The NHL entry draft is set for Thursday, July 7, with Round one at 7 p.m. eastern time. Rounds two-seven will be on Friday, July 8, starting at 11 a.m. eastern time. For the second straight year, the Minnesota Wild have two first-round selections.
Brandon Quast gave us three names the Wild should go after with pick number 24. But with the recent trade of forward Kevin Fiala being sent to Los Angeles, the Wild picked up another pick in the first round. They will hold picks 19 and 24 in the first round.
So who should they look at taking?
Brad Lambert’s name has been placed everywhere on draft rankings. From top ten to the mid ’20s or even in the ’40s with Craig Button’s mock draft. The only worry here is if he is even available at pick number 19.
It feels like not long ago people called the 2022 draft the three-headed monster draft. Referring to Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, and Brad Lambert. Some people suggested you couldn’t go wrong with picking either of them first overall. But guys like Logan Cooley, Simon Nemec, and Juraj Slafkovsky have bumped Savoie and Lambert down in the rankings.
Lambert likely won’t go in the top ten but between picks number 11 and 19 there is a good chance he gets taken. The team I’d be most worried about are the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, who just hired a new General Manager yesterday, have been drafting guys like Lambert forever it seems.
The six-foot center changed teams halfway through the year which isn’t all ideal but it happens. Unfortunately, the success Lambert was at generating offense with JYP Jyväskylä, did not translate to the Lahti Pelicans. This is part of the reason why Lambert’s stock dropped the way it did.
In 24 games with Jyväskylä Lambert notched six points and two goals. In 25 games with the Pelicans, Lambert scored twice and had four points. But Lambert’s game in transition is one of the best in this draft which is where his potential is. Lambert spent a lot of the time shutting down the opposition and he did it with physicality.
Lambert uses his speed and agility to dodge opposition and get himself in passing lanes for his teammates. His speed and creativity are what deserve a look. He constantly is competing and has a very hard work ethic which is shown in trying to beat out icing calls and pressuring defenders.
If you hit Lambert with a breakout pass he was pretty much an automatic offensive entry. His speed, agility, hands, and creativity are some of the best in the draft. Brad started the year with Jyväskylä and was just not lucky in terms of turning the high danger chances he created into goals and points. He then switched teams to the Lahti Pelicans and was put in a position that didn’t lead to the strengths of his game.
If Lambert is available at pick number 19 the Wild would be silly not to take him. That being said I wouldn’t move up five spots to take him.
Now Jiri Kulich is an interesting player. The six-foot center played in the men’s professional league with the HC Karlovy Vary in Czechia. Kulich also played in the World Junior Championship with Czechia and put up some very impressive numbers.
In 16 games with the under 18’s team, Kulich picked up 17 goals and 22 assists. In the world juniors, Kulich picked up nine goals and two assists in six games while wearing the “C” on his chest for Czechia.
Kulich is one of the more complete centers in the draft, he plays a very good two-way game and is quick on his skates. Like an Australian Shepherd with sheep, Kulich heards players in positions they don’t want to be in and under pressure, Jiri doesn’t slip off his game.
The 175-pound center forces turnovers at a high rate and has a great denfensive stick. But it’s not all defense with Kulich. Since 2006 in the Czechia extra league Jiri has scored more goals than all drafted players except Tomas Hertl.
Jiri finds open lanes well and always makes a target for his teammates to create offensive chances. Kulich handles the puck very well and rarely lets the opposition strip the puck from him. He is an underrated prospect for sure and a center the Wild should definitely look at.
Conor Geekie was a part of the best one-two punches in WHL history. Geekie was the second-line center behind Matthew Savoie who projects to be a top-ten pick, possibly a top-five pick. Savoie had 35 goals and 90 points in 65 games for the Winnipeg Ice. Geekie had 24 goals and 70 points in 63 games for the Ice.
But analytically Geekie actually has an edge over Savoie. Despite Savoie’s 55 assists, Geekie had more primary assists, a better expected goals, more hits, a better dekes successful, more puck possession time, more offensive zone possession time, more takeaways, and 99 more entries than Savoie had.
Once Geekie gets in transition he can be hard to catch up to. Now Savoie is the better skater, Geekie is six-foot-four and is a lot harder to knock off the puck. We have seen time and time again that NHL GM’s and scouts love forwards with size and especially centers.
Geekie can push off pressure by using his body and producing hits, he’s a power forward and a big one at that. He has a great first step when it comes to skating which he uses to gain strides on defenders, he isn’t the most agile guy, as that may be a knock for some scouts. But his big body and offensive numbers are very exciting.
According to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting site, Geekie’s D-1 and draft year numbers and metrics are comparable to Patrice Bergeron, who played in the QMJHL with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Bergeron in his draft year scored 23 goals, notching 73 points in 70 games while playing great defensively.
If Geekie is there at 19 he is a must-take for the Wild but like Lambert, I wouldn’t move up five spots to take him. But hey maybe the Wild’s latest first-round selection Carson Lambos can put in a good word for Geekie as they were teammates on the Ice together and played some big power-play minutes together.
Now Firkus could go way ahead of pick 24 and he could also be a second-round pick. He isn’t the strongest of forwards out there nor is he the quickest skater but the offensive skill in his passing and shooting is through the roof. The knocks on him could put him back in the draft but his offensive ability and pure goalscoring threat could make him a top 15 pick.
Firkus probably belongs in the later stages of the draft which is why I have the Wild selecting him at pick number 24. Last year Kevin Fiala scored 33 goals and the Wild would like to replace that scoring in the next couple of years. It could be Matt Boldy, the selection at pick 19, or it could be Jagger Firkus.
It’s no doubt scouts realize the offensive potential Firkus has, in 66 games with Moose Jaw he notched 36 goals and 44 assists for 80 points. He also posted six goals and six assists in ten playoff games.
On a lot of lists, Firkus ranks in the back half of the first round but is certainly worth the selection. Last year the five-foot-nine right-winger played 23 games with Moose Jaw and only scored six goals. Also adding eight assists for 14 points Firkus’s draft stock wasn’t very high until this season as he went from nine points under a point per game to 14 points over a point per game player.
Most of the knock-on Firkus is his size and strength but Wild fans know that GM Bill Guerin and director of amateur scouting, Judd Brackett don’t really care about size. 2020 ninth overall selection Marco Rossi is five-foot-nine, which was part of the reason he slipped to the Wild. 2020 37th overall Marat Khusnutdinov, is also a five-foot-nine center. So it’s safe to say Firkus’ five-foot-nine 155-pound frame won’t scare them away.
Firkus is an electric offensive threat that just needs some time to develop his game. He likely won’t enter the NHL at 155 pounds as putting on some weight and strength will only help Firkus’ game grow even more.
Hey, Firkus also played with 2020 65th overall pick Daemon Hunt with the Warriors.
I love talking about prospects and could on and on about with even the second round, but I’ll save you the time. Filip Mesar is my favorite prospect to look at.
Mesar is a pretty underrated player who plays amongst grown men in Slovakia. Mesar is another undersized center coming in at five-foot-ten. Undersized centers need to use their speed and agility to their advantage when it comes to bigger and stronger defenders on them and Filip does that well.
Like Kulich, Mesar has good vision and excels at finding breakout passes and hitting teammates’ tapes. Wild fans watch in awe when Kirill Kaprziov grabs the puck and mohawks around defenders. Mesar does a lot of the same, he doesn’t juke out defenders with his hands but more with his footwork and transitional ability.
In fact, according to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting site, Mesar D-1 and draft year are comparable to Kaprizov’s in 2015. Also to note, Kaprizov’s D-1, draft year numbers, and metrics should have made him a top ten pick. Not saying Mesar is the next coming of Kaprizov but it’s fun to speculate.
There aren’t many guys in this draft that can skate like Mesar, his crossing-over ability helps him get a great first step. He uses it a lot which can be seen as a Kaprizov-like skater. Now his mobility and agility help but Mesar’s spatial awareness is another asset to his game. He understands the assignment. He is good defensively as well as offensively. He’s the type of player if Dean Evason tapped him on the shoulder to go on the ice you know what you will get out of him.
There isn’t much of a knock-on Mesar. That being said, he isn’t the biggest center on the list which is part of the reason why his stock has him rated so low. But Mesar would have to work on getting stronger and quicker. He lacks elite high-end speed but makes up for it by how he skates.
I think the Wild would only do themselves a favor by adding yet another young center to their already deep overall prospect pool.
Like Jagger Firkus, Snuggerud carries a high-end shot. This draft is full of prospects who played in the U.S. National Developmental program, three of which were featured in Brandon Quast’s article on three players the Wild should target at pick 24.
Snuggerud is a native of Chaska, Minnesota who will be attending the University of Minnesota this upcoming season. A school the Wild have much respect for and keep an eye on, which was seen in Brock Faber coming over from the Kings for Fiala.
At the start of the year, Snuggerud looked like a good Junior player worth a later first-round or an early second-pick. Toward the end of the year, to me, Snuggerud turned it on. The way Snuggerud plays the game I think will attract GM’s toward him, which could boost his stock.
His shot is his best asset and who doesn’t want that? The six-foot-two right-winger is known for his shot but is working on his two-way game. His size may be intriguing and if done right he could turn into a center like the Wild did with Ryan Hartman.
Snuggerud posted 20 goals and 56 points in 51 games for the U.S. National U18 team. With the scoring potential of a middle-six winger, Snuggerud could be taken as early as 20th with the Washington Capitals, or 40th with the Detroit Red Wings. But guys like Snuggerud usually don’t fall past the earlier stages of the second round.
Out of the players I listed above I think Snuggerud would take the longest to get to the NHL. Like Matt Boldy, playing two years of college hockey and some time in the AHL would help a lot. Snuggerud at 24 might be a reach but with his offensive ability and the fact he is going to the University of Minnesota to be developed under Gophers’ head coach Bob Motzko and his staff, has Snuggerud a very intriguing pick at 24.