Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Minnesota Wild Prospects
The Minnesota Wild barely snuck into the playoffs, taking the second and final spot in the Western Conference. The Wild were the first team since 2010 to qualify for the Playoffs with less than 90 points. After undergoing a long run of poor play, they fired coach Mike Yeo in February, replacing him with John Torchetti, on an interim basis. The Wild lost in the first round. They fell in six games to the Dallas Stars. This spurred more change in the off-season. The Wild bought out Thomas Vanek. They hired Bruce Boudreau as their new head coach. On July 1st, the Wild signed Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Alex Stalock, and Victor Bartley.
Minnesota Wild Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Alex Tuch
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 10 1996 — Baldwinsville, NY
Height 6’4″ — Weight 225 lbs [193 cm /103 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in round 1, #18 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Alex Tuch had a solid sophomore campaign at Boston College. He scored 18 goals, 16 assists and 34 points which were all improvements on his freshman campaign. Tuch also showed that he could take on a bigger leadership role with the team. He has now chosen to turn pro, signing a contract with the Wild.
Tuch is 6’4 and 225 pounds. He is built like a truck. He plays with the skill needed to become the type of power forward prospect many teams covet. His skating stride seems unconventional and awkward, but it doesn’t hold him back as he generates decent speed and has a good first step and adequate acceleration. He’s not a speedster but he can keep up. Tuch also has good balance and is strong on the puck. Tuch wins a tone of puck battles using that good balance, and leverage, along with his size. He also uses his balance to fight through checks and get to the dirty areas of the ice in order to put up points. Tuch has good agility for a man his size, and can slip through openings when he sees them.
Tuch uses his size and strength to establish position in front of the net or to win board battles. He also is an effective fore checker and will use his body to get the puck, and while very effective, he is not likely to throw too many highlight reel hits. He is also good at controlling the puck in the cycle game and at driving the net when an opening appears. If an opening doesn’t appear, he drives the net bowling right over the man defending him.
Tuch has soft hands to tip in pucks, pounce on rebounds, and score from in tight when driving the net. He also had one of the hardest wrist shots in the college and a very good release. Tuch adds to that powerful wrister, with a cannon of a slap shot which he can unleash in one-timers. He is able to control the puck in the cycle game and make smart passes to teammates leading to the majority of his assists. His hockey sense is very good, as Tuch seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck, and he is able to find openings in the defence without it.
Tuch shows good defensive instincts. His hockey IQ is very apparent as he anticipates plays well leading to turnovers and starting the transition game. He is hard on the back check and supports the defense down low. Tuch wins battles along the boards in all three zones. His hard-nosed and gritty style helps in his own end of the ice. He is a very good all-around type of player.
Expect to see Tuch in Iowa, playing for the Wild’s AHL affiliate. He has some issues to work on, but is looking like the type of power forward that every team in the NHL would love to have.
#2 Prospect Luke Kunin
The Wild drafted Kunin with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kunin. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect Joel Eriksson-Ek
Center — shoots Left
Born Jan 29 1997 — Karlstad, Sweden
Height 6’2 — Weight 187 lbs [188 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in round 1, #20 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Eriksson-Ek spent another season playing for Farjestad in the SHL. As an 18-year-old playing against men, in Sweden’s top league, he scored nine goals and 15 points in 49 games. He also played for Sweden at the World Juniors.
One won’t confuse Eriksson-Ek for a speedster. However, his skating has really improved from what we saw at the Ivan Hlinka. His stride is a lot longer now, and his speed and acceleration are above average. He has even shown the ability to go wide on defenders and cut to the net off the rush. He also has a lot of lower body strength, which allows him to fight through checks, win board battles and establish position in front of the net. Eriksson-Ek also has good edgework, and agility.
Eriksson-Ek always had the other tools in his game, but skating was a big question mark. Now with those concerns greatly eased, we have seen the improvements in his game over the last couple of years. Given the quickness of his improvement, there’s also a good chance there is even more room to improve his skating over the next several years.
Eriksson-Ek is a pure sniper with a tremendous wrist shot, and impressive snap shot. He has a lightning quick release. His shot is already NHL ready. He protects the puck extremely well using his body to shield defenders, and his stick handling to keep control while also being fully capable of driving to the front of the net, and having the soft hands to finish in close.
Eriksson-Ek is strong in the cycle game and extremely hard to knock off the puck. NHe is not afraid to battle in the corners and often comes out with loose pucks. Also blessed with very good vision and passing skills, he can play the role of play maker down low as well, though he should work to be a bit more creative. He has very good hockey sense, making smart plays with the puck and finding ways to get open without it. While Eriksson-Ek’s lower body strength is good, he has a lot of room to add muscle on his upper body, and this increased strength make him even more dangerous.
Eriksson-Ek’s two way game is extremely well developped. He is very good at the little things, such as winning faceoffs, using his long stick to break up passing lanes, and supporting his defence down low. Eriksson-Ek shows the ability to work along the boards and win battles in all three zones and doesn’t take shifts off. He also is able to contain opponents on the cycle game and Eriksson-Ek is willing to block shots. His compete level is very high, and he is always at the middle of post-whistle scrums.
Eriksson-Ek signed an entry level contract with the Wild. He is expected to make his way to North America this season. He will need to adjust to the smaller ice. Some areas of his game can also be improved, including his skating. Expect Eriksson-Ek to spend the season with Iowa in the AHL.
#4 Prospect Mike Reilly
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jul 13 1993 — Chicago, IL
Height 6’2 — Weight 191 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in round 4, #98 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
One year ago, Mike Reilly was the most sought after college free agent in hockey, spurning the Columbus Blue Jackets and signing with Minnesota. He made a number of plane rides from Iowa to Minnesota (or vice-versa) as he was constantly shuttled between the AHL and NHL. Reilly played in 29 NHL games scoring one goal and seven points. He also played in 45 AHL games, with 5 goals and 23 points.
Reilly is an outstanding skater, one of the best that we will feature in our top shelf series. He has great speed in both directions, coupled with strong pivots and edgework, and great agility and he really is an extremely mobile defenceman at both ends of the ice.
A good stick handler, Reilly is not afraid to use his skating skill and lead the rush, or to join as a trailer. He has very good vision and can make crisp pin point passes both off the rush and in quarterbacking the power play. Reilly also has a very hard slap shot and a good wrister with an excellent release. He walks the line extremely well opening up passing and shooting lanes on the power play. Reilly is extremely poised with the puck on his stick. He takes his time and makes the smart play. Reilly showed high hockey IQ and a good understanding of the game for a player with little pro experience.
Defensively, Reilly improved a lot, but still has some ways to go. His skating makes him very effective one-on-one, and he is tough to get past, but his work in the defensive zone could use some refining. The flaws aren’t huge, and by no means am I saying he’s a liability out there, as he was pretty good for a rookie straight out of college. That said, as with any youngster, there are some areas he could improve.
Some added muscle would really help Reilly in battles in front of the net and in the corners. Overall, his positioning, awareness, and anticipation in the defensive zone have really improved since his freshman year, but he’s not perfect and can continue to make improvements in these areas. His biggest asset though is the way he moves the puck. He can either skate it out of danger or fire a great first pass out of the zone. In this way he can hide a lot of defensive flaws by helping his team to stay in possession of the puck.
Reilly will be given every opportunity to make the Wild out of training camp; and based on how he looked at the end of the year, he is capable of doing exactly that.
#5 Prospect Jordan Greenway
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Feb 16 1997 — Potsdam, NY
Height 6’5 — Weight 222 lbs [196 cm / 101 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in round 2, 50th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Greenway had a solid freshman season with Boston University. He stepped into a significant role on a solid team, and put up 26 points in 39 games. He continues to be a long-term project, but the early returns show some promise.
Greenway is a decent skater for his size. He is especially strong on his skates and shows excellent balance making him very difficult to knock off of the puck. This gives him the ability to control the puck in the cycle game, creating time and space for his linemates to find openings. He also uses his strength and balance to win board battles and get loose pucks out of the corners. With Greenway’s powerful stride, he can fight through checks and quite literally bowl over defenders on his way to the front of the net. Greenway also has very good speed and acceleration for his size, generated by a fluid stride. His agility and edgework can be improved, however.
Greenway makes great use of his 6’5 frame by playing a physical and gritty game in the offensive zone. He creates offence for teammates by winning battles in the corners, fore checking hard, and creating havoc in front of the net. He has a very hard and accurate wrist shot. His release is decent, but needs to really be improved if he wants to score goals with it on pro goalies. One advantage is that he does have some soft hands and can make tips in the crease, or good passes to set up teammates. Its a bit concerning that despite the good tools in close he doesn’t seem to finish and score as many goals as he should. A bit of a tendency to over pass could be an issue here.
Greenway plays a defensively responsible game. He doesn’t leave the zone early and maintains his support for the passer on breakout plays. He also gets back quickly to provide back pressure and support for his teammates on the blue line. Greenway uses his size and long stick to cut down on passing lanes, and block shots. He is willing to use his size and physical play in his own end of the rink as well.
Greenway is likely headed for another season with Boston University. He will look to take steps forward in his game. He will also attempt to impress USA Hockey brass and earn a spot on the World Junior squad.
#6 Prospect Gustav Olofsson
Defense — shoots Left
Born Dec 1 1994 — Boras, Sweden
Height 6’3 — Weight 197 lbs [191 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in round 2, 46th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
After missing almost all of 2014-15 after an injury in his first AHL game, Olofsson came back with a solid season. He scored two goals and 17 points in 52 AHL games for the Wild. He also did enough to earn a two game NHL call-up.
Olofsson is a strong skater with good mobility on the back end. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions, with solid edge work, pivots and agility. Olofsson has good lower body strength giving him good balance, and allowing him to be strong on the puck. It also helps him to gain leverage and be effective in board battles and in front of the net.
Olofsson hasn’t put up huge points, but 17 points in 52 games is not bad. He’ll never be a top scoring defender, but does have some offensive potential. Olofsson has strong passing skills and vision, and the passing skill could translate to higher point totals with some patience. He makes plays in transition game and has a strong first pass. Olofsson needs to work on his shot though, as it lacks power at this point.
Olofsson is solid defensively with excellent positioning, and solid stickwork. He is not afraid to take the body whether it be throwing a hit along the boards, battling in the corners or clearing the crease. Olofsson is twilling to do whatever is necessary to make a play, including blocking shots, or taking a hit to make a play in the transition game.
Olofsson should be able to put in a real challenge at training camp this year. Given the time he’s missed though, he likely needs a little bit more time in Iowa before being ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Sleeper Kirill Kaprizov
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Apr 26 1997 — Novokuznetsk, Russia
Height 5’9 — Weight 185 lbs [175 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in round 5, 135th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Kaprizov had an outstanding season for an 18-year-old playing in the KHL. It took some time to earn the trust of his coaches, but when he did, he started to put up numbers for Metallurg. He finished with 11 goals and 27 points in 53 games. He spent some time in the MHL, but it was clear that he was too good for the Russian junior league with 10 points in just four games. Kaprizov also played on Russia’s World Junior team.
Kaprizov is only 5’9, so he must make up for that dimunitive size in other areas. One of these areas is skating. Kaprizov has outstanding agility and edge work. He can change directions and make quick cuts on a dime. This makes him extremely elusive and hard for defenders to contain. With good core strength he also has good balance, but will need to improve his upper body strength to be stronger on the puck. Kaprizov is also a fast skater, with excellent acceleration.
Kaprizov is extremely creative. He has very quick and has very soft hands. He can stickhandle in a phone booth and has a wide variety of moves. When this is combined with his quick skating, he is very tough to handle one-on-one. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. Kaprizov also scores goals. He has a strong wrist shot and excellent release. He works to get to the front of the net, and is not afraid to be in battles despite his size.
Kaprizov works hard in the defensive zone, and brings hard-work, grittiness and tenacity. He also reads plays well and has strong positioning. The lack of size is an issue though, as he can simply be outmuscled by bigger defenders. He must bulk up and get stronger.
Kaprizov has moved from Metallurg to Salavat Yulaev this season. He has the talent to get a chance in the AHL and see if he can make the NHL, but right now is preferring to stay in Russia. It will be interesting to see how much he develops. Can he be NHL ready when his contract is up and make the jump straight to Minnesota? When will that be? Its a big of a wait and see game right now, but his talent makes him a player Wild fans should keep an eye on.
The Wild have plenty of depth in their system. Goaltenders Kaapo Kahkonen, and Stephen Michalek give them two solid youngsters at the position. Joining Reilly and Olofsson on the blue line are prospects such as Louis Belpedio, Gustav Bouramman and Dylan Labbe. Up front, Tyler Graovac continues to push for a role; while new draft picks Brandon Duhaime and Dmitry Sokolov will be longer term projects. Forwards Grayson Downing, Christoph Bertschy, and Mario Lucia are further down the depth chart. The biggest issue with the Wild’s prospect group though is the lack of a true blue-chip talent. There are a lot of good prospects, but there is no one who looks like they could become a game changer.