A new team has emerged a serious contender in the race to acquire Jack Eichel - the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild are coming off of a season where they finished with 75 points, good for third in the West Division. After making the playoffs, their season culminated in a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, there were some silver linings that the Wild can take from this past season. They forced the Golden Knights into a Game 7 after being down 3-1 in the series. Their breakout forward, Kirill Kaprizov, won the Calder trophy this season. On top of that, their head coach, Dean Evason, was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.
The Wild really launched themselves into the discussion for the Sabres captain after freeing up more than $10.3 million worth of cap space next season after buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on Tuesday. Eichel’s average annual value on his contract over the next five seasons is at $10 million, leaving just enough room for Eichel to fit into the Wild's plans for ,at the very least, next season.
Adding even more intrigue to the situation, in the fallout of the Parise and Suter buyouts, TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger said Tuesday the Wild would love to add a top-line center.
"We know the Wild would love to add a top-line center. They've been linked with interest to Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres," Dreger said during "Insider Trading" on TSN. "I believe the Wild are going to make a trade offer on Jack Eichel, but they're also not going to blow their cap space and they're not going to overpay with trade assets."
Now that we’ve established the Wild’s ties in the race for Eichel, what will it take for the Wild to finish in the winner’s circle?
Minnesota has two first round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, the 21st and 25th overall selections. The latter comes as a result of dealing Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February of 2020.
Seeing as how they’re picking towards the back end of the first round, either of the Wild's first round picks aren’t as valuable as, say, a team like the Anaheim Ducks could offer in a hypothetical trade package for Eichel.
However, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and the front office reportedly value this year’s draft class. In keeping with that mindset, the Wild’s first round pick in the draft should be included, but not as the main feature of the trade package.
The marquee item of the trade package should be a player who may be familiar to Sabres fans after the team passed on him for winger Jack Quinn, his teammate in the OHL, in the 2020 NHL Draft - Marco Rossi.
Rossi is a dynamic center who was hampered by COVID-19 related ailments, forcing him to miss almost all of the 2020-21 season. The few games he did play last season were played in Switzerland as he was loaned to the ZSC Lions in the National League.
As for his 2019-20 season playing for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, he registered 120 points (39+ 81) in 56 games. It's an impressive rate of just over two points per-game.
Going into the 2020 NHL Draft, Steve Kournianos of thedraftanayst.com raved about Rossi’s offensive ability.
“Rossi is a magician with the puck and displays a tremendous amount of patience and elite vision,” Kournianos wrote. “More times than not, Rossi will delay until the smallest of windows remains open. This applies to both lateral feeds into traffic and from wide shooting angles. Opponents have struggled slowing him down, and he’s already at the point in the season where coaches seem to have stopped line matching against him. Like most super scorers, Rossi dictates the tempo. When he hits the ice, there isn’t a shred of doubt or apprehension that may prevent him from executing set plays or breakouts to the letter. He commands everyone’s attention and the puck always seems to be on his blade.”
But wait, there’s more!
On top of Rossi and the 21st overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Wild need one more top-notch asset to really put their pitch to the Sabres to acquire Eichel over the top.
In an ideal world, this is where the Sabres would snag winger Matthew Boldy, the 12th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, in addition to Rossi and the Wild’s first round pick in the draft. Minnesota may not be willing to part ways with the two players that are widely-regarded as their two best prospects, on top of their top pick in this year’s draft.
Looking at alternatives to Boldy that can line up at forward, one name that keeps popping up winger Adam Beckman. Beckman is a 6-foot-1 winger and currently plays for Minnestoa's American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. Prior to being recalled to the AHL, Beckman tallied 196 points in 152 games played for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League over the past three seasons. He was also named the WHL Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season.
Beckman was ranked as the Wild’s fifth-best prospect by Daniel Centeno of thehocekywriters.com. Centeno projects Beckman as a potential top-six forward in the NHL.
“Beckman has been considered a raw prospect, with different projections on how his potential will pan out in the NHL,” Centeno said. “So far, he has transitioned into an effective scorer with an NHL-ready shot and passing, but his foot speed needs work. At the time of his selection, his ceiling was middle-six forward, but he has room to grow into a potential top-six option.”
In summation, the Wild would need to part with at least these three assets to acquire Eichel:
1.) 21st overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft
2.) Marco Rossi
3.) Preferably Matthew Boldy, realistically Adam Beckman
With this trade package, the Sabres have a chance to replace, at least, some of the dynamic, offensive ability Eichel would be (and in all likelihood will be) taking with him out of Buffalo, acquire an additional first round pick in this year’s draft and beef up their winger prospect pool that already includes the likes of Quinn, Arttu Ruotsalainen and J-J Peterka.