It’s not even March yet—the season isn’t even half way over—and the writers at NHL.com already have the first mocks of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The rankings are based off of the NHL standings as of games completed on Friday night, the 22nd.
According to Mike G. Morreale, Minnesota, at 16th overall, picks Valeri Nichushkin. At 6’4” and 196-pounds, the Chelyabinsk, Russia native would be an intriguing prospect in Minnesota’s youth movement that already includes such names as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson, Mathew Dumba and many, many more. Nichushkin put on a clinic during this past January’s World Junior Hockey Championships for Team Russia while playing on home soil. While he potted just one goal, in addition to an assist, in six games, his dominating physical presence was quite impressive.
The kid’s play is very reminiscent of Evgeni Malkin, and he was one of the few players that could give Team USA’s top young defensemen Seth Jones—projected to go first overall—and 2012 9th overall pick Jacob Trouba real issues every time he took to the ice. Could Minnesota, at 16th overall, get a crack at Nichushkin? Possibly—the “Russian Factor” has presented many an opportunity for teams to snatch up elite players later in the first and second rounds. However, Minnesota doesn’t really have a history of drafting Russian-born players. But, with Minnesota particularly looking for size in the draft, if the big Russian left winger is available at that point, I don’t see the Wild draft table passing him up.
Adam Kimelman has Minnesota drafting a different Russian with the 16th overall selection—Valentin Zykov. A 6’0” 207-pound right winger from St. Petersburg, Russia, Zykov currently skates for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, where he is currently scoring at above a point-per-game pace. What makes things even more interesting, and, perhaps makes this selection all the more logical, is that he plays on the same team as Minnesota’s 2012 second round pick, Raphael Bussieres. Minnesota keeps an eye on their prospects throughout the season, and you can bet that the Russian right winger has also garnered the attention of the Wild brass as they have watched Bussieres grow and mature in his game.
There are three reasons Minnesota should take a serious look at this kid. One, Minnesota’s prospect pool is quite shallow at right wing, and Zykov would be a welcome addition to the team. Two, he’s a right-handed shot, and Minnesota doesn’t have very many of those in their system as evidenced by their all lefty top power play unit. Three, the dreaded Russian Factor isn’t as worrisome with him, considering he made the commitment to play North American major junior hockey. That reason alone may make him the safer pick than Nichushkin, who has spent the season playing junior and professional hockey in Russia.
Steven Hoffner has the Wild taking Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts with the 16th overall pick. After notching 18 points in 45 games with the Indiana Ice of the USHL in 2010-11, the 6’1” 196-pound versatile winger took his talented skill set with him to Quebec for the 2011-12 season. As of this writing, in 120 games, he has notched 118 points, including 51 goals, and is a career plus-12 rating. That’s a .98 point-per-game rating—not too shabby for a guy who jumped immediately from the USHL as a rookie. The kid is fast, has a nose for the net and plays an explosive style.
All three mock drafts were interesting to see, and I was surprised with two of the selections—Zykov and Erne. Any one of those three young men would be great additions to Minnesota’s prospect pool, and it is definitely going to be a very exciting, and deep, draft in June. Who will don Forest Green on June 30th, as Minnesota’s first round selection? It’s hard to say. However, the way this draft is shaping up, it’ll certainly be another quality pick by Minnesota Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr and the draft team.