Wild missed playoffs, but some of their top prospects had big postseasons

The Wild’s wild ride this season finally skidded off the pavement in late April, a loss at Denver that officially ended their chances for a postseason bid. It did not, however, end the seasons of a handful of their best prospects.

Two of them, in fact, are still playing — center Hunter Haight and defenseman Kalem Parker, who will meet as opponents in the Canadian Hockey League major junior championship tournament May 24 in Saginaw, Mich.

They’re not the only Wild prospects who made long postseason runs this spring.

Center Riley Heidt was part of the Prince George team that lost to Parker’s Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League championship. Forward Rasmus Kumpulainen had three goals and 11 points in 20 playoff games for OHL runner-up Oshawa.

Elsewhere, left wing Rieger Lorenz, a sophomore, had two points in the title game for Denver’s NCAA champions, and right wing Danila Yurov helped Metallurg Magnitogorsk win the KHL’s Gagarin Cup.

“More playoff games, more meaningful games, more high-pressure games at a young age,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said. “We want players that are used to that, that become accustomed to it and deal with it better.”

Yurov, 20, scored 16 goals and had 30 points for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 44 games this season and will spend at least one more season in the KHL. Lorenz, 20, will play his junior season at Denver this year.

It’s no secret that Guerin is looking for a few young forwards to contribute next season, if not from the season’s first game, at least as a call-up who might actually be able to put a puck in the net.

The Wild used five forwards who started the year at AHL Iowa last season, and as a group, they scored eight goals in 120 games. When you add center Marat Khusnutdinov and wing Liam Ohgren, who joined the team after their pro seasons in Europe ended, it rises only to 10 goals in 141 games — although that’s not entirely fair.

Ohgren, 20, had a goal and assist in four games and never looked out of place. Khusnutdinov improved noticeably in 16 games, finishing with a goal and three assists. The Wild, more or less, expect them to make the team out of camp.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by other Wild prospects who saw their success as proof that the right young players can not just play for the team next season, but make the team out of training camp.

“I do look at it that way,” said Haight, who scored 25 goals among 67 points and was a plus-14 in 68 regular-season games for Saginaw last season. “Hopefully I can make that transition to pro hockey next year. When you see guys like Ohgren up there, he’s a phenomenal player, and I played with him at camps — on a line or filling in — and the chemistry’s there.”

Haight, 20, has nine goals and 13 points in 17 postseason games this spring and is having the time of his life. His Saginaw team is host to the Memorial Cup, and playing as one of four teams that won 50 games this season. But it’s been work. Haight, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, focused on being a two-way player and it showed. Since being a minus-14 with the Barrie Colts in 2022-23, he has improved to a combined plus-20 in two seasons with Saginaw.

“The end goal is to play in the NHL, and without developing those traits, I’m not going to get there,” Haight said.

Guerin has a little money to sign a free agent or two this summer — in the $8 million range if the cap rises to $87.7 million, as expected — but the Wild are headed for another year of salary cap misery with $14.7 million of dead space related to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. The best way to optimize salary is to get production from players still in their rookie contracts.

Imagine last year’s team without Brock Faber and Marco Rossi each playing 82 games, the first rookies in franchise history to do so. Combined, they made less than $2 million for a team that lived on injured-reserve allowances.

Heidt, 19, had an impressive camp — his first — last fall and had a big regular season for Prince George: 37 goals, 117 points and a plus-34 in 66 games. In 15 postseason games, he had three goals and 19 points.

“It’s been the best time of my life,” Heidt said. “It sucks that we didn’t get that championship.”

Guerin said he wants every Wild prospect to not just aim to make the NHL roster, but to expect it. He needn’t worry about Heidt.

“My goal last year was to make the team,” the young center said. “I expect that every year, especially this year. I’m going to have a really big summer and go into camp believing that I’m going to make the team, whatever it takes.”

Junior Advancement

Four Wild prospects had big postseasons for their major junior teams in the Canadian Hockey League, and two — Hunter Haight and Kalem Parker — will meet in the Memorial Cup tournament May 23-June 2 in Saginaw, Mich.

Player/Pos. League Team Gm G A Pts. +/-
Hunter Haight, C OHL Saginaw 17 9 4 13 -3
Riley Heidt, C OHL Pr. George 15 3 16 19 +5
Kalem Parker, D WHL Moose Jaw 20 2 7 9 +9
R. Kumpulainen, C OHL Oshawa 20 3 11 13 +9

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