The Wild traded up a pick and added a third-rounder in 2025 to snag University of Denver defenseman Zeev Buium with their first round, 12th overall selection. PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF DENVER

 

Buium and Ritchie tagged as steals in first two rounds as Wild load up on defensemen

by TR Holler/Regional Scout/LPH Contributor

The 25th draft for the Minnesota Wild is history as they turned in pick #174 of the 6th rd in the 2024 NHL draft in scorching Las Vegas. Let’s take a deep look into the Wild draft and review how our Minnesota boys fared at the coolest draft venue in sports history, the Vegas Sphere. (Why would you not keep a live draft at this locale every year? Huh, Gary?).

The Wild had a modest quantity of six picks in the ’24 draft but leave cloaked in value especially on the back end with plentiful blue line soldiers in the pipeline. Four of their six picks are blueliners, so the message is clear to Des Moines. Creating positional competition is the cornerstone for improvement so judging the Wild on this alone garners an ‘A grade’. In the 1st round, having highly regarded defenseman, Zeev Buium lingering just outside the top 10 fueled the Wild brass to trade up one spot in the first round, from No. 13 to No. 12 via Philadelphia to nab Buium, cumulatively ranked No. 6 overall. In fact, not a single scouting service had Buium lower than No. 9 with a handful ranking him as high as No. 4. The Wild filled a glaring need with a high-value player at No. 12 by swapping 1st round picks with the Flyers and sending Broad Street a 2025 3rd round pick. Folks, you do this all day, every day for a Zeev Buium.

Zeev Buium-D/Denver at 6’/185 was the lead 1st pair D-man for the NCAA national champion Denver Pioneers proving himself at the next level as a smooth skating, three-zone defender. Buium will QB the power play and give the Wild quick, clean breakouts and playmaking from the deep point. Last season the collegiate freshman tallied 11-39-50 over 42 games in the NCHC. For perspective, the Dec ’05-born would have been a senior in the MSHSL circuit. The Wild needed another deep threat that deploys on both special teams with an unlimited O-zone ceiling. In fact, Buium’s ceiling is colored sky blue. The crafty Buium is supremely confident with a foundation of sublime edgework, high hockey IQ, and 200 ft. creativity. Moreover, he’s just a great kid. Envisioning Buium and Brock Faber on same defensive corps will provide two All-star cornerstones, and just maybe, Buium will lift his second championship trophy on St. Paul ice.

Ryder Ritchie

Absolutely cannot believe I am typing this brutal cliché, but the Wild caught lightning in a bottle again in the 2ndround with the timeless “we can’t imagine player X fell to us” at No. 45, with Ryder Ritchie-RW/Prince Albert (WHL). Ritchie, on paper, was cumulatively ranked at #31 even with an abbreviated season due to injury, so he projected as a late 1st round or early 2nd round select. At No. 45, the Wild landed another value pick to be sure. Only turning 18 this August, Ritchie has a longer runway to physical maturity, but is already 6’1”/176 projecting to an NHL playing weight of 185lbs. Ritchie is equal parts playmaker and finisher as he put up a two-year total of 39-60-99 over 99 games at Prince Albert for a balanced, supremely active, point-per-game average. Ritchie is deceptive off the rush with savvy cutbacks and precision attack angles while patiently waiting for gaps to present themselves. In the U-18 World Juniors for Canada, Ritchie put up a balanced 4-4-8 over seven games on the international scene. Ritchie is an offensive weapon with relentless effort and a quick release – an intriguing value add to the Wild forward talent pool.

The Wild were without a pick in the 3rd round and headed to the 4th round looking to bolster overall depth, but with their four remaining picks went full defensive mode with three of the picks. Again, this portends a direct message to Des Moines for the likes of O’Rourke, Lambos, and Peart to buckle up as this new wave arrives. Hey, “pressure makes diamonds” as they say…

Aron Kiviharju

At No. 122, the Wild selected Aron Kiviharju-D/Liiga (HIFK), a slightly larger Jared Spurgeon clone at 5’10”/185, with an identical scouting profile as the Wild captain. Kiviharju has some offensive upside, but his real talent is competing within the three-zone ‘middle alley’, so he is constantly attacking or neutralizing opponent setups. Lastly, his high situational IQ portends quick, laser-like breakouts and commanding presence directing the power play with nifty playmaking. He suffered an ACL injury last season which drove the downward draft spiral so he will need time to properly heal and, most importantly, regain the mental toughness/confidence, but ‘Kivi’ can slow burn for a few years with that task, perhaps as the Spurgeon contract expires in July 2027? Hmm…vexing.

In the 5th round, the Wild used picks No. 140 and No. 142, respectively, on a depth defenseman, Sebastian Soini-D/Liiga (Ilves) and rising goalie prospect, Chase Wutzke-G/Red Deer (WHL). Soini is a big, mobile defenseman at 6’2”/190 with strong four-way edges providing quick pivots and exit passes routinely beating the oncoming forecheck with ease and confidence. He projects as a third pair, mobile, checking D-man.

Wutzke, a late bloomer, rose up the spring draft rankings as he settled in to his role as a disciplined butterfly goalie, not committing to his drops too early and rather choosing to battle in the paint. He never wanders evidenced by his skates always touching blue ice. Wutzke has tight footwork and is a high-end athlete, but still a development project potentially slotting as a future backup goalie behind “The Wall.” Helps re-stock goalie depth for the Wild, at minimum.

Last, but not least, in the 6th round, the Wild took a flyer on an over-ager with their last pick at No. 174 plucking Stevie Leskovar-D/Mississauga (OHL). Got size? Leskovar measures 6’4”/207 as a Sept ’04 born, so yeah, we got size! A stay-at-home defenseman who takes pride in that designation, often staying deep, preferring to be first man back. Relishes net-front protection, delivering big turnover causing hits to then clean and sweep the biscuit for crisp breakouts. Old-school soul who will make you search for yours after delivering monster hits. An intense, on-ice demon is reportedly a teddy bear off-ice so maybe the Wild have a new buddy for Jake Middleton?

OVERALL WILD DRAFT GRADE:  A- (If a few later round depth choices pan out, that is. If not, a solid B effort, nice work overall in Sin City).

 

11 Minnesotans hear their named called at NHL draft

 

Javon Moore was the first Minnesota High School player off he board, going in Round 4 to Ottawa.

 

MINNESOTA SKATERS AT THE 2024 NHL DRAFT

Let’s look at the Minnesota skaters and their respective draft slots, destinations for the upcoming season and projected NHL debuts;

Adam Kleber

#42 (2) – Buffalo: Adam Kleber-D/Lincoln Stars (Chaska). Big, mobile defenseman heads off to stacked Buffalo D corps after Duluth tour of duty with the Bulldogs.  Perfect tutelage over next two years with Lake Erie arrival in ’26. At least he will be used to tough winters.

Max Plante

#47 (2) – Detroit: Max Plante-C/W/USNTDP (Hermantown). My how time flies…we’re still waiting on big bro Zam to arrive in Duluth and here, little bro is already drafted? Wow! Crafty playmaker chosen by a Hall of Fame front office so future looks very bright. Slated for UMD for the “We Are Family” tour, but all bets are off on this dynamo’s future.

Colin Ralph

#48 (2) – St. Louis: Colin Ralph-D/Shattuck (Maple Grove). Big and getting bigger, mobile D-man is a burgeoning offensive talent and master shutdown defender.  Could use bit more physicality given his size, but that will come with the Huskies. Joins the Blues in ’27.

Will Skahan

#65 (2) – Utah HC: Will Skahan-D/USNTDP (Shattuck/St. Thomas Academy). Big, stay-at-home defenseman will round out his game for minimum three years but will be taken to school at BC and get his learn-on before cross-country debut in the Rockies of Utah HC in ’27.

Brodie Ziemer

#71 (3) – Buffalo: Brodie Ziemer-RW/USNTDP (Carver/Chaska). Geez, the Sabers sure do love the ‘Sota/Goldy Gopher pipeline, don’t they?  Ziemer is a squatty bull who needs to elevate the soft skills a bit to become a true threat in the O-Zone, but he’s a grinder and a team leader. Earliest move to Tatanka land projects to ’27, but we smell the buffalo chip move-in as more fall ’28.

Will Zellers

#76 (3) – Colorado: Will Zellers-RW/Shattuck (Maple Grove). Will heads to Green Bay (USHL) this fall and will team up with dynamic center and former Shattuck teammate, Aidan Park to form a deadly pair before heading to NoDak in fall ’25 as a lethal finisher who loves to scoop up loose pucks in front of the net for highlight reel lamp lighting.

Javon Moore

#112 (4) – Ottawa: Javon Moore-LW/Mtka HS (Chanhassen). The skills for scoring are there and the ceiling is high, now we need to extract battle effort, physicality and get that jersey dirty. A season or two in Sioux Falls before Dinkytown is on the horizon with work to do for fully mature 200 ft. game so Canada’s capital will wait awhile till fall ’28.

Jake Fisher

#121 (4) – Colorado: Jake Fisher-C/Fargo (CDH-Woodbury). An overager eligibility-wise, but that this last year in Fargo, Fisher helped produce a USHL champion, matured his game and playmaking to tune of 47 pts over 51 tilts and now, drafted into The Show. This is how it’s done, kiddos. Pioneers west this fall and breaks into the Avs lineup in ’28 with outside shot at ’27 depending on Avs future ro ster.

Hagen Burrows

#128 (4) – Tampa Bay: Hagen Burrows-C/W/Mtka HS/Sx City (Orono). Mr. Hockey took his game to the next level in the USHL with the Musketeers as he transitioned from the Skippers with ease. So much potential to really grow an NHL game. Was slated for a full year back at Sioux City but with departures at Denver and his success this past year, he will also pioneer west with Fisher (and former Shattuck alum Hunter Anderson) to form the new DU crop of snipers. We project Hagen as a fall ’28 debut for the Bolts.

JOHN WHIPPLE

#144 (5) – Detroit: John Whipple-D/USNTDP/Shattuck (Mtka). The Motor City Hall of Fame execs lean on the REAL state of hockey for the second time in the ’24 NHL draft with classic stay-at-home defenseman, Whipple.  A strong and sturdy 6’1”/195, Whipple defends the rush with textbook backpedal, tight pivot radius, and swift outlets. Will forcefully direct attackers to the outside and bury them into wall with relish. Lands in Dinkytown this fall and, at minimum, a three-year tour prior Motor City move in ’27.

 

Austin Burnevik

#182 (6) – Anaheim: Austin Burnevik-RW/Madison/Totino-Grace (Ham Lake). Burnevik is the 2nd overager to get plucked from ‘Sota catapulting into the NHL draft two draft cycles later. Again, another perfect example of patience and hard work. Big winger, heady playmaker and disciplined 2-way player equally capable of sniping or dropping dimes. Off to St Cloud St. joining stud D-man, Colin Ralph. Fall ’27 to the Ducks feels right.

NOTE:  To all the hopefuls who went undrafted – this is just a moment in time. There WILL be more, plenty more. So be ready, keep the chin up and keep grinding. Be diligent and relentless in growing your game. Enjoy the process and remember the two overagers taken in ’24 draft and the plethora of free agents that garnered NHL contracts after their college careers this past spring. Lastly, remember, somebody is ALWAYS watching.

T.R. Holler is a regional amateur scout covering the Upper Midwest