declared a healthy-scratch, a regular occurrence when Colliton was behind the bench.
Whatever the reason for Chicago’s distaste for Strome, his production speaks volumes. Fifty-four goals and 138 points in 204 games with Chicago, including 32 points in 48 games this year, while averaging around 16 minutes of ice time a night. His influence in the offensive end is unmistakable, as seen in the invaluable impact charts from HockeyViz.com.
Yes, he isn’t perfect defensively. But first-line center Ryan Hartman is suitable for offensive production and not much else. And Ryan Hartman is a winger. What would it look like to put a true center, with elite offensive upside, in that spot? Dylan Strome presents an intriguing gamble, with top-six upside and is unlikely to get a raise from his $3 million salary this offseason when he becomes an RFA.
Whatever the return for Jack McBain, the important thing is that Bill Guerin and Co. get a return. Any return. Seeing McBain move on and flourish elsewhere wouldn’t be fun to watch, but he has to do what’s best for his career. His signing rights are an asset, and they can’t be wasted. A good team isn’t built on wasting assets.