Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Free Agency Less of a Frenzy in 2010

OK, I’ve been wanting to hop back on the blog for a while now, but I wanted to wait until Ilya Kovalchuk signed to write about free agents, seeing as he was the biggest name is a rather weak free agent market this year. There was some hope, but the whole situation is a mess now and is taking way too long, so I’ll just write this for now and see if that topic is worth revisiting later (update: Kovalchuk’s arbitration hearing will be on Wednesday—but I already finished the entry so I’ll enter it regardless). If you want my thoughts on the Koivu deal, they are near the bottom. I also included some thoughts on our “new” GM, Chuck Fletcher, a little over a year after getting the job. I just want to touch on the new players first.

As I said, the NHL free agent class this year was relatively weak (with the exception of Kovalchuk), but I think the Wild made out pretty well. They won’t be contending for a Cup anytime soon, but barring the same amount of injuries as last year, I think the team could be poised to grab one of the last playoff spots. It hurts to say that they probably won’t win the division or the conference next year, but the West is so strong that I just can’t see that happening, even when trying to be optimistic…you never know, though.

Fletcher had Wild fans extremely nervous on Day One of free agency, but the Wild came out with the number two center they desired. Matt Cullen, a former Moorhead Spud and St. Cloud Husky, will return to his home state after 14 NHL seasons and one Stanley Cup championship (2006 with Carolina) under his belt. The Wild may have overpaid a bit for Cullen, giving him $3.5 million a year for three years, but I am happy with that. It was better than offering too little and missing out on him all together.

The Wild, unsure about the health status of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, were devoid a second-line center all year last year and I think that killed them. With candidates Saku Koivu and Olli Jokinen already snatched up by the Ducks and Flames, respectively, the Wild needed to make this happen. If there was a deeper class of free agents, I would agree the Wild overpaid a little, but if Cullen had walked on the Wild, Minnesota could’ve been in deep trouble and probably would have gotten into a bidding war with Nashville and others over Matthew Lombardi, who made the same money the next day when he signed with the Preds (a good signing for them).

This acquisition works for me only many levels. First off, Cullen is a Minnesotan. It will be easy for the Team of 18,000 to get behind one of their own and Cullen is at a point in his career where he can handle the pressure of playing in front of his home state. Many younger Minnesotans have shown that it can be overwhelming having that much pressure put on them at that age. I know there are more, but the first name that comes to mind is Nick Leddy. After he was traded from Minnesota to Chicago last year, you could tell a weight had been lifted off his shoulders by the way he played. In fact, he improved so much that Chicago signed him after one year of playing at the U. Instead of feeling the pressure of an entire state that invested a first round draft pick in his future, Cullen will feel excited to help his home state and to play in front of his friends and family. He has a ring already, to there is less personal pressure added on.

Second, as I just noted, Cullen really wants to be here. Cullen could have spurned the Wild to play with a true Cup contender, but after he signed, he sent texts to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune (which Russo posted on Twitter) that showed his excitement. "Holy cow, I'm pumped. Ohh!!!" and "It truly is a dream come true," were the two that I remember. I love the enthusiasm. Not many players would be that excited to come here.

Third, Cullen has a Stanley Cup ring. No one on the Wild last year had one of those. Cullen can replace the experience given to the team by Owen Nolan (who still hasn’t won a Cup himself) down the stretch and in the playoffs, if the Wild do contend. Cullen has also averaged 46 points per season since the lockout. His averages of 18.4 goals per season and 27.6 assists per season over the past five years would have each ranked fifth on the Wild last year. His 46 points would have ranked fourth behind only Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, and Martin Havlat. With that point production coming from a spot in the lineup where the Wild were severely lacking last season, I think Cullen was worth the few extra bucks.

Last year, the Wild had no U.S.-born players on their team. Sure, players like Nate Prosser (Elk River, MN), Casey Wellman (Brentwood, CA), and Robbie Earl (Chicago, IL) made appearances on the team, but they were all far from permanent roster fixtures. This year they will add Cullen to the American mix, as well as their second signing of July 1st, Eric Nystrom. Nystrom (Syosset, NY) will bring to the team a third or fourth-line winger that will add character and grit to a team that needs it.

Nystrom hasn’t put first-round-draft-pick-type points yet in his career just yet, but he just finished his second full season in the NHL, so I think at 27 years old, Nystrom definitely has room to improve. Just to clarify, by first-round-type points, I don’t think he ever will score 70+ points, like a Havlat or a Koivu is expected to, but I think he can improve on his 11 goals and eight assists from last season, as well as add other dimensions to the team. Calgary drafted him tenth overall in 2002 probably expecting a little more than 20 points per season when he got to the NHL and I think he has an opportunity to deliver on that in Minnesota over the next few years.

Since July 1st, many former Wild players found new homes. But before we get to that, I want to touch on the Robbie Earl and Dennis Endras signings. I’m not a big Earl fan solely because he won a national championship with Wisconsin, but looking past that, I will readily admit that I liked him before committing to the University of Minnesota, that I was excited when the Wild got him from Toronto, and that he helped the team a lot when he was in Minnesota last season. Earl explored the free agent market and thought he had proved last year that he was worth signing to a one-way deal. That didn’t happen, so he accepted a two-way deal to stay in The State of Hockey.

Earl scored six goals in 32 games over six call-ups last season and the Wild was 18-9-5 with him in the lineup. I’m obviously not saying that the Wild could or would sustain a record like that if Earl played a full season in Minnesota, but that 18-9-5 record would equate to a 46-23-12 record over 82 games. That would have been good for 104 points and a Northwest Division title last year. The Wild would have played the Kings at home in round one. In the second round (if they made it), they would have faced Chicago, who the Wild faced one time with Earl in the lineup and as any Wild fan remembers, the Wild won that game 6-5 in a shootout after coming back from a 5-1 third period deficit…obviously that is a HUGE jump and I would probably bet against that ever having happened, but the point is that Earl was a positive influence on a mediocre, injury-riddled team last season.

For me, the Dennis Endras signing kind of came out of nowhere, but I do like it and I believe Endras could be the Wild’s next Niklas Backstrom—an undrafted European goalie that worked his way on to the Wild’s roster and became the number one goalie after the goalies in front of him got injured. Endras backstopped Germany to a fourth place finish in the World Championships this year, stopping 31 of 32 shots against the U.S. in front of over 76,000 fans in a 2-1 overtime, preliminary round win. He also recorded and impressive 41-save shutout against Switzerland in the quarterfinals in a 1-0 German win. After reading all this, I am pretty excited that the Wild signed him. He won’t be wearing a Wild uniform this year unless the they use him as a third goalie in Helsinki, but this could be a small move that could look genius if he becomes a solid NHL goalie with the Wild someday.

I think this signing makes Josh Harding a little more expendable, but that obviously doesn’t mean the Wild will deal him, although I would like to see what the Wild could get for him. In my opinion, he is worthy of being a number one goalie in the NHL and now that his hip surgery is over with he should be healthy. I think he has proven himself enough to at least get a shot. He also has youth on his side and a pretty cheap price tag, unlike a goalie like Tim Thomas, who has been dangled by the Bruins. I think the Wild could get by with a guy like Anton Khudobin or Endras as a backup to Backstrom, especially if Harding was dealt for someone who could score. I also think Matt Hackett will be at least ready to be a backup in the NHL by the time Backstrom’s contract expires in a couple years.

After signing potential AHL call-ups in center Warren Peters and defenseman Drew Bagnall, the Wild added another prospect to its growing pool of talent. Joel Broda, who was let go by the Capitals after being drafted by them, looks like he could be a good player. A WHL “journeyman,” Broda scored more than a point per game with the Calgary Hitmen. He also added 13 goals in 23 playoff games. He is a goal scorer who isn’t afraid to fight. Low-risk/high-reward.

Moving on to the depressing part of free agency…Most fans wish the Wild could keep enforcers John Scott and Derek Boogaard on the team, but unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for the team over this offseason. The choice to let them go was the best way for the Wild to go and the best way for Boogaard and Scott to go. There simply wasn’t enough money and space for these players. I will personally miss seeing these guys in Minnesota patrolling the ice and intimidating opponents, but point-wise, they didn’t produce enough to stick around. On the brighter side, both of these players will be able to relish their roles in better markets with fans that will grow to love them just as much as the fans here did.

The Wild let two more forwards and two more defensemen go as well. Shane Hnidy, who really seemed to be just a top-six fill-in defenseman to me has not been signed yet. The Coyotes picked up Andrew Ebbett, who will join his fourth team (Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota, and Phoenix) in under a year. He seems valuable enough to keep, but he landed with teams that were too deep at certain times to keep him. Jamie Sifers, who made the original roster and spent time in Minnesota and Houston last season was scooped up by Chicago…I mean Atlanta. It feels like just yesterday I was watching Sifers, Torrey Mitchell, and little Peter Lenes dominate Minnesota Duluth in a pair of 5-1 wins at Gutterson Fieldhouse. I can’t believe it’s almost been five years.

The most crushing loss, though, in my opinion, was Owen Nolan. Nolan was a real leader last season and played through some tough injuries while mentoring the younger players on the team. Any respect he hadn’t earned by doing all that, he earned by encouraging Fletcher not to trade him to a contender like the Sharks or Capitals at the trade deadline, so that he could help the Wild try to make a late-season run. I hope Nolan gets his Cup—he deserves it. He will be greatly missed by the Wild, assuming there isn’t a turn of events that causes him to come back (I’ve seen crazier things happen).

The Wild didn’t get dramatically better right away with any of these signings and they lost a few fan favorites, but they are definitely a serviceable Western Conference team that could surprise if everyone produces like they’re supposed to and stays healthy. The players they lost weren’t the most talented guys in the league and I think the additions outweigh the subtractions. Fletcher didn’t have much too work with in this market, but the Wild improved at least a little bit in July.


Mikko Koivu would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2011, but instead will be wearing a Wild uniform for seven more seasons. Over the seven seasons (starting in 2011-2012), Koivu will receive $47.25 million, a franchise high, and his cap hit will be just under $7 million per year. Wild fans love Koivu for his complete game and GM Chuck Fletcher believes Koivu will only get better. Some disagree.

ESPN’s Peter Keating wrote a long article explaining why Koivu was not worth what he got in his extension, but I disagree with that main argument. He basically used very advanced statistics that showed how Koivu was overpaid. Looking past the fact that some of the stats he threw out there were a bit outrageous I will say this: No matter how much money we threw at him, I will always disagree when someone says the Wild overpaid him.

Koivu is the franchise. Marian Gaborik was a franchise player and we let him go for nothing in return. It would kill Wild fans to let go of another franchise player and Fletcher did what he needed to do to make sure that didn’t happen. The Gaborik situation was the elephant in the room throughout his entire final season here and both sides ended up losing (in my opinion). Keating compared the Koivu deal to the Kovalchuk deal, which is ludicrous, in my opinion. They are two different players. They have different attitudes. Their situations are very different. And after 1,300+ words of mind-numbing statistical evidence that the Devils made out like gangbusters and the Wild gave up way too much to retain their 2001 first round draft pick and first ever permanent captain, the Kovalchuk deal was rejected by the NHL.

So much for that. The Wild just drafted a very promising Finnish center in Mikael Granlund. Who would be better to help guide him through his first years in the NHL than the future captain of Team Finland? Koivu led the team in points last year and was the lone bright spot in the team’s last playoff appearance. Sure, his stats, whether as simple as goals and assists, or as deep as “GVT” or “Relative Corsi,” may not make him look like a $7 million a year player, but I would take him for even more if he wanted it.

I don’t care what the article says, intangibles cannot be measured in stats—otherwise they are not intangibles. There is not an official stat for measuring leadership, loyalty, or love from the fans, even if there are some things that you could argue come close to putting a number on those categories. I don’t buy it. And that’s not just because these stats were used to lessen the perceived value of one of my favorite players.

He is great in the faceoff circle, is generally responsible in the defensive zone, and is a great playmaker that makes a pretty average line look like a solid number one line in the NHL. The article used one stat (GVT) to compare Mikko players like Joe Thornton, Martin St. Louis, and Marian Hossa. I know it is only a small part of the article, but let me run with those comparisons for a minute.

Koivu isn’t making a ton more than those players, is at least three or four years younger than all of them, and unlike all of them, he wears his team’s “C”. Hossa needed three seasons with strong contenders to get a Cup, Thornton couldn’t lead his team to a single win in the conference final with over $14 million on his line (not including himself at $7.2 mil), and St. Louis’ team got a higher draft pick than the Wild—oh, and St. Louis is eight years older.

Maybe the Wild paid him more than statistics that can apparently even measure intangibles (?) say they should have, but the bottom line is that our captain will be wearing red and green for a long time. Until the Wild can just go out on a whim and sign a top-20 player with experience captaining their team entering his prime for a bargain price, I’ll gladly take it. I'm pretty sure the Finnish fans would appreciate seeing a Mikko Koivu that is not in a dispute over a contract in early October anyway.


Naturally, I gave Chuck Fletcher a chance when he got the Wild GM job last summer and so far he hasn’t disappointed. I would have preferred to see him pick Jordan Schroeder instead of Nick Leddy at the 2009 draft, but if that’s his worst mistake, I’ll take it. It’s not like he picked Nick Leddy over John Tavares. He actually realized that the Leddy pick wasn’t working out and got a solid d-man in return from Chicago in Cam Barker. I think the move was beneficial for everyone involved. Doug Risebrough (albeit this wasn’t all his fault) let one of the best scorers in the NHL leave and got nothing in return when Marian Gaborik left. This move set the Wild back quite a bit. As we saw from Koivu’s new deal, Fletcher learned from Risebrough’s mistakes.

Risebrough also notoriously traded away draft picks. Most notably, in 2008, he traded up one spot to get Tyler Cuma. New Jersey walked away with the player they probably would have taken anyway and an extra third round pick in 2009. And to top it off, the Wild passed up on John Carlson with the pick. Don’t get me wrong, I like Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella (who they took in the second round), but it pains me to look back on how they got Cuma and what they gave up to get him. Fletcher, on the other hand, collects picks and sees them as “currency. He made four picks in the first two rounds this year. When is the last time the Wild did that? Never.

What I’m getting at is that Fletcher has just been better overall so far. Not perfect, but better. And he was just a rookie GM. The Wild could have been terrible last year, but they came out of 2009-2010 with a somewhat respectable record despite injuries that would cripple any team. He calls players up and gives them a taste of the NHL. He interacts with his coaches and the team a lot more, as well. He develops players. He makes moves. He showed in June that he can draft well. He adds young talent—and develops it. He mixes it up. He gets in the conversation for any player that will help the Wild (see: Paul Martin). He takes chances. He looks to the future, and doesn’t forget about the present. He is a smart guy.

The Wild lacks an Alex Ovechkin-like star player that will earn them automatic respect like other teams do, but there is enough talent to produce a winning team if enough players can stay healthy. In a couple years, the first two lines could include Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Mikael Granlund, Guillaume Latendresse, and a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard with four very solid defensemen (because if there is any area of the organization that has depth, it comes on the blue line), and Niklas Backstrom in goal. Looks like a good start to me.

Players like Chuck Kobasew, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Cal Clutterbuck, and possibly a redeemed James Sheppard could help round out the bottom six. In addition, there will be young players like Casey Wellman, Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, Kristopher Foucault, Joel Broda, and several other prospects gunning for permanent spots, if they don’t make the team even sooner. This team will be backed by one of the best fan bases in the NHL.

Even in an ocean-deep Western Conference, there is enough to compete in the group Fletcher has assembled so far and by the way he sounded in every interview I saw or read about at the end of last year, he’s far from satisfied. He wants a Cup and won’t sit back at all until he gets it. If for some reason you hate what he’s doing, I encourage you to give him a chance.


Interesting news is scarce in the offseason, but I’ll try to come up with something before the preseason starts. I could mix in a blog about the Gophers or about the World Junior Development Camp or the Wild’s schedule (or all of that and more), but that’s it until next time.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A League-wide NHL Draft Recap

Before we head into talk of free agents and July 1st trades, I think I should recap last week’s draft after letting it settle in for a bit. I don’t like to pick winners and losers because obviously players can get better or worse and it is way too early to tell. In 2003, Hugh Jessiman was taken with the 12th overall pick while 2010 playoff heroes Dustin Byfuglien and Jaroslav Halak were taken in the eighth and ninth rounds (respectively)—rounds that don’t even exist anymore.

I think the Wild did a great job in the draft this year (their draft as a whole might be underrated and I may be biased, but I would group them with some of these teams), but I think there are some other teams that deserve recognition for their great weekends. With that in mind, I’ll share with you some of the teams I think made out pretty well. When teams have different draft positions, different amounts of picks, and different needs and wants, it is hard to rank teams, so I put the teams in alphabetical order by location. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but the draft is like my Christmas and I couldn’t resist. You can “ctrl/command+F” it to skim for your favorite players or teams (sorry if that comes up empty) if you’re short on time or if you’re not a big reader. Anyway, he we go:


When Scott Niedermeyer retired last week, Ducks fans couldn’t imagine how they could replace him. What defenseman could they trade for or sign to replace the captain of their squad? Well, instead of having to wait for a kind of move like that, the Ducks had the solution land right in their lap. Cam Fowler’s painstaking wait to be drafted finally ended when the Ducks took him with the 12th overall pick.

Sure, Fowler won’t immediately reinstate Niedermeyer’s veteran presence, but if he can make the team in 2010-2011, the Ducks will get instant offense from their blueline. Fowler is one of the best skaters from an impressive draft class and he put it on display in Windsor last year, scoring at a point-per-game clip. He is also pressure tested and will be out to make the teams that drafted other players ahead of him pay, so if he bulks up between now and the time he hits the ice at the Honda Center—watch out. I bet Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan’s mouths will water when they see Fowler in the lineup because Fowler is a great playmaker.

A team cannot make this blog post by taking just one good player and if one player falling in the Ducks’ lap wasn’t good enough, they somehow managed to land Long Beach-native Emerson Etem without even trading up. After the Flyers (who parted with their first round pick in their package for Chris Pronger) turned a pick in the mid teens to number 29 with their run to the Cup finals, the Ducks must have been pretty frustrated. But in the end, the player they got with the second-to-last pick of the first round was one they would have been wise to choose had Fowler not fallen to them at 12.

Before drafting a few possible sleepers in the later rounds, the Ducks snagged Mississauga fan favorite Devante Smith-Pelly. If you Google him to find a picture, you will see a 6-foot-7, 300-pound college linebacker in a hockey jersey. In reality, he is less than six feet tall. Don’t be fooled though, this guy will bring Anaheim fans to their feet by bringing to the team a hard nosed boulder of a power forward. At 211 pounds, Smith-Pelly is one of the heaviest players in the draft and has a good hockey sense to go with it.

After a couple a few average years, the Ducks may have pulled off their best draft since 2003, where they added a few key cogs to their 2007 Stanley Cup run in Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall), Corey Perry (28th overall), and Drew Milled (186th overall, sixth round).


If I knew at the time the Bruins traded Phil Kessel that I would start this blog, I could have told you that day that the Bruins would be on this list. With a pick at the beginning and middle of the first and second rounds, Boston would have had to mess things up really bad to come up with anything short of a stellar 2010 draft class.

The obvious headliner on his way to Beantown is Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin. Seguin brings with him a solid repertoire skills that could land him in the show right off the bat, even though the Bruins have three very good options at center in David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and if they keep him, Marc Savard. GM Peter Chiarelli may opt to make room on the team so Seguin can make his NHL debut in Prague in the fall.

The Bruins traded their own first round pick (as opposed to the one they got from Toronto) to Florida for some help on the wing in former third overall pick Nathan Horton. With these new additions, the Bruins are poised to make a solid run at home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and to make a deep run when they get there. They already had good defense and goaltending, but they desperately needed scoring, so they went out and got essentially the best point producer from another team and last year’s OHL scoring co-champion.

But the Bruins didn’t stop there. In round two, the Bruins drafted two of the most underrated players in the draft in Jered Knight and Ryan Spooner, two of the second-rounders most likely to play in the NHL this coming year. In terms of playing in the NHL this year, they both have the fact that they are centers going against them, but having too many centers is a good problem to have—or at least a better problem than if the problem were reversed (see: your very own Minnesota Wild…edit: Matt Cullen signed as I was typing this!). Don’t hold it against them if they don’t make the team, though—just know that the Bruins had a great second round and that they can call on these players if need be.

Spooner may have ended up in first-round territory, had he not suffered a broken collarbone in playing in Peterborough. Some compare him to Jeff Skinner in that he is a high-scoring player with a good hockey sense. Knight is somewhat of a sleeper. He is a speedy two-way center that can put the put in the net (he scored 36 goals in 63 games in the O). On an aside, I’m thinking Knight will try extra hard to make the B’s to escape the Jared Knight/London Knights jokes and/or puns that he must see a lot of in juniors. That must have gotten old by now, the same way Ducks/Fowl(er) references will get old in Anaheim…I assume.

Moving on. Another player I like that the Bruins took is Justin Florek of Northern Michigan University. Working as a locker room attendant at the NCAA West Regional, I walked by the team locker rooms and saw a lot of players (mainly on Wisconsin and St. Cloud) that made me think to myself, “This kid’s a pro prospect? I feel like I could knock him off the puck.” Florek was not one of those guys. He towered over me and had me looking up at him as he walked by me to get to the bench. Florek stands at 6-foot-4, 194 pounds and was a dominating force on the ice against St. Cloud. The Wildcats fell in overtime so St. Cloud, but Florek made his presence known, notching a goal and an assist.

Florek was one of two wingers the Bruins took in the draft. The other? Craig Cunningham. Cunningham lit up the Western Hockey League for 97 points in 72 games and continued his rampant scoring pace in the playoffs by pumping in 12 goals and adding 12 assists in 16 playoff games—good for sixth place in league scoring in the regular season and third in the playoffs. He is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, but he still managed to lead the Vancouver Giants to the WHL Western Conference Finals. If the Vancouver Giants is a name that sounds familiar to Bruins fans, that’s because Milan Lucic played for them before being signed by Boston. Cunningham played his rookie season in the WHL on the same team as Lucic (this past season was Cunningham’s fourth season with the G-men), so if Cunningham ever makes it to Boston, he will be greeted by a familiar face. That Giants team won the Memorial Cup, by the way.

The Bruins also added a North Dakota recruit Zane Gothberg, a goalie who played at Thief River Falls in Minnesota. Gothberg will have time to develop in college behind Brad Eidsness and after college, probably in Providence as a member of the Baby B’s. He projects to be a pretty good professional goalie, and this wouldn’t surprise me—he is going to the same school Ed Belfour went to.

The week of the draft brought a new crop of young talent and immediate NHL contributors to the Bay State. Chiarelli still has some work to do, but he’s in a good position for the present and the future, in large part thanks to this draft (and, in a way, Brian Burke and Phil Kessel).


The Hurricanes are always that team that you don’t take seriously until they come from nowhere beat you. The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins found that out in the 2009 playoffs. They never really look that formidable. Eric Staal and Cam Ward are really their only standout players—or the players that you don’t have to be a huge fan of the game to know about. This season, they were giving the Maple Leafs a run for their money for last place in the East before going on a huge run and getting back into serious playoff contention. No one thought they would win a Cup when they did in 2006 and something about them has made a lot fans not take them seriously even after they won it. I think their first round pick reflects this type of mentality.

Jeff Skinner is only 5-foor-10, but he can flat out score—and he can do that arguably better than anyone from this year’s draft. He scored 50 goals last season for Kitchener and added 20 more in 20 playoff games, leading the Rangers to the OHL Western Conference finals. There, Kitchener became the only team to beat the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL postseason, pushing the Spits to seven games. It’s funny that people knock him for his skating because he was at one time a nationally ranked figure skating in Canada. Watching some highlights of him, you can see some of his figure skating past in the way he skates now—that is if he doesn’t score before can take the time to notice it. I think Skinner will be a household name in Carolina (the way he is now in Kitchener) after a year or two in the NHL, especially if he can get bigger.

After drafting Skinner, the ‘Canes stocked up on defense. With two picks in the second round, Carolina took blueliners Justin Faulk (no, not the Wild’s Justin Falk) and incoming Gopher hockey freshman Mark Alt. The reason I emphasize the word hockey is because Alt was thinking of playing football in college, after being offered D-1 scholarships following a state championship football season at Cretin Derham Hall (the same high school Joe Mauer, Paul Molitor, Rangers prospect Ryan McDonagh, and million other great athletes attended). In the end, Alt chose hockey and will wearing maroon and gold in the fall. Alt is a very big kid at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and is one of the most athletic players in the draft. Now that he can focus on one sport, I think the gamble will pay off and the son of former Kansas City Chief John Alt will bulk up the Hurricanes’ blueline in a few years.

Justin Faulk will be on the opposite blueline from Alt in the fall as a Minnesota-Duluth recruit, making the two defensemen WCHA rivals. Faulk brings to the table a defenseman who can put up points with his good skating and hard shot. He can make due at his position at the other end of the rink, as well. Many sources note the St. Paul-native’s ability to effectively run the power play and win 1-on-1 battles. I don’t look forward to seeing Faulk play against the Gophers in the fall—we could be in for a low-scoring series.

The Hurricanes drafted two more players I’m interested in—Danny Biega and Justin Shugg. I think Biega, like Alt, will be an NHL defenseman someday, but I think Biega has some things in his way right now. Alt had football and Biega has school. Biega is trying to graduate from Harvard University in three years and as a student-athlete, that is no easy task. However, we now know that when he sets his mind on one goal, Biega can do almost anything. He showed this by training hard for the combine and dominating at it accordingly. Biega is a bit undersized for a defenseman, but if you don’t keep your head up against him, you’ll regret it when you’re lying on the ice in the neutral zone. Shugg is more of a sleeper because he was buried on a very deep Windsor Spitfires roster, but I think the ‘Canes stole this guy at 105th overall—he could have easily gone in the late second round.

Carolina will continue to sneak up on teams in the coming years like they have in the past couple years and in the 2010 draft, but maybe by the time some of these prospects develop, the NHL and its fans will see them coming and give them more respect. Fanhouse.com said Carolina was a loser in this year’s draft, but I disagree because my opinion of Jeff Skinner is much higher. We shall see…


The Oilers did really well in this draft. How could they not? They had three second round picks. With their first pick of the second round, they took Tyler Pitlick, nephew of former NHLer Lance Pitlick. Pitlick enjoyed a solid freshman season at Minnesota State Mankato, putting home 11 goals to go along with eight assists and 27 penalty minutes. I wasn’t crazy about him when Mankato played the Gophers at Mariucci in December when the Mavericks came in and beat Minnesota 3-1, but I thought he played much better the next day as he scored two goals in the second half of the home-and-home series (oddly enough, the Gophers won that game 6-2). I think Pitlick is better than his numbers indicate and that his switch to major junior hockey will show that. I think the Oilers got somewhat of a steal taking Pitlick in the second round.

Other solid picks made by Edmonton were giant Slovakian defender Martin Marincin (who THN calls potentially the next Zdeno Chara), the hard-working Curtis Hamilton, and Ryan Martindale. Each of these players comes with some sort of baggage. Marincin sounds like a pretty good player to have on your team. He is a good passer and has a pretty good hockey sense, but he doesn’t possess a ton of skill and doesn’t offer a whole lot more than his size. Hamilton is a good overall player, but he does have durability issues. If he can crack the roster and stay healthy someday, I think Hamilton will be a very useful player for Edmonton. Martindale, who the Oilers took in the third round, is a big center that puts up pretty good numbers, but has consistency issues and doesn’t quite know how to use his 6-foot-3, 183-pound frame yet. There is a chance that all three of these players and that any of the players that the Oilers took after the second round become good assets to the team, but I think only one or two of these three picks will.

Caught up in all the Pitlick, Marincin, Hamilton, and Martindale hype, there is another player the Oilers drafted that might be pretty decent. Taylor Hall, the winger from the Windsor Spitfires. Hall had a mediocre career with the Spits, logging an acceptable 356 points (158-198-356) in 227 games over three seasons. All joking aside (and yes, not mentioning Hall right away was part of the joke), Hall will probably be on the Oilers’ roster right away. He will be one of the main reasons the Oilers improve on their 30th-place finish in the NHL, along with the return of Ales Hemsky, who put up 22 points in 22 games before suffering a season-ending injury, and the addition of promising rookies Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson—hey, now that I think about it they really might be pretty good next year.

Hall was a co-scoring champion of the OHL along with Tyler Seguin, but Hall’s Spitfires dominated Seguin’s Plymouth Whalers in the second round of the OHL playoffs. It is true that the Windsor Spitfires probably could have done well if you put them in the AHL, but one of the main reasons they won the Memorial Cup two years in a row was because of Hall. After all, he was the first player to ever win two Stafford Smythe trophies (Mem Cup MVP). Hall is a game-changer. Anyone who draws comparisons to NHL legends Pavel Bure and Teemu Selanne must be. In the WJC, Hall tied for third in the tourney in scoring, averaging a goal and an assist per game. He potted a goal and two assists in the gold medal loss to Team USA. Not only does Hall put up points, but a lot of plays he makes are highlight reel ones—he has great speed and great hands and he’s just a winner.

Sure, the Oilers probably aren’t in position to win a Cup or make a deep run in the next year, but it’s not out of the question that they could be the next Blackhawks with Hall and Eberle being similar to the Jonathan Toews/Pat Kane combo. Eberle, Hall, and Paajarvi-Svensson were all in the WJC’s top ten in scoring and Eberle is probably one of the most clutch players (two separate links there) in Canadian hockey history, before even stepping foot on NHL ice. Expect the Oilers to be contenders in a couple years or whenever they can add more pieces around these three and can stay healthy.


GM Dale Tallon had one of the best drafts I’ve seen in a while. Prior to the draft, he acquired the 15th overall pick (plus Dennis Wideman and a third rounder in 2011) from the Bruins in exchange for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell. The acquisition of Wideman made former Gopher Keith Ballard expendable, so he shipped Ballard and Victor Oreskovich to Vancouver for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner, and Vancouver’s first round pick (25th overall).

I think Grabner and Bernier are great additions to Florida’s team especially now that they are trying to replace Horton, who probably would have been the team’s leading scorer if not gotten injured. In addition to adding offense to the current team, Tallon and the Panthers made 13 picks over the two days.

With those picks, the Panthers added a lot of talent to their organization. With the third pick, Florida selected Eric Gudbranson, a towering blueliner who will probably end up being the face of the franchise someday. I see Gudbranson making the big club next season or in 2011 at the latest. The Panthers added even more size to their defense by taking Alex Petrovic in the second round. When Gudbranson, Petrovic, Keaton Ellerby, and Dmitry Kulikov take over on D and Jacob Markstrom becomes the man in net (Tomas Vokoun’s pretty good in the mean time), Florida will be one of the hardest teams to score on in the NHL.

In addition to these big D-men, the Panthers added plenty of offense by drafting (very near) future Gopher Nick Bjugstad, Sudbury’s John McFarland and center and two-way team guy Quinton Howden at left wing. Bjugstad, Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey, will add speed, size and a hard shot up front while Howden will help fill any role necessary and will aid the team in the faceoff department. McFarland, considered to be the most overrated players in the draft by ISS, could be a risk, but the Panthers could afford to take the gamble because they made so many more picks.

Connor Brickley, nephew of Bruins color guy (and former Bruin/UNH Wildcat) Andy Brickley, was the second-highest rated USHL prospect in the draft by hockeysfuture.com. The Vermont-bound (2011) center will bring size and an big, aggressive presence down the road. Future UMD Bulldog Joe Basaraba is a talented forward as well.

As an avid follower of Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo—former Florida Panthers beat writer—I heard a lot a lot of gushing over Florida’s draft and when I took a closer look, I must say the praise is much deserved.


Warning: an El Nino hitting Long Island. I foolishly hoped Nino Niederreiter would slip to the Wild at number nine and my heart sunk when I watched him join Entourage’s Kevin Connolly on the STAPLES Center stage. Niederreiter is one of the few players who could be NHL-ready this year. He has the size to play in the League already and although he is very young, I think he has what it takes to make a difference on an NHL team right now. His one-handed wrist shot is harder than Kim Johnsson’s slap shot and he has a knack for scoring big goals, as we witnessed when he scored a goal in the last minute of the World Junior quarterfinal game against Russia and when finished the job with the OT winner.

With the last pick of the first round, the Islanders took future North Dakota [Insert new school nickname here] Brock Nelson. Nelson a big power forward who shares a bloodline with American hockey heroes Bill and Dave Christian (gold medalists in 1960 and 1980, respectively) was simply unstoppable in high school for Warroad (Minnesota). He averaged an absurd 2.92 points per game and will hope his vision and quick hands help him show that weak competition wasn’t the only reason he put up big numbers. He still has some developing to do in Grand Forks, but I think he’ll be a big asset to the Islanders down the road.

In the third round, Islanders GM Garth Snow was “that guy.” After two rounds of watching what could be the best talent in the draft get passed up, Snow put Russian question mark Kirill Kabanov out of his misery by selecting him with the fifth pick of the third round. Kabanov could be the most talented player in the draft, but he raised red flags by leaving Moncton of the QMJHL and getting kicked off the Russian Under-18 team. I know it looks bad, but to me this doesn’t look like a kid that will bail on the Islanders for the KHL. He did all he could do to prove that after he was selected. Some say the problems surrounding Kabanov could have been caused by his parents. If Kabanov pans out for New York, GMs around the league will be kicking themselves for not taking him. A future offense that includes John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Rob Schremp, Niederreiter, Nelson, and Kabanov (all of those players except Kabanov are former first round picks) should be enough to give Atlantic Division defenses nightmares.

Ten years to the day after Mike Milbury destroyed this once-great organization, Garth Snow may have revived it with this draft. I think the organization is a little shallow in the defense department, so if Islander fans can stomach one more bad year and Snow can draft a stud defenseman like Adam Larsson next year to add to the likes of Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, and Gopher Aaron Ness, the Islanders could be dangerous in the future.


After watching the Capitals obliterate the Southeast Division, the Eastern Conference, and actually the entire NHL in the regular season, I didn’t think Washington would add that many good prospects with late draft picks, but I didn’t think they really need it. The Hershey Bears are in the Calder Cup conversation every year and won it again this year. They have been able to call up prospects at crucial times in the season and receive instant production for the past few years and even though they had a late first round pick and no second rounder, they did indeed add to it this past weekend.

With their first two picks, the Caps laughed right in the face of the “Russian Factor” by taking Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev. I mean, why not? They already have a couple pretty good Russian players on their team right now. Kuznetsov called the KHL his home last year and probably would have gone closer to the middle of the first round if he wasn’t from Russia and hadn’t been disappointing before making the Under-18 Six Nations tournament look like Rookie mode on NHL10. Other than his lack of physical play and consistency problems that I think will go away with his willingness to succeed, there isn’t much of a downside to this pick. He could be a project, but the Caps are a team that can afford to work on it.

Galiev has a couple question marks, but I think he easily could have been taken in the late first or second round, so the Russian-laden Capitals were smart to snap him up late in the third round. Galiev, a Russian who seems to want to play in North America, impressed scouts with his size, skill, and good offensive instincts, but did not produce a ton of points in his rookie season in the QMJHL. I expect him to recover from his statistical “let down” of a season and make a difference for Washington if they have room for him in a few years.

Another player who slipped to the Capitals, but for a more reasonable reason—not every team needs another goalie (although as Dale Tallon said, it’s never bad to have too many good goalies)—was German backstop Phillip Grubauer. In the World Under-20 Championship Division I Group A, where the winner would be promoted to the top group for 2011, Grubauer posted a 5-0 record with three shutouts, a 0.64 GAA, and .974 save percentage to ensure Germany got first place. After the tournament Grubauer was traded from the OHL’s Belleville Bulls to Windsor, where he went 13-1-1 and had a 2.37 GAA and .906 save percentage, helping the Spitfires repeat as Memorial Cup Champions.

In addition to these three picks, Washington added Minnesota-Duluth-bound Caleb Herbert and high scoring Lewiston MAINEiac defenseman Samuel Carrier. The Capitals didn’t have great picks to work with and didn’t do much to help the positions they drafted from, but I think for a team that can only add more gas to the giant forest fire of talent they have—including prospects and young players that already have good NHL experience under their belt and don’t count as prospects anymore—they did really well.



Thirteen teams didn’t make a pick in the second round and only nine of the 17 teams that had picks only had one pick. This means that eight teams had multiple picks in the second round and of all teams, the defending Stanley Cup Champions had the most with four. After making a questionable pick in Kevin Hayes in the first round, the Blackhawks added a good crop of talent by taking the tall Swedish winger Ludvig Rensfeldt, defensemen Justin Holl and Stephen Johns and goalie Kent Simpson, all good picks in my opinion. Actually, I wouldn’t have found any of those picks much crazier than picking Hayes in the first round. GM Stan Bowman may have somewhat dismantled his banner-raising team, but the core is still there and through good trades and draft picks, he has reloaded it inexpensively.


After first-round pick, Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan, was arrested in April for public intoxication and minor consumption, I felt this guy had AJ Thelen written all over him. Some say he’s overrated, but some say his production was lacking because of the defense-first system Notre Dame employs under coach Jeff Jackson. That said, he is a good defensive forward—worthy of his late first-round flier. However, I think Detroit did their damage in the later rounds. The late-surging Calle Jarnkrok of Sweden was a steal and the underachieving Louis-Marc Aubry was worth a flier, but taking Teemu Pulkkinen at 111th overall was, in my opinion, one of the best picks in the entire draft.

Pulkkinen could have been a first round pick. It is beyond me how he fell to late in the fourth round. Pulkkinen and Wild first rounder Mikael Granlund were an unstoppable tandem as linemates in international play. It was Pulkkinen who scored ten goals in six games and won best forward at the World U-18s. Pulkkinen is one of the most underrated players in the draft and he is one of the top scorers because of his creativity and lethal shot. This could be Detroit’s biggest steal since Henrik Zetterberg. Like Chicago, I’m not crazy about Detroit’s first round pick, but what they did after made it a great weekend.


The hosts of this year’s draft didn’t have a ton of picks in the draft, but they sure made the most of the ones they had. Their first pick went to the towering Minnesotan defenseman Derek Forbort—the first of six players taken in the draft that are 6-foot-5 or taller. Forbort can make offense by joining the rush or causing havoc in front of the net on the power play and he is responsible defensively. God help the Pacific Division when Forbort is on defense with Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey, and Colten Teubert.

The Kings also added some serious offense by getting Ottawa 67 goal scorer Tyler Toffoli and Jordan Weal, who somehow slid to the hosts in the third round. Toffoli is a competitive player with a good shot that aids him in being labeled as a natural goal scorer. Weal is listed by NHL.com at 5-foot-10, by The Hockey News at 5-foot-9, and somewhere in between by ISS, but THN says some he’s closer to a Nathan Gerbe-like 5-foot-7. Clearly, this was the main reason he slipped, but even in the second round, I would have found it hard to pass up on a guy who had over 100 points in the WHL if I were a GM.


Like LA, Nashville didn’t have too many picks to work with, but still came out as winners in my book. They took gritty Californian defenseman Taylor Aronson and Patrick Cehlin looks like he will be a good two-way forward coming out of the top league in Sweden. The pick I really love that Nashville made was their first one—Austin Watson. Watson, one of 11 Americans taken in the first round of the draft, is one of my favorites. Based on what he sacrificed to get to this point as a player, I am confident that he will do everything it takes and more to become an NHLer.

A big, two-way forward, who grew up playing in Michigan while living with his grandparents after his family moved to Florida, Watson produced at a two-point-per-game pace in Peterborough. After winning a Mem Cup with Windsor, Watson proved that he wasn’t hiding behind the depth of a great team by ramping up his game after allowing the Spitfires to trade him to the Petes. He proved his competitiveness and great hockey sense were real. I was pleased to see Hungry Hill (Springfield, MA)-native and Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton (I am a Paul Fenton Hockey Camp alum) make Watson Nashville’s first round pick—it was a good one.


The Devils didn’t have a pick in the first round, but they might as well have. They swiped highly-touted Michigan recruit Jon Merrill with the eighth pick in round number two. A lot of people love Merrill and there isn’t much not to love. ISS predicted Merrill would land with the Ducks with the 12th overall pick and if Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley weren’t still on the board, I wouldn’t have been surprised. ISS says Merrill has Norris Trophy potential and that he shouldn’t be in the college ranks too long—that there isn’t a situation he isn’t dominant in. THN had Merrill ranked 31st-overall and I thought that was low, but New Jersey made out like gangbusters by taking him at 38.

The Devils went a little off the board by selecting Scott Wedgewood with their third round pick, but I love their first round pick Joe Faust. Faust led Bloomington-Jefferson to the Section 2AA finals by scoring a nice overtime winner against Burnsville in the semis and is heading to Princeton next year. He seems like a good overall player with character who needs some developing and will be doing just that as he changes from a Jaguar into a Tiger next fall. The Devils had by far the best draft out of teams sans a first round pick.


The Blues took the first NCAA-bound player in the draft, nabbing incoming Colorado College Tiger freshman Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz is a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, but it would have been hard to pass up on a guy who broke the scoring record at a storied Athol Murray College of Notre Dame program (alums include Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Wendel Clark…the list goes on) by putting up 111 points in 44 games (what?!). He followed that up by putting up the USHL’s highest point total (83) since Tomas Vanek, so forgive the Blues for biting on this one. Schwartz just gets it done.

The Blues made two more picks I liked. Two picks after taking Schwartz, who many considered a reach, they took Russian sensation Vladimir Tarasenko at 16. Tarasenko’s stock supposedly suffered from the Russian factor, but I like the pick. Tarasenko has lightning speed, a quick release, and is effective in all situations—he is no stranger to the shorthanded goal. He is close to being NHL-ready if the Blues can get him over here and if they can…well, I’d rather not think about how good that would make the Central Division. I’ll take anyone mentioned in the same sentence as Alex Ovechkin (even if it was calling him a “poor man’s Ovechkin”) and ranked number four overall by ISS. Chances are that at least one of their first rounders will eventually be a Blue and will make them a lot better.

The other pick I liked was incoming Gopher frosh Max Gardiner, brother of Wisconsin Badger and Anaheim Ducks first round draftee, Jake Gardiner. Gardiner left a good impression on me when I saw him face Nick Bjugstad’s Blaine Bengals in Minnesota high school action. Both number 27s (Gardiner and Bjugstad) looked considerably bigger and better than everyone on the ice, although little Minnetonka freshman Max Coatta got a hat trick. Because of the riskiness of some of the Blues picks, I couldn’t put their draft with the first teams I mentioned—but I do like what St. Louis did here.


It could be because I followed this draft more than any draft in the past, but I though it was very entertaining. Every team came away with something different on the weekend and there were a lot of off the board picks and deep sleepers (or at least that is how they are though of now). I don't think there were any Sidney Crosbys, Alex Ovechkins, Bobby Orrs or Wayne Gretzkys taken, but the class of 2010 was very talented and deep. Six teams didn’t pick in the first round: Toronto, Calgary (I thought the Flames had a good draft considering…), Philadelphia, Ottawa, New Jersey (mentioned above if you skimmed), and Vancouver. Calgary, Philly, and Ottawa didn’t pick until the third round, Toronto had to trade up to get a second rounder (Brad Ross), and Vancouver’s first pick didn’t come until the fourth round, 115 overall (love it). Swiss goalie and WJC hero Benjamin Conz and Swede sleeper Jonathan Johansson went completely undrafted, which was a shock to me.

Just as a side note to people who know me, I did not include any teams on here because they are favorite teams of my friends. I think the Bruins (Pete Stevens and Chris Tranghese…and many others who may or may not have recently jumped on the bandwagon), Ducks (Cam Napolitan), Capitals (Ryan O’Toole), and any other teams my friends may like on here had great drafts. This paragraph was my shout out to those people (you should also follow Pete Stevens’ and Ryan O’Toole’s blogs, by the way).

OK I’m on my thirteenth page in Microsoft Word here, so if you’re still reading this, congratulations and thank you. I know it’s a lot, so I apologize again for making this a summer reading book. Even if you skimmed this, I hope you learned something. Maybe your opinions of some players were weakened or strengthened; maybe you agree with some of my evaluations, maybe you disagree completely with all of them (although I think it’s hard to say Florida had a bad draft, but if you think so, I guess I can respect that).

Either way, I’m glad you toughed it out and read this. I know it was long—trust me, I wrote it. It’s the longest “piece” I’ve ever written, even in college. Remember, being left off list doesn’t mean team didn’t draft well, but these are the teams and players that stuck out to me the most, so don’t panic if I didn’t mention your favorite team. It’s not like I’m a GM or a scout (but that would be awesome someday—as for now, I do my best and use the best sources I can find). Thanks again for reading. I hope to get a free agent frenzy-related post or posts up soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Wild's 2010 Draft in Review

The 2010 NHL Entry Draft had the usual amount of buzz going in, but there turned out to be little movement of NHL players, like there usually is. The draft itself, however (after the top two or three), was as unpredictable as ever. I think the Wild did as well as I could have anticipated, even though they were faced with a tough decision at pick number nine. I watched the draft the first round at a bar in Louisville, Colorado and flew home just in time to watch most of the second round on NHL.com in Minneapolis. Now that the draft is behind us, I’ll analyze the Wild’s weekend and introduce you to the newest members of the organization:

In the end, the Wild went with what they needed most, a center, by picking
Mikael Granlund. They failed to make a trade to acquire an NHL second-line center that they still may need (depending on Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s progress by the start of the season), but still have some time to make a deal. They have ample defensemen to use as assets, with plenty of depth built up from previous drafts and Josh Harding waiting for a trade that will make him a number one goaltender for a team with the need for one.

Granlund seems to have been the best center left on the board at nine, with Tyler Seguin, Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner, and Alexander Burmistrov already taken, but I think Granlund has the potential to compare with any of those players, despite his small stature. That said, I think every player taken before number nine has a good shot to be effective in the NHL.

Granlund was Central Scouting’s top-ranked European skater, notching 40 points (13-27—40) in 43 games for HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League—the European league that is most comparable to the NHL in terms of a more physical style of play. It looks like Granlund could make the Wild (or at least come play for Houston) after playing out the final year of his contract in Finland because he seems to be close to being NHL-ready. If the Wild can’t trade for a second-line center or find one in free agency, Granlund will obviously have a good shot to make the team sooner rather than later.

In a year where the draft was dominated by North Americans—as many American high schoolers were taken in the first round as European players—I would normally want the Wild to take a college or Canadian major junior player, but in this case, I am completely on board with their pick. I think Cam Fowler or Brandon Gormley would have been great additions to the organization, but I believe Granlund was the right choice.

In addition to the six D-men Minnesota has slated to make the team next year (I include Clayton Stoner in this group and assume Shane Hnidy is gone), there is Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, Maxim Noreau, and Nate Prosser waiting in the wings. In addition to filling a void in the organization’s depth chart with a very talented player, the Wild added another Finn. With Mikko Koivu captaining a lineup that already includes Finns Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom, Granlund will have multiple sources of support when he eventually makes the team, making it an ideal situation for him. I think drafting a Finnish player will also help Fletcher re-sign Koivu—something he must get done as soon as possible.

Granlund has been compared to Mikko’s brother, Saku, a Finnish legend a longtime captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He isn’t the biggest player out there (although his weight is comparable to any of the forwards taken before him other than Nino Niederreiter and he weighs over 20 pounds more than Alexander Burmistrov who was taken eighth overall), but he makes up for it with a great hockey sense and a high compete level. Hopefully Granlund can meet and skate with a few of his future teammates when the Wild travels to Helsinki for its opening games against the Carolina Hurricanes.

In addition to landing a very solid first round pick, the Wild had a very active Day Two, including a three-pick second round.

Minnesota’s round two started with the 39th overall selection where the Wild may have made a reach, taking Brett Bulmer of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. He was the first Kelowna player to be drafted in the second round since 2004, when the New York Islanders took Blake Comeau with the 47th overall pick. Bulmer is a power forward who, although he is described by Rockets broadcaster and blogger Regan Bartel as soft-spoken, is not afraid to drop the mitts. Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr has said he has a “nastiness” to him that he likes. While I think the Wild could have possibly waited to pick Bulmer with the 26th pick in the second round (or even later)—he was projected to go anywhere from the third to the sixth round—I can’t argue with the pick. According to Flahr, teams were starting to talk about him around the time the Wild took him. I think Bulmer will help the Wild in going with the team toughness route that GM Chuck Fletcher is trying to get to, now that enforcers Derek Boogaard and John Scott seem to be on the way out.

After a slow start to the season, Bulmer skyrocketed 99 spots in the Central Scouting rankings, going from 164th in the midseason rankings to 65th in the final rankings, clearly showing improvement after a subpar start to his WHL career. Bulmer had six goals and ten assists in a weak first half of the season, including a month-long stretch in November where he went pointless. He also had only one fight before the midway point in the season. In the second half of the season, however, Bulmer turned it around in the second half by scoring seven goals and adding 17 helpers while proving to be a physical presence with six fighting majors and 58 penalty minutes. He scored three goals in the first four games of the Rockets’ playoff series against the Everett Silvertips and added an assist to help Kelowna to a first round upset. Not only did Bulmer receive a much higher final ranking by Central Scouting as a result of his increased productivity, but he also received the Rockets’ Most Improved Player Award.

The Wild returned to international waters with their second pick of the second round, which they acquired from Washington in exchange for Eric Belanger at the trade deadline.
Johan Larsson, a versatile center/winger, plays for Brynas of the Swedish League, but made a name for himself as Sweden’s captain in the IIHF U-18 Tournament in April. Larsson had been known as a two-way player that would chip in with some offense every now and then, but showed in the U-18 tournament that he had offensive upside, raising his stock to a potential late first/early second round selection. According to his ranking (34th among European skaters), it looks like the Wild reached again, but I think that may not be so.

In five games at the Under-18 tournament, Larsson proved to be an offensive juggernaut, posting six goals and eight assists and finishing one point behind Finland’s Teemu Pulkkinen (Mikael Granlund’s line mate) for the tournament’s scoring title. He even scored more goals and had more points than Granlund himself. Larsson’s one downside may be his skating which is said to have improved as of time of the U-18s, but it seems that he is a hard worker and a tough competitor and that his two-way game was enough to make him draft-worthy—the potential offensive explosiveness that was hinted at the U-18 tournament could be a bonus. I like the upside in this pick and I think because Larsson was one of the younger players in the draft, he has a good shot at developing into a good NHL player if he can reach his potential.

After trading their third and fourth round picks to Florida for another late second rounder, the Wild took Nevada-native
Jason Zucker. Zucker was the first Nevada-trained player (he was born in California) ever to be drafted by an NHL team. Zucker and goalie Jack Campbell (selected 11th overall by Dallas) were the only two Americans to win three gold medals for their country in the same year by winning the 2009 and 2010 U-18 championships and by shocking Canada in the final of the World Juniors. Zucker was the youngest player on the World Junior team. He will follow a trend of California-born players to attend Denver University in the fall.

As a side note, I must say that recruiting players from California has worked so far for Denver with forwards Gabe Gauthier and Rhett Rakhshani turning into captains of successful Pioneer teams. New Californian-born players Zucker and Beau Bennett (selected 20th overall by Pittsburgh) may or may not stay long enough to be named captains, but will likely continue the trend of success. Even after losing a strong senior class, the Pioneers may not miss a step in the tough WCHA because they recruit so well, using the entire country and Canada to find new talent.

Back to Zucker. I think the Wild showed value for Zucker’s skill set by trading away two picks to get him. He plays a physical game and has some speed and is projected to be a checking line forward in the NHL because he can’t finish enough to be on a scoring line. I think that if any college hockey coach could help Zucker develop a scoring touch (and develop overall), it’s Denver’s George Gwozdecky, who has put the DU hockey program back on the map in the last decade. I was very excited to see Fletcher find a way to get Zucker. I loved watching him play in the World Juniors, fitting in with a tournament full of older players, and I can’t wait to see him play at Mariucci Arena in February and probably on TV again in the WJC.

Had the second day of the draft had the pace of the first day, I could have taken a nice, long nap in between the Wild’s pick of Jason Zucker in the second round and their next pick—Johan Gustafsson in the sixth round. It was still a long wait, but what they got in return for it was worth it, in my opinion (their third and fourth-round picks went for Zucker and their fifth rounder for was traded for Brad Staubitz, who will make an impact in the coming season as a grinder/fighter).

Anyway, the Wild drafted Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson, who I’m sure I’ll mistake for Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson because they have similar names, are about the same size, and play the same position, with the 159th pick of the draft. Minutes later, Gustaffson surprised everyone at the Wild draft table by unexpectedly introducing himself. Gustaffson was the fifth-ranked European goalie by Central Scouting and he plays for Färjestads BK of Sweden (coincidentally the same team Gustavsson played for before leaving for the NHL), but will be playing for VIK Västerås next year. He was one of Sweden’s starting goalies in the World Under-18 Tournament, playing with fellow Wild 2010 draft pick Johan Larsson in a silver-medal campaign. He faced Jason Zucker and gold medal-winning Team USA twice in the tournament, allowing two goals on 19 shots in a 4-2 win in the preliminary round and letting in three goals on 33 shots in a 3-1 loss the gold-medal game (Zucker assisted on the third goal in the gold medal game). Sweden did not face Mikael Granlund’s Team Finland.

Gustaffson had a lower GAA (2.02) and higher save percentage (.918) than highly-touted Canadian goaltender Calvin Pickard in the tournament, although Pickard got more playing time and faced more shots. Gustaffson’s showing at the World U-18s raised his stock after an average start on his Swedish League team. Interestingly, The Hockey News ranked Gustaffson 94th overall in their draft preview, while Wild second rounders Brett Bulmer and Johan Larsson went unranked. I think this was another solid pick by Flahr and company. With depth at goaltender with the likes of Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper, Gustaffson will have plenty of time to get better, so I think the Wild made a smart choice with a late-round pick.

Moving on to the last round of the draft, the Wild took Dylen McKinlay of WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins. McKinlay has gotten in a few scraps for the Bruins, but isn’t said to be an overly physical player. He started his WHL career as a checking line winger, but has developed into a somewhat of a scorer. If he can add some muscle to his 5’10’’, 162-pound frame, he may develop into a late round steal for the Wild. Like most of the Wild’s picks, it will take some time to see how McKinlay pans out, but it was nice to see the Wild not waste their last pick in the draft with this pick.

The Wild took one center and one goalie and stocked up on wings with their other four picks in this draft. Every pick has some serious upside and after Granlund (who went from a possible top-five pick to nine—not bad in my book), it seems like every player the Wild drafted would be ranked higher if a new set of rankings came out, as Bulmer, Larsson, and McKinlay finished their seasons strong, showing offensive potential in addition to another attributes such as physicality and versatility. Despite having more exposure than a lot of players drafted later in the second round, they also snagged Jason Zucker, who may have what it takes to become the first Nevada-trained player to play in the NHL. Assistant GM Brent Flahr made sure the Wild selected players that, with some development, should be able to play in a physical league like the NHL (or AHL) and add some scoring. The Wild wanted the biggest, fastest, strongest, and most skilled players that had character and I think it looks like they did a good job finding them.

Obviously, it’s too early to tell how the Wild made out in this draft with its selections, but I think as long as Fletcher continues to be patient with his players, the Wild will end up with a couple really good NHL contributors here or at least some good trading assets. Going into the draft, I didn’t think the Wild could go wrong with their first pick, unless they went off the board like they (kind of) did last year with Nick Leddy—and they didn’t disappoint, drafting one of, if not, the smartest player in the draft with high-end talent in Granlund. Although I think the four Minnesotans in the first round of this draft will turn out to be solid pros, I’m glad they didn’t give them a home state advantage, like I think they gave Leddy last year. Leddy got off to a poor start last season possibly because it seemed he had the whole state riding on him as a member of the Gophers and a part of the Wild organization, but once he was traded to Chicago, he flipped the switch and earned the team’s Rookie of the Year Award.

We’ll probably never know what Fletcher was offered for the ninth pick when his phone was ringing off the hook with Fowler and Gormley still on the board, but I’m happy that he kept it and made a good pick. After they passed up on Jordan Schroeder (I think the best in-state pick they could have made in the past two years, who ended up with the arch-rival Canucks) twice last season, I was happy to see that Fletcher realized that there was still a great player left when their name was called.

I do think the Wild passed up on some good players (I think Kirill Kabanov, Jordan Weal, and others will end up being steals, despite their respective risks), but that the “sleeper-ish” picks they made will end up doing just fine. They made more picks in the top two rounds than they ever did with Doug Risebrough as GM and our first round pick isn’t being automatically being thrust into the NHL, which is a good thing. Hopefully the Wild can get a spark from one or more of these players in the coming years. If not, hopefully they can land a really high pick in the next draft or two and can build a Stanley Cup contender like Pittsburgh and Chicago have done in the past few years. I would take a few years of finishing even closer to the bottom for a true contending team after witnessing how it can pay off, but after a year under the Fletcher/Richards regime, I know now that the Wild brass will try its best to contend in the current season—every year.