TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – In terms of results, things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Minnesota Wild at this year’s Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Minnesota was the only team in the eight-squad field not to win a game and though the first three setbacks were one-goal affairs, the Wild got blown out 6-1 by a shorthanded Chicago side in the seventh-place finale. To paint a picture of the scene, Blackhawks prospects Michal Teply and Tim Soderlund scored on a 2-on-3 – and no, I do not mean a 3-on-2.
Having said that, Minnesota director of player development Brad Bombardir still found the positives.
“It’s a great tournament to see the same age group against each other, where you can gauge where their games are at,” he said. “Some of our guys on the pro scouting side haven’t seen these kids before. And the compete level; we’ve been very pleased with that. We played a lot of one-goal games, we just weren’t able to capitalize.”
One issue for the Wild was the fact four of the organization’s best prospects were not at the tournament. Current NCAA players don’t go to Traverse City because it would wreck their eligibility, since many of the other kids there have already signed pro contracts (and really, the NCAA considers any major junior player a pro). That meant Matthew Boldy, Minnesota’s first-rounder from 2019, was absent, as he is about to begin his freshman season at Boston College. One of his teammates with the Eagles will be another Wild pick, Jack McBain. Many Europeans are also unavailable for the tournament because their seasons or main camps back home have already begun – so that knocked out defenseman and 2018 first-rounder Filip Johansson. And in late August, top center Alexander Khovanov had surgery on his leg.
On the bright side, that meant a big spotlight for some of the new kids who were picked in 2019.
“The kids we do have here, like Adam Beckman or Matvey Guskov, we’re pretty pleased with them,” Bombardir said. “They have worked hard, have some good sense for the game, have some knowledge of how to create space for themselves and hit holes with the puck with quickness and speed to get shots off. For these guys, it’s learning how to play on the inside of the ice: the grind game, the cycle work and defending. There’s a lot to learn, but overall we’re pleased with their effort.”
The tournament also gave new GM Bill Guerin a sense of what he’s got in the cupboard as he tries to foist the team up from mildly threatening to Stanley Cup contender. That’s going to take a rebuild and Bombardir acknowledged that more assets will be needed.
“We’re probably in the middle of that, of getting top-end picks,” he said. “We’ve had a little bit of a lull in terms of the numbers of picks and how high we’ve been picking – and that’s a reflection of the teams we’ve had in Minnesota. We’ve had a competitive team up there for a number of years. That obviously slots you down a bit in the draft and we’ve moved some picks in the past trying to make Stanley Cup-contending teams.”
Right now, the Wild are down a draft pick: they traded their 2020 third-rounder for a 2019 third-round selection that netted them Beckman, a very intriguing left winger who burst onto the scene with WHL Spokane last season by potting 30 goals as a rookie. Obviously that was a kid Minnesota really wanted (I like him too, as it so happens), so you can’t fault them for making the swap, but if the Wild are going to stock their cupboard, they’ll have to add rather than subtract.
That’s on Guerin, while it will be on his scouting staff to make those picks all count. Bombardir foresees an emphasis on speed, competitiveness and hockey sense, though there will be a lot more meetings with Guerin as he settles into his role with the franchise in the coming months.
And while the results in Traverse City don’t always reflect future NHL team success, it would be nice if Minnesota didn’t finish last again next year.
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