With a month left in the NHL season, every game can feel like a do-or-die matchup. In the Western Conference, where the top seven teams are separated by just 10 points, every game has significant meaning.
For the Wild, things are currently fine but there is a lot that can happen in the final 15 games. The Wild are second in the Central Division, sitting at 84 points. That puts them four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and three points back of the division-leading Dallas Stars.
Injuries have struck at an inopportune time for the Wild, which has led to the promotion of winger Sammy Walker from the AHL. Let’s take a look at what’s going on with the injury situation in Minnesota, what Walker has been doing this season, and what role he may play going forward.
The Untimely Injuries
There is never a good time to suffer injuries. Perhaps the worst time is making a push to the playoffs and that is precisely what has happened to the Wild. They have seen injuries to both the front and back end, leading to concerns about depth.
Stalwart defenseman Jonas Brodin has been on and off of the injury list, placed back on again due to a nagging lower body injury on 2/23. He remains out but should be back in time for the playoffs. On the front end, things aren’t looking any better.
Forward Gustav Nyquist has been dealing with the vague upper body injury since 1/25 and has missed 4 games since. That isn’t the big one, however. Superstar Kirill Kaprizov suffered an awkward fall on 3/8, leading to a suspected groin or hamstring injury. He has been labeled week-to-week and has missed a game already.
Without such a key contributor, there is room for someone on the roster to step up. Or, in the case of Sammy Walker, there is room for someone from the AHL to make the leap and potentially shine in a callup situation.
Who is Sammy Walker?
Walker was originally picked by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 7th round of the 2017 NHL Draft. Considered to be nothing but an afterthought, Walker has fought for everything that he has managed to get. There was even a time where he was considered to be one of the 10 best prospects in the Tampa organization until he eventually signed with the Wild.
Walker is somewhat undersized at 5’10” 180 but has shown a versatility that makes for a successful bottom-six player. He is a solid skater and displays potentially dazzling offensive ability despite his frame. His ability to play wing or center is crucial as well.
Walker’s path has been something of a scenic route. Since being picked out of Edina High School in 2017, he has played a season in the USHL before seeing four years at the University of Minnesota. Playing for a power program, Walker was a featured name on the Golden Gophers. More demonstrably, he was captain for three of his four years in UofM.
🗞 News 🗞
We have recalled @IAWild F Sammy Walker.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) March 9, 2023
This Season for Walker
After spending four years of development in college, Walker made his professional debut in 2022-23. He has played 50 games with the Iowa Wild of the AHL and has acquitted himself well. In those 50 games, Walker has managed 25 goals and 45 points, indicating that he has what it takes to be successful at the professional level.
Prior to his call-up, he received a brief look with the parent club before ultimately being sent down. Now that a major name is out of the lineup – in addition to a bottom-six player in Nyquist – there is an opportunity at the NHL level.
In his brief time with the parent Wild, Walker has not looked out of place. He plays with an excellent motor, driving the play in the rush, and uses his deft puck skills to evade defenders and create space for linemates.
— Wild Takes (@WildTakes10k) March 25, 2023
What is Next for Walker?
He isn’t the flashiest player in the world and won’t blow you away with his skill set. That said, he has made it from 7th round pick out of high school to a prospect to watch thanks to his time at the University of Minnesota.
He has shown himself to be more than capable at the AHL level and, in brief flashes, has shown that he can hang at the NHL level, too. Now is his time to earn an extended stay as the Wild are missing their biggest star.
Though he may not necessarily earn himself a full-time NHL gig with a strong performance, it could set the tone for his future. What Sammy Walker does in 2023-24 will likely hinge on what he does with this extended call-up. The future is bright for Walker and he will get a chance to shine in St. Paul.
“He didn’t have the jump that he’s had in games,” Army said. “He was kind of a step behind and then because he didn’t feel right, he started to take some shortcuts.”
— Aaron Heckmann (@aaron_heckmann) March 23, 2023
Credits on Featured Image: debworks