The best prospect in the Wild’s system is about to lose that title.
Kirill Kaprizov will make his NHL debut next season after finally signing an entry-level contract with the Wild in July. It’s a watershed moment for the franchise five years in the making since Kaprizov was drafted by the team in the fifth round in 2015.
A longtime source of hope and optimism for the future, Kaprizov will now pass that torch to someone else — perhaps whoever the Wild selects in the first round of the NHL’s virtual draft Tuesday for which it holds the No. 9 pick.
Already, though, the team has improved its outlook after a few lean years at the draft.
“I’m actually quite pleased with what we have in the pipeline right now,” said director of player development Brad Bombardir. “There were some seasons there in the past where we didn’t have a whole lot of picks. We just didn’t have a whole lot of picks early in the draft, but that’s OK to us.
“We find it a challenge to work with the guys that we have, and we’ve been able to find some really good players that are coming up in the pipeline.”
Here’s an update on noted Wild prospects:
Calen Addison, defenseman, Lethbridge (Western Hockey League)
Acquired in the Jason Zucker trade with the Penguins last season, Addison immediately became one of the organization’s top defensive prospects. A right shot, he registered 10 goals and 52 points in 50 games with Lethbridge and helped Canada win gold at the 2020 World Junior Championship.
“He’s a puck-friendly defenseman,” Bombardir said. “When he has the puck on his stick, you’re pretty comfortable watching him with the puck and moving the puck ahead and having the puck on the offensive blue line.”
A self-described “offensive-minded defenseman,” Addison has been focusing on the defensive side of his game and being able to battle in his own end. He feels that will be key for someone his size (5-11, 180 pounds) to compete as a pro, which the 20-year-old is set to do next season.
What should also help him with the transition is the time he spent in the summer skating with the Wild in its training camp before the playoffs.
“That was huge and a great experience for me to get in there and get to know everybody,” Addison said.
Adam Beckman, left wing, Spokane (WHL)
After leading the WHL in goals (48) and points (107) last season, Beckman emerged as one of the Wild’s most intriguing picks in recent years.
“He can skate,” Bombardir said of the 2019 third-rounder. “He can shoot. He’s quick out of the corner in the offensive zone.”
Not only is his shot impressive, but Beckman doesn’t shy away from the middle of the ice. The extra-long offseason has also given the 19-year-old time to work on his strength before the WHL resumes play.
“As you move on,” Beckman said, “goals are harder to come by so you gotta be able to do that. You gotta be able to go on the inside.”
Matt Boldy, left wing, Boston College
Boldy got off to a slow start at Boston College after the Wild drafted him with the12th overall pick in 2019.
He had just two goals in his first 25 games and was left off the United States’ 2020 World Juniors roster.
“I still didn’t think I was playing awful hockey,” Boldy said. “I was still doing a lot of things right and helping the team. Obviously, we were still winning games during that time period so it definitely helped me with my personal struggles that we were still winning and doing well as a team.”
The 19-year-old did rebound, scoring seven goals and assisting on eight others in his final nine games; his 23 points since January ranked third nationally among freshmen.
Not only was Boldy named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team, but he and fellow Wild prospect Marshall Warren have been invited to the U.S. national junior team evaluation camp later this week in Michigan.
“I’m just really excited to go in and see what I can do and hope for the best and make the team and have that goal accomplished,” he said.
During this extended offseason, Boldy has been working in the weight room and trying to make quicker decisions on the ice and move the puck faster.
“I was really pleased with how he conducted himself and how he continues to conduct himself,” Bombardir said. “He loves hockey. He’s got a great energy about him.”
Mitchell Chaffee, right wing, UMass-Amherst
A prized college free agent, Chaffee chose to turn pro with the Wild — signing a two-year deal in March.
As a junior, the 22-year-old was among the Minutemen’s top contributors after he scored 16 goals and chipped in 13 assists in 30 games.
“He’s got a good feel for the game in the offensive zone,” Bombardir said. “[He] can shoot the puck. He can create offense. He’s just got really good instincts offensively.”
Filip Johansson, defenseman, Frolunda HC (Sweden)
Adversity has hounded Johansson since the Wild drafted him 24th overall in 2018 — much earlier than many expected Johansson to go.
His first post-draft season was up and down as Johansson adjusted to the public scrutiny that comes with being a first-round pick. In 2019-20, he again totaled just four points like the previous season and was occasionally scratched.
The Wild doesn’t have a timeline in mind for when Johansson could be ready for the NHL, but the team hasn’t lost confidence in the right-shot defender. Johansson, 20, is also getting a fresh start with a new team in the Swedish Hockey League, where he’s already started playing.
“We have to be patient with him,” Bombardir said. “But we have no problem being patient with him.”
Hunter Jones, goalie, Peterborough (Ontario Hockey League)
Another 2019 selection, Jones signed an entry-level contract with the Wild in March after a productive season in which he went 31-14-3 with a 2.75 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
“He takes up a lot of the net [6-4, 202 pounds] and is very efficient in his movement,” Bombardir said, “and he’s a really mature guy.”
The 19-year-old is eligible to return to junior, but the plan is for him to turn pro when next season starts.
Alexander Khovanov, center, Ak Bars Kazan (Kontinental Hockey League)
Like Johansson, Khovanov has already started a new season after the Wild loaned him to the KHL — a challenge the Wild feels will be good for Khovanov since he’ll have to fight for a spot in the lineup and ice time against more experienced teammates.
Khovanov, 20, is coming off a strong season in junior, scoring 32 goals and finishing with 99 points in 51 games with Moncton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Wild believes Khovanov, who was drafted in 2018, has the tools to remain a center.
“He’s certainly smart enough,” Bombardir said. “He can certainly play a 200-foot game, and he can still be effective in the offensive zone.”