Ryan O’Rourke has quite a few extra hats on hand.
The prospect was sent one representing each NHL team ahead of the league’s virtual draft, but O’Rourke held up just one for the camera Wednesday.
And it had a Wild logo on it.
“They said we could keep the rest, but I think I only need the one,” the Soo Greyhounds captain said on a Zoom conference.
A rugged defender, O’Rourke was one of two picks the Wild made in the second round.
After trading Luke Kunin and a fourth rounder to Nashville to land center Nick Bonino and second (37th overall) and third round picks (70th), the Wild used No. 37 to select dynamic Russian center Marat Khusnutdinov before tabbing O’Rourke with its own pick at No. 39.
It was the first time in franchise history the team drafted three players in the top 40.
The Wild also traded up in the third round for defenseman Daemon Hunt 65th and cut loose its sixth and seventh round picks to jump up into the fifth round and take center Pavel Novak at No. 146.
“The ability to move up and be aggressive was something that when we see someone that we like, and we have a chance to do it, we have to at least explore it,” director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett said.
Khusnutdinov had 13 goals and 25 assists in 44 games last season for his junior club in Russia. He’s playing in the high level Kontinental Hockey League with St. Petersburg.
“I’m so happy,” Khusnutdinov said through a translator. “I hope that I will come so soon after my season in Russia, and I will do my best to play great hockey.”
O’Rourke had seven goals and 30 assists in 54 games last season with Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League. The Wild identified O’Rourke for his jack-of-all-trades repertoire.
“I’m kind of a throwback defenseman, so I’m tough and gritty in the D-zone and I think I’m still offensively sound,” O’Rourke said. “My skating still needs a little improvement. But I think other than that, I’m pretty solid and I pride myself on that two-way game.”
He’s also a bit familiar with the general manager who drafted him. The Wild shared a photo on social media of O’Rourke getting an autograph from Guerin in 2009 when Guerin played for Pittsburgh.
“We knew [former Wild coach] Mike Yeo, who was with Pittsburgh at the time,” O’Rourke explained. “So that’s why we were there. And it just ended up that way that [Guerin] was the one signing our jersey. So, my brother kind of went through his photos and found that one, so it was definitely pretty cool to see that.”
Hunt missed most of last season after a gruesome arm injury, but that didn’t stop the Wild from trading Nos. 70 and 132 to move up and take him.
The Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman was among the last players Brackett scouted before the pandemic, and his staff considered Hunt’s track record that included impressive international play.
“What completes me as a player is having a two-way game and bringing energy; not necessarily being a power play guy, but being a shutdown guy, and doing anything to win,” said Hunt, who recorded 15 assists in 28 games.
In December, Hunt was cut by a skate blade in the arm after an opposing player tried to hit him and stumbled — a play Hunt describes as a “freak accident.” The 18-year-old remembers going into shock, blood pouring out of his arm, and he was rushed to the hospital where he received 25 stitches before undergoing surgery a week later to repair the muscle.
“Overall, it was a really hard year for me … but I’m excited for the future,” Hunt said.
Sizing up Rossi
First-round pick Marco Rossi might really have to wow to crack the Wild’s lineup next season, especially after the team acquired another center in Bonino, but the team isn’t concerned about his size when evaluating his trajectory.
“He sure is strong enough,” Guerin said. “He’s 5-9½ and he’s probably almost as wide, and that’s what makes a difference. To be able to handle the physical nature of the game, I have no problems at all with his height.”
The Wild also feels what Rossi may lack in height he makes up for in smarts, balance and acceleration.
“He’s always on the inside and underneath defenders and first to pucks,” Brackett said. “When you have a player of his size, something we look for as scouts is his courage. He plays with that every night.”
Perhaps it’s that determination that will help Rossi’s bid to make the roster. Not only does the team believe he already has a mature mind-set, training and taking care of himself like a veteran, but the Wild likes how focused he is on maximizing his potential.
“If you have that, if you have the skill set, then what’s stopping you?” Guerin said. “We are extremely excited about him. We believe in him that he can get to that level.”