DALLAS – The Wild added a skilled player to its organization Friday at the NHL Draft, but the acquisition didn’t provide any immediate help.
Instead of tapping into the trade market to start to remodel a roster that has been under the microscope since General Manager Paul Fenton took over last month, the only move the team made was to keep its first-round pick and select Swedish defenseman Filip Johansson at No. 24 inside American Airlines Center.
“I love taking smart defensemen,” Fenton said. “It’s kind of been a thing that I’ve done since I started running the draft. When [the scouts] started talking about the smarts, and I’ve seen him play several times as well, so I was very happy with the selection.”
That the Wild didn’t make more of a splash wasn’t surprising.
Although huddling each team’s brain trust on the draft floor for two days tends to activate the trade market, Fenton has preached patience in his renovation project of the Wild.
But he was making calls, exploring more whether the Wild could trade up and down rather than if it could land an established NHLer.
“I wasn’t really doing too much on that player front right now,” Fenton said. “Today is kind of a unique time. I don’t think you see too many big-time trades, but I did make a couple calls on players.”
In Johansson, the Wild receive a right-shot defender who prides himself on his hockey sense and skating. Bulking up is on his to-do list, and the 6-foot-1, 176-pound 18-year-old believes he can improve offensively. Johansson spent most of last season with Leksands in the Swedish Junior League, tallying four goals and nine points in 29 games. He also had a goal in 23 games with Leksands’ second-tier club, seven points in six games with Leksands’ Under-18 program, and helped Sweden capture bronze at the 2018 IIHF Under-18 World Championship.
He models his game after fellow Swede Adam Larsson, who stars on the Oilers’ blue line, and expects he’ll need another year or two in Sweden to continue to develop.
“I play solid,” said Johansson, who had his dad, grandfather and brother with him in Dallas.
Ranked as the 10th-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting, Johansson was projected to go later in the draft, but Wild officials said he was one of their targets and had been on the radar since November. The team knew a few teams picking behind it were interested in Johansson as well.
“He’s a very smart defender,” said senior vice president of hockey operations Brent Flahr, who mentioned Johansson as having top-four potential and playmaking instincts that mimic Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin’s. “He moves and retrieves pucks exceptionally well. He’s a very good skater. As he fills out and gets stronger, we just think his game is going to grow and grow.”
After the Sabres selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall and winger Andrei Svechnikov went next to the Hurricanes, both as expected, the intrigue picked up since the ensuing order was supposed to be tough to handicap. And it was, with forwards like Liam Foudy and Jay O’Brien and defenseman Ryan Merkley going higher than forecast.
“I thought it was unpredictable,” Fenton said. “We had a pretty good order going. When a couple people went off the board, it kind of helped us in our selection process later on.”
Even Johansson didn’t expect to have his name called in the first round, but that’s exactly what Flahr announced after the Wild’s contingent took the stage.
“I can’t describe it in words,” Johansson said. “Just hearing your name, I think it’s crazy.”
Like Fenton, most GMs were idle, as the only player transaction was a salary dump by the Capitals that gives them more flexibility to try to re-sign defenseman John Carlson. Washington sent defenseman Brooks Orpik and goalie Philipp Grubauer to Colorado for the 47th pick.
It’s still possible the Wild exits the weekend with a different look to its lineup.
Forwards Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle still seem the most logical options to move out in favor of new pieces that could potentially spark the improvement the Wild is seeking to kick its habit of exiting the playoffs in the first round.
“I’ll always be willing to listen to what’s out there,” Fenton said. “If something transpires, then it transpires. Speculation is what it is until something happens. We’re not going to say anything about any particular player.”
Even if the Wild doesn’t make any changes this weekend, it could still be a success with seven picks on its docket for Saturday when the draft commences with rounds 2-7. The Wild has three thirds, two fifth-rounders and one in the sixth and seventh.