Minnesota Wild Forward Prospects Ready For NHL?


The Minnesota Wild boast an impressive number of talented young players, even if they aren’t all playing at their ceilings this season. With Jonas Brodin (21), Charlie Coyle (22), Mikael Granlund (22), Nino Niederreiter (22), Jason Zucker (23), Erik Haula (23), Christian Folin (23), Marco Scandella (24), and Darcy Kuemper (24) all pushing their way into regular roster time over the last couple seasons, it’s not surprising that most reports have the Wild’s prospect system as being a little depleted. (Justin Fontaine also worked himself into regular time last year, though he’s 27.)

You don’t have to look very far to see evidence of this depletion. The Iowa Wild finished last in the AHL last season and are in the same spot this season after blowing up the team over the last year.

With that in mind, we can take a look through the NHL equivalency (NHLe), developed by Gabriel Desjardins, and see what we could expect at the NHL level from the current Minnesota Wild forward prospects. (Rob Vollman posted new translation factors in August of 2014. Where applicable, those newer numbers are used.)


Here is the projected production of all Wild forward prospects based on current production in their respective leagues so far this season. The goal and assist projections here are based on an 82-game NHL season.

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A couple of notes. Ryan Walters (who is really on contract with Iowa and not Minnesota) played well in a small number of games before heading to the ECHL, so his numbers are inflated due to the sample size. Raphael Bussieres was excluded. He has zero goals and zero assists through six games for Iowa. His numbers look bad, but he had a very small sample size before he was reassigned to the Alaska Aces in the ECHL. So, his numbers don’t create a fair or useful projection or his NHL potential.

I think it’d be fair to say the same of Lou Nanne’s 16 games. He started the season well and tapered off, dealing with injuries and a number of missed games. Nanne is included and I’ll talk about his production a little further down, but it’s worth keeping his sample size in mind.

In general, there’s a margin of error with NHLe, but it’s the ranking and general production range that you’re looking to get a feel for here. There are better ways to look at an individual AHLer’s potential and production, but NHLe provides a way to compare their production to that of a player in the QMJHL, for instance, and thus makes their inclusion convenient and useful.

High Fives

Chase Lang and Reid Duke — whose praises we’ve sang a few times in our weekly prospect updates — are doing a great job in the WHL. They’re developing very well. Tyler Graovac has been a pleasant surprise in Iowa and ranks well among Wild prospects. Michael Keranen, a free agent signing over the summer, was clearly a great addition. He’s transitioned to North American hockey well and while his size leaves some questions about how he might transition up to the NHL level, he’s been very productive.

More from Prospects

Avery Peterson has been a nice surprise among the NCAA prospects. Mario Lucia’s scoring ability is getting more and more clear — number one overall in projected goals, five overall in projected points. Here’s hoping we’ll be seeing him in a Wild uniform (Iowa or Minnesota) in the nearish future. Adam Gilmour has also been a nice surprise — maybe “surprise” is too strong — this season. He currently leads Boston College in points, followed up by fellow Wild prospect and 2014 first round draft pick Alex Tuch.

Christoph Bertschy has improved quite a bit this season and is scoring at a solid rate — he’s surpassed his combined goal and assist totals from the last two seasons already this season. There have been questions about him in the past, but with the rate he’s scoring in the NLA I’d love to see him make the leap to the AHL next season.

Slower Rates

While this list is nice to see that gambles on players like Keranen or even Zack Mitchell (undrafted free agent signing out of juniors) worked out, some players in juniors are developing well, and guys like Graovac are on pace to be a factor in the NHL, it also serves to highlight the deficiencies in the system.

Former first round draft pick Zack Phillips is 14th in NHLe among Wild forward prospects. That’s not where you want a first round pick to be. He’s also been scratched twice this season — the first times in his pro career — and has seen his production slow down from last year. Phillips is trending in a bad direction and is becoming less promising than guys like Lang.

I think we can say the same thing of Brett Bulmer, who was facing a season where he needed to start producing a much higher level in the AHL in order to prove he hadn’t been passed up on the depth chart by younger players. It looks like he’s been passed. (Though you probably didn’t need this chart to notice that.) Bulmer has put in 14 NHL games and seemed like a go-to for this season when call-ups were necessary. It’s hard to see him getting one at all at this point with Graovac, Brett Sutter, and Jordan Schroeder more likely to get the call. Even guys like Keranen or Stephane Veilleux seem more likely to get the call than Bulmer.

That situation won’t improve for Bulmer next season when the same guys will be on the roster and you see him ranking below non-pro players like Peterson, Lucia, Walters, Lang, Gilmour, Bertschy, Duke, Tuch, and Jenys.

Brady Brassart is also lower than you’d like to see, but it’s his first pro season and after signing with the Wild as an undrafted free agent late last season, I think we’re alright to give him another season of transition, especially after he posted 35 goals and 50 assists in 70 games for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL last season.

Among players outside of the AHL, Nanne, as mentioned before, has a small sample size, but has really slowed down since the start of the year. As has OHL prospect Pavel Jenys. Jenys has great size and hands, but his production has been anemic lately. He’s playing for a very terrible team — the Sudbury Wolves, who are 7-35-1-1 — but his production could be higher despite the team.

Bussieres’ production has been lower than many hoped as well. Since being reassigned to the Alaska Aces in the ECHL he’s posted 3 goals and 13 assists in 19 games. That’s 2.59 goals and 11.22 assists at the NHL level using NHLe. Again, using a small sample size over which Bussieres played very well, but even then the numbers are far from gaudy.

A Little Further

NHLe is very useful, though it’s far from 100% accurate, so, again, we’re looking at ranking, progression over time, and how we can compare players playing in different leagues.

Defenseman Guillaume Gelinas provides a nice example of how NHLe can fail this kind of ranking. Last season he lit up the QMJHL. Using NHLe he was at 7.31 goals and 21.95 assists over an 82-game NHL season. Through 32 games in the AHL this season he has zero goals and two assists. This doesn’t make NHLe wrong — this is just anecdotal evidence — but it hopefully serves to show that it’s a little complicated. There are just as many — if not more — examples where a player went straight along the NHLe projected lines.

It’s never easy to say exactly when a player is ready for the NHL or what kind of impact they’ll have. Development is a tricky thing. But while there are players who are falling behind the development curve and aiding the thinning out of the Wild’s forward prospects, it’s nice to see at the same time that there are players like Graovac, Peterson, Lucia, Duke, and Lang who are surpassing expectations and hopefully helping the team to restock the cupboards a little faster than it looks like they’ll be restocked.

Ultimately, there are a number of surprises who could have helped to make the prospect pool robust if there weren’t just as many players underperforming at the same time.