The Minnesota Wild aren’t well-represented at the World Junior Championships, but their lone representative is making the most of his time there.
Coming into this season, if you were to ask anyone who the Wild’s top defensive prospect was (forward Colton Gillies still has their top prospect position firmly in hand), I’d imagine that about 90 percent would have said Tyler Cuma.
Indeed, it would have been hard to argue with them. Cuma came into the Wild camp last season with both the coaching staff and the managerial staff saying that he had no chance at making the roster. Instead of mailing it in, Cuma forced the staff to keep him around until the last possible minute, just barely missing making the team.
But Cuma’s progress has slowed after his initial shot out of the gates—injuries and a series of unfortunate suspensions have seen to that.
Cuma, along with goaltender Matthew Hackett and fellow defenseman Marco Scandella, was invited to attend the tryout camp for Team Canada for the WJC, and with one fell swoop suddenly Cuma wasn’t such a lock as the Wild’s top defensive prospect.
While Cuma and Hackett were sent packing (despite solid seasons by both), Scandella was asked to stay.
All he’s done with it is shoot his stock through the roof for Minnesota, getting many excited about the progress he’s made.
In just five games in the tournament Scandella is tied for 15th in scoring amongst all defensemen at the WJC, and tied for 22nd amongst all skaters in plus/minus. In addition, he is one of two defensemen that has yet to be on the ice for an even strength goal against.
In fact, Scandella has been on the ice for just two of the seven goals that Team Canada has allowed thus far in the tournament.
On top of that, Scandella is one of the lone high points on an otherwise poor Val-d’Or team in the QMJHL, on pace to set career highs in every category and posting an impressive plus-10 rating.
Scandella is projected by Hockey’s Future as being a potential third or fourth defenseman, listing his strengths as his defensive game while The Hockey News lists Scandella’s projection as an all-around defenseman with an aggressive style of play that can lend to defense as well as offense.
In both cases, however, they recognize that Scandella has a ways to go. His defensive zone play can still improve, while he can also be prone to making mistakes with the puck in his own end.
That said, his progression from this time last season is absolutely stunning and it is apparent that he is willing to put in the work. Taking that into consideration, there’s no question in my mind that Scandella can compete for a roster spot as soon as next season and, while it is unlikely for him to find a spot on the Wild’s roster in the next year, he is certainly beginning to turn heads.
And that is a good thing for both him and for the Wild, by any measuring stick.