Wild director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett is thrilled that the 2022 NHL Draft will be conducted in person. Since joining the Wild in July 2020, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, Brackett has yet to stand on stage during the first round of the summer spectacle.
That will change Thursday night in Montreal.
With the Wild sitting on the No. 19 pick and No. 24 picks, Brackett will run the draft board, and thus, likely will get a couple of chances to welcome a prospect to the organization.
“Overall, I think everyone did a great job dealing with a pandemic and continuing on,” Brackett said. “We’re really grateful for the leagues and everyone behind the scenes that really made it happen for these kids.”
The past couple of years have been extremely challenging for those in Brackett’s line of work. Whether it was various leagues shutting down completely, or travel restrictions making it difficult to see prospects in person, everyone had to adjust to a new normal.
“For us as a scouting staff, this past fall was the first time we had a chance to meet in person,” Brackett said. “Some of the guys I’d already spent a year working with before actually getting to meet them.”
Though the pandemic has undoubtedly impacted this draft class — most prospects lost a year of development when various leagues shut down — Brackett is excited about some of the untapped potential that’s out there.
“We’re cognizant of the missed time,” he said. “Maybe it’s physical changes where a player didn’t play a year in a league and didn’t have an offseason to think about, ‘Hey, this is what I need to do. I need to get stronger. I need to get quicker. I need to work on this specifically so that my game can take the next step.’ ”
Now that things are slowly starting to go back to how they were before the pandemic, Brackett theorized that some prospects in this draft class could be in store for a big step forward this year.
Asked if the Wild are targeting specific traits in this draft because there are still so many questions, Brackett mentioned drive as something that could separate someone from the rest of the pack.
“We want internally driven players that want to be the best and want to get over the hump,” Brackett said. “We think it’s really important to have high character and a great work ethic. Those are the players that are going to continue to succeed and continue to improve.”
Here’s a look at players who might be available when the Wild make their first-round picks:
Originally from Mahtomedi, the 6-foot, 200-pound defenseman looks the part of a first-round draftee. As a member of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Chesley had 12 goals and 17 assists in 59 games this past season with the U18 team. It’s unclear how much his offensive skill set will translate to the NHL, but it seems likely he can turn into a solid defensive player at the highest level. He will play for the University of Minnesota this fall.
Originally from Chaska, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound winger already has the makings of an NHL frame. As a member of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Snuggerud had 24 goals and 39 assists in 59 games this past season with the U18 team. Similar to Chesley, Snuggerud is a University of Minnesota commit, which makes him easy to keep an eye on if the Wild decide to go this route.
Several mock drafts have Jiri Kulich going to the Wild. He’s a 5-foot-11, 180-pound center, and his position alone makes him an intriguing prospect. There’s a premium on centers now, and if the Wild can grab a guy like that in the first round, it might be hard to pass up.
Originally from Hudson, Wis., the 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger played with Chesley and Snuggerud on the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He had 33 goals and 49 assists in 60 games this past season with the U18 team. He will take his talents to Minnesota Duluth this fall.
If anything is going to deter teams from Firkus, it’s his size. At 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, he’s smallish, at best. But he comes with an incredible skill set that makes him a polarizing talent. He had 36 goals and 44 assists in 66 games this past season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. You can’t always teach that type of offensive prowess.