The Minnesota Wild have announced their roster for training camp for the 2020 postseason. On that list are some additions from their prospect pool, their AHL affiliate, and one particularly high profile player from the KHL. Some of these players could end up having a major impact on how far the Wild can go in their postseason quest. At least one of them definitely will.
Calen Addison: Defender
The Wild acquired Calen Addison in the trade that sent Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh. The 5’10, 181-pound, right-handed defender has been one of the top point-producing defenders in the WHL for the past 3 seasons. At the 2020 World Junior Championships; his 1 goal and 8 assists were a key contribution towards Canada’s gold medal.
Addison’s poise, decision making and skating are all high level. The 20-year-old, Brandon, Manitoba native has proven pretty much everything he can at the junior level. This is going to be the Wild’s first chance to evaluate this prospect in person with other Wild teammates. He comes into this postseason camp needing to really prove himself in order to earn a job. With Carson Soucy back healthy, it seems likely that he and Brad Hunt are the incumbent 3rd pairing for the Wild. Both played well during the season.
In order for Addison to crack the roster and see ice time, he’s going to have to outperform one of these players or convince the coaching staff that he brings an element that they do not. His dynamic skating and offensive hockey IQ are certainly a cut above Hunt and Soucy, but their experience could be an equalizer that Addison is not able to overcome. It’s very “wait and see” but it wouldn’t be surprising if Addison is in the lineup against the Vancouver Canucks.
Kirill Kaprizov: Winger
Kirill Kaprizov is with the Wild. The 23-year-old, Russian winger has spent the past 4 seasons electrifying KHL fans. The wait to see him in a Wild jersey and practicing with the team is over. However, Kaprizov will not be eligible to play in this postseason. Over the past 4 seasons, he has scored 98 goals in 209 KHL games. In 2019-20, he was the best hockey player in the world outside of the NHL. The immediate assumption is that the Russian star will find his way into the Wild’s top 6 for the 2020-2021 season.
While he will be unable to participate in this postseason, having him in practice and seeing what kind of chemistry he’s able to build with teammates could have an immediate impact on other players. If, for example, Kaprizov were able to build chemistry with Alex Galchenyuk (who speaks fluent Russian) it might lead to a contract extension for Galchenyuk. That is purely speculative, but it wouldn’t be crazy if it happened.
Regardless of where the Wild ultimately slot Kaprizov, he’s a high-level weapon that fans have been waiting for, for a long time. Unfortunately, they have to wait just a little bit longer, but the question of: “when will he be in North America” finally has an answer.
Kaapo Kahkonen: Goaltender
In 34 games for the AHL affiliate, Kahkonen had a 2.06 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. That is simply excellence. His save percentage was 5th among AHL goaltenders to play at least 10 games. Igor Shestyorkin and Chris Driedger (2 of 4 goalies with better save percentages) are almost certainly going to be in the lineup for their respective NHL clubs.Kaapo Kahkonen has been really good this year. His AHL statistics were solid and the Iowa Wild were the second-best team in the Western Conference.
Goaltending has been a big question mark for the Wild. Alex Stalock has done an admirable job taking over the reins from a struggling Devan Dubnyk. In a 5-game call-up earlier in the season, Kahkonen posted a 3-1-1 record with a .913 save percentage. It’s hard to contrast that against Dubnyk’s .890 on the season and not think that Kahkonen could at least be the backup to Stalock going into the series and maybe in a position to take over for him if Stalock struggles. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
Nico Sturm: Center
Big, powerful, German center Nico Sturm had a really strong AHL campaign this season. Scoring 32 points in 55 games during his first full professional season is nothing to scoff at. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll find his way into the lineup, but injuries, illness or other complications could see the Wild needing to press Sturm into service. If that happens, the 6’3 207-pound center would most likely see action in a 4th line role.
Sam Anas: Center
It would be extremely unfair to not mention Sam Anas in all this. The 27-year-old, undrafted, diminutive forward (5’8) had a season in the AHL that would seem inconceivable if he hadn’t done something similar just 2 years earlier. Anas put in 20 goals and grabbed 50 assists for himself for a total of 70 points in 63 games, trouncing his career-best total from 2017-18 of 61 points in 70 games.
Anas is an easy guy to cheer for. He’s got a blue-collar, hard-work approach to hockey that is easy to fall in love with. If he were 2 inches taller he would probably have cracked the NHL full time already. His size really is the primary strike against him, but he seems determined to prove to everyone that he’s capable of playing on the big stage. He has been a phenomenal playmaker at the AHL level.
It’s hard to picture him cracking the Wild lineup for this postseason. If he did manage to do it, Anas has the kind of hard-working character that helps you win in the playoffs. With him set to be an unrestricted free agent, a chance to get on the ice in the postseason and make an impact could help impact his next contract wherever it might be.
Addison and Kahkonen seem likely to take the ice while Sturm and Anas seem more like long shots. Kaprizov will practice with the team, but nothing more than that. Still, the Wild were a team on a mission through February and the early part of March. Team staff have to believe that these key additions to the training camp roster will help push internal competition in practice and get the team ready to take on the challenge of the 2020 postseason.