The story is nearly written between the Minnesota Wild and Kevin Fiala. Minnesota’s budding superstar, a pending RFA with arbitration rights, will be a cap casualty this summer.
Michael Russo basically confirmed it, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to infer it from Bill Guerin‘s recent interview on KFAN. Fiala is among the NHL’s premier talent, with 3.28 points-per-hour (22nd in all situations) over the past three seasons. Teams will make major offers, provided they have the insurance that Fiala will sign with them long-term.
Fiala’s departure is a harsh consequence of the buyouts and will inevitably diminish the Wild’s offensive production. It’s not just the point production they’ll be missing, but his playmaking and lethal transition game — things that don’t always appear in the traditional box score. The expectation is that the Wild will be just as good next season, at least in Guerin’s eyes. But for that to happen, the Wild should target a player who can make an immediate impact, rather than only picks and prospects.
That’s where Martin Necas enters the picture.
According to Sara Civian’s report from The Athletic, Necas is a potential trade candidate for the Carolina Hurricanes this summer. That’s a far cry from two years ago when Wild fans coveted him despite being highly unlikely to be traded. Rod Brind’Amour had to say this following Carolina’s postseason departure: “I always think the [team is] good — it’s just, do we have elite goal scorers?”
Suddenly, it feels like this could be a match made in heaven — the Wild need to offload Fiala, who is the 35-goal, 85-point threat the Hurricanes desperately need. Of course, Carolina would need to put together a package with more than Necas. They’d have to add picks and/or prospects to make the trade work.
The Canes use Necas at the wing, but he’s a natural center. The Wild could use a promising, young pivot with their center corps faltering in the postseason. With the expected arrival of Marco Rossi, they could deploy Necas as the No.1 center, leaving Ryan Hartman able to move back to the wing, perhaps alongside Rossi and Matt Boldy on the second line. Necas gives the Wild an immediate impact player who they can add to the lineup to replace some of what they’ll be missing without Fiala. Not only that, but he’s also a long-term option in the top-6.
The 23-year-old has been a 40-point player with 36, 40, and 41 points over the past three seasons, respectively. These aren’t empty-calorie points, either. 77% of his points in the past three years are either goals or primary assists. This season, he was a prime breakout candidate, but it was ultimately an up-and-down year.
However, Necas’s inability to breakout can be attributed to multiple factors. Rookie Seth Jarvis crowded out the depth chart, and Carolina gave Jesperi Kotkaniemi endless opportunities. They also re-signed Kotkaniemi for six more years. It became a numbers game that led to Necas’ eventual demotion to the fourth line. Civian also notes that the Hurricanes have tried to deploy Necas as an energy or two-way type of player — something that he’s not.
The Hurricanes also kept Necas in the AHL for an extra year. A day after scoring his first NHL goal, Necas was sent down to the minors, causing his entry-level contract to slide. It’s a similar situation to how Guerin handled Rossi, who was ready for an NHL duty. Like Rossi, Necas dominated in the minors that year with 52 points, which was the fifth-highest in AHL scoring. All these things added up, and it’s probably frustrating and demoralizing for a player with so much potential.
Therefore, a change of scenery could certainly help his development, and there’s definitely an opportunity for him in Minnesota. Necas probably won’t be a high-end goal scorer in the NHL, and that’s okay since Scott Wheeler at The Athletic highlighted his pass-first mentality and playmaking ability in 2020. Dare we say he’s Mats Zuccarello-esque? Plus, he’s already proven he can score since he stepped foot in the league due to his dangerous release.
Here are two plays where Necas has showcased his potential and shot:
All things considered, Necas didn’t have a bad season even though he didn’t get the breakout most hoped for. It’s important to note that his shooting percentage fell off this season with an 8.8 conversion rate — much lower than his average 14.9 shooting percentage in his first two seasons. That hints that he will likely get back to average next season.
Necas’ first-pass mentality and his hesitancy to shoot have been an issue at times, too. His shot is dangerous, and he needs to use it more often, which he did this season. Necas’ 7.1 shots per 60 at 5-on-5 was much higher than 5.5 and 6.3 in the two seasons before that. Still, during the past three years, Necas is third to last in shots per 60 at even strength among all Hurricanes players. It would be near the bottom on the Wild, too. He also ranks dead last in individual high danger chances (2.44 per 60) among Carolina players the past three seasons.
Plain and simple, Necas needs to shoot more to maximize his potential. He will be a more dangerous player with his playmaking and passing ability if he can do that. He was worth 1.5 Standings Points Above Replacement in his rookie campaign and then 0.6 in his sophomore season. Even when he struggled this season, he only cost the Hurricanes just 0.1 Standings Points — virtually nothing. That aligns with his 49.98 expected goals share, meaning he basically broke even this season.
In the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, Necas scored at nearly a 65-point pace and had a 52 percent expected goals rate. While he took a step back this season — with some things out of his control — there’s no reason to believe he can’t be that same player.
Looking at Corey Sznajder’s microdata from his All Three Zones project, Necas excels in many areas and is above league average in almost all categories since his arrival to the NHL. With Fiala’s departure, the transition game will be an area of need next season, so adding Necas to the mix would significantly help the Wild.
Whether he can enter (1.18 controlled entries per 60) or exit (0.57 exits with possession per 60) the zone, Necas passes with flying colors in most areas across the board. In addition to his playmaking and passing, all of this would be a major asset to the Wild’s offensive attack.
With all this said, making the money work is a whole different matter amid Minnesota’s salary cap squeeze. But it’s possible, especially if the Wild did a three-year bridge deal in the $3-4 million range that ends as most of their dead money expires.
There are eight defensemen, including Calen Addison, on the payroll for next season. Therefore, something will have to give there this summer, regardless of whether the Wild pursue Necas. Whether it’s moving Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Dumba, or someone else, something will change on the blue line this summer. That, along with another minor transaction, would make this plausible.
There’s no guarantee Kaprizov will remain in Minnesota long-term. He could pull an Artemi Panarin-type exit. Therefore, the Wild can’t afford to be anything less than a playoff team until Kaprizov’s contract expires. And even that may not even be enough. Plus, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin are playing the best hockey of their career. In other words, the importance of the next three-to-five years for this organization can’t be overstated.
Necas could use a fresh start and thrive in a new environment and a role that caters to his strengths. The Wild should take a chance on him because he could be the player that helps Minnesota navigate the current center situation. With Necas, they can do that and even replace a chunk of Fiala’s production, keeping their competitive window open.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference