ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin provided a not-so-subtle message to his scouting department last week after parting ways with veteran stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Essentially, the cap savings created from buying out Parise and Suter go out the window after next year, and thus, the Wild don’t have much margin for error moving forward as they try to build a legit Stanley Cup contender. They likely will be right up against the cap ceiling in 2022-23, 2023-24, and 2024-25 — with money going to Parise and Suter taking up a large chunk of cap space despite them not being on the roster.
“Those years will be tough,” Guerin admitted last week. “We are going to have to do a very good job of drafting players, a very good job of developing players and a very good job injecting some younger, cheaper players into our lineup.”
In other words, Wild director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett and the rest of his team better bring it when the 2021 NHL Draft gets underway Friday night. The Wild have two first-round picks, No. 22 and No. 26.
“It’s great to have some external pressure,” Brackett said. “But we expect to find players that are going to help contribute. It doesn’t change for us. The objective is still the same every year.”
Though the objective remained the same, the scouting process was much different this year. The pandemic completely altered the way most amateur scouts do their job with various health and safety protocols limiting face-to-face interaction.
“There were a lot of challenges this year starting with the number of games played,” Brackett said. “Some leagues didn’t get off the ground. Some leagues had pauses. Some leagues played with limited or no attendance. For everyone, video became crucial, and we had great resources that we used that made video available to us.
“It’s a unique year, for sure,” Brackett added. “We definitely aren’t in the same position we’d be in a typical year. But we feel really good about where we are and what we were able to capture in terms of information so we can make really educated decisions.”
Who will they target?
It raises the question: What will the Wild be targeting in the draft?
While there are some glaring holes on the blue line, especially after Carson Soucy was selected by the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft, Brackett planned to stay true to his big board. Just because there’s an immediate need on the blue line doesn’t mean he’s going to reach for a player with his two first-round picks.
“We still have to be focused on the draft-eligible players and who’s the best fit for the Minnesota Wild going forward,” Brackett said. “We can’t alter our plans based on roster composition. We are talking about 17- or 18-year-old kids that need to continue to develop before they impact the NHL roster.”
That means the Wild will go after whichever player they think has the highest ceiling down the road.
“The best player available is going to be the biggest need,” Brackett said. “We still want to get great players and continue to add great players to our mix. Maybe by the time these players arrive there’s a different need. We can’t focus too much on roster composition. We have to continue to evaluate this class and look at players we think could have a big impact in a few years.”
There’s also a chance the Wild could trade up in the first round. They have a couple of picks at their disposal, and if a top prospect starts to slide at any point, they could potentially make a move. Not that Guerin is itching to make a trade.
“We aren’t going to chase anything, that’s for sure,” Guerin said. “We are very comfortable where we are. To have two first-round picks this year is a good position to be in. If there’s something that makes sense where we can move up or move down, we’ll do it. We’re pretty flexible. We’re an open-minded group that will listen to anything.”
That said, a trade seems unlikely based on what Guerin emphasized last week. For the Wild, the name of the game is drafting well in the coming years. Why wouldn’t they simply take two big swings on Friday night with hopes of hitting a home run?
“Could who we select with our first pick alter what we do with our second pick? Possibly,” Brackett said. “There could be some discussion. But I think at that point in the draft we’re still going to be focused on who that player is next on our list that we’re really excited about more so than tinkering our strategy or going off the board.
“It’s not like maybe we feel like we really hit with our first pick so we’re going to get higher risk with the second pick. I think we stay the course and stay true to our core values and hopefully get two really good players that are going to contribute in the future.”