Increasing the population of homegrown talent on the Wild is the team’s way of coping with the lean budget that has taken control of its finances, and the Wild’s drafting habits have strengthened accordingly.
A year after stocking up on defensemen and a goalie advancing to the NHL, the team selected forwards with six of its eight picks Thursday and Friday in Montreal. This now gives him a balanced buffet of options to consider, but in the future, not in the present.
That means the Wild still have some work to do to prepare their roster for next season, even if there’s a chance for some of their youngsters to make the cut.
“Even though we need that help, we’re not going to rush them,” general manager Bill Guerin said of the team’s latest draft class. “When they’re ready, they’ll be ready. And if it takes a little longer, we’ll find other ways. But the last thing we want to do is rush these youngsters.”
In the two weeks since the NHL season ended with Colorado lifting the Stanley Cup, the Wild have been busy.
After trading Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles because the Wild couldn’t afford to pay him a new contract, the cap-strapped team put what buying power they had.
Defender Jake Middleton has re-signed, as has goalkeeper Marc-André Fleury, although the fact that he remains on a two-year contract has called into question the viability of a Fleury-Cam Talbot duo at the light of Talbot’s disappointment at not playing more in the playoffs where Fleury has started five of six games.
Then there’s also the uncertainty surrounding Kirill Kaprizov and whether he and other Russian NHL players will be able to return for the season amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
In the meantime, what the Wild can do is keep tweaking the roster.
The team is looking to bring in another forward, which they can accomplish when free agency opens on Wednesday.
Currently, the Wild have around $1.4 million in cap space, but could create more by trading someone; the team has seven defensemen and 11 forwards signed, but keep in mind that Jordan Greenway and Jon Merrill are on the mend after surgery and may not be ready to start the season. Both Nick Bjugstad and Nic Deslauriers have expiring contracts, and Guerin said both forwards are likely to reach free agency.
Either way, the Wild will have internal candidates to assess.
Depending on how the defense plays out, Calen Addison could be in line for more NHL action. He spent a second straight season mostly in the minors, appearing in just 15 games with the Wild, but the right-handed puck thrower could be attractive for a power play looking to improve.
“Addy will still have to push for a spot,” Guerin said. “He’s definitely capable of doing it. It’s just about making our decisions tough, and he just has to push. He has all the tools to do that.
“I’m sure he’ll be up for the challenge.”
On offense, Marco Rossi could help reshape the Wild after Fiala’s departure, but he’ll have to prove he deserves the minutes.
“I expect him to rise to this occasion,” Guerin said. “He’s a kid with character. He knows what he’s doing. So I expect him to be fully fit and ready to go.”
Rossi, the ninth overall pick in 2020, is coming off his first season with Iowa of the American Hockey League where he scored 18 goals and finished with 53 points in 63 games.
He can preview his audition at the Wild’s development camp when he starts Tuesday at Tria Rink in St. Paul, a high for prospects that will culminate in a 3-on-3 tournament.
Also in attendance will be Adam Beckman, Brock Faber (the Gophers captain who was acquired in the Fiala trade) and Jesper Wallstedt, the Swedish goalie the Wild drafted last year and is set to make his debut. with Iowa.
Most of the team’s recent selections are also expected to participate.
They don’t address the Wild’s current situation, but the players show the organization’s trend, with director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett feeling the Wild have added offense, size and competitiveness.
“We’re really excited,” Brackett said, “and this is just the beginning.”