Not every move on an NHL roster is a major one. As a matter of fact, there are even a few that go completely under the radar and wind up being a big thing for both the franchise and player alike.
The Wild didn’t exactly shock the world when they inked Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Sammy Walker to a two-way entry-level contract this offseason. Does the question now become what can Walker offer to the franchise, presumably both in the AHL and to the Wild’s Odds in the 2022 NHL?
The Local Boy
There are a few things to like about Walker, at least from a Wild perspective. For one, he is a local boy in every sense of the word. Minnesota is called the State of Hockey and Walker is the perfect embodiment of that.
He lit it up for Edina High School before ultimately committing to the University of Minnesota in 2018. He was a late draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, going 200th overall (7th round) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Walker would spend all four years of his collegiate career with the Gophers. He quickly became an integral part of their lineup, showing stellar consistency each season. His totals ranged between 10-14 goals, 13-19 assists, and 26-30 points.
If that weren’t enough, he would don the captain’s “C” for 3 of his 4 years, beginning with his sophomore season in 2019-20. Given his rich, rooted history in the State of Hockey, it seems only fitting that he would officially sign his first professional contract with the Minnesota Wild.
That last part comes recently as he has spent the last several years under the Tampa Bay Lightning banner. He never signed a deal after being drafted, eventually becoming a free agent and ultimately signing with the Wild.
Without a doubt, him making the Wild for any extended period of time would be a feel-good story. Being able to play in front of his hometown crowd would be tremendous and give the Wild a potentially solid bottom-6 role player.
Something sounds good about Sammy Walker staying in the #StateOfHockey, eh?
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) August 18, 2022
What Does He Bring to the Table?
The book on Walker is that he is competitive and physical. His puck-carrying style can be easily described as him looking for physicality the moment he crosses the blue line. Given the stands under 6 feet, there are concerns about whether he could hold up over an NHL season.
That said, Walker definitely has the tools to be effective at the next level. For one, he has good speed and does well offensively off the rush. His wrist shot is also of the deceptive variety, which can give goaltenders trouble in terms of beating them outright or producing several high-quality rebounds.
The big concern is his production. He was solid throughout his collegiate career, but he never blew the doors off from an offensive point of view. Moreover, he did not experience the big jump that other players would generally experience in their senior seasons.
That said, he has great speed and tenacity, particularly with the puck. He has proven himself to be an effective scorer in the physically tough collegiate ranks despite a smaller-than-average frame.
Per relase, the Minnesota Wild have signed forward Sammy Walker to a two-year, entry-level contract.
Walker was captain of the University of Minnesota Gophers for three straight seasons. He's averaged 12 goals and 16 assists over four seasons.https://t.co/IOkXaTJvvu
— Full Press AHL (@FPC_AHL) August 18, 2022
What Does the Future Hold for Walker?
The next step in the process for Walker is to prove that he can translate his game to the pro ranks. He will no doubt get a long look in training camp but begin the 2022-23 season in the AHL. He will have to prove that he is worth playing time as there are a few players in the AHL that are going to be commanding ice time presently.
Walker certainly has the tenacity and skating ability to go a long way in the organization. That said, his clock is a bit accelerated because he is 23 and has already spent 4 years in college. Walker will likely have the life of his 3-year entry-level deal to show that he can be an asset to the franchise.
Given his status as a late-round pick and the lack of explosive development in his final 2 years in college, it might be safe to say that Walker has reached his ceiling as a player. Which might leave him on the outside looking in professionally.
This is now official
Wild sign University of Minnesota 3-time captain Sammy Walker: Sources
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) August 18, 2022
The simple fact of the matter is that the signing of Walker is likely going to be a forgotten one. He has a feel-good story, turning in a quality collegiate career with the University of Minnesota after growing up in Edina, MN.
He will no doubt begin his professional career with the Iowa Wild in 2022-23, fighting for playing time there. How he develops will dictate his path going forward. He has leadership abilities and has shown himself to be a quality player at every level. But the path to the NHL is going to be a long one for Walker.
Credits on Featured Image: Amy Meredith on Flickr