Never a bad seat in the house...
Once again, if you haven't read Dan's thoughts on Team White please check it out. Today I had the pleasure of checking out Team Green, who despite falling to Team White 3-2 in regulation, was extremely interesting to watch. With three of the top offensive Wild prospects and defenseman Marco Scandella, there was more of an emphasis on having fun and scoring pretty goals rather than lighting up the scoreboard. Normally that would be a cause for concern but this was a friendly scrimmage and it's hard to fault kids for wanting to have some fun and entertain the crowd of 3500.
Team Green Line Combinations:
Johan Larsson - Mikael Granlund - Zack Phillips
Kris Foucault - Jack Connolly (UMD) - J.T. Brown (UMD)
Carter Sandlak (Belleville [OHL]) - Taylor Peters (Portland [WHL]) - Mike Kramer (Princeton [ECAC])
Marco Scandella - Nick Seeler
Kyle Medvec - David Makowski (Denver U)
Josh Caron - Dylan Busenius (Medicine Hat [WHL])
Mikael Granlund: The Finnish chosen one and for good reason. Granlund is a playmaker who puts others to shame with his creativity and dangling skills; it's almost Pavel Datsyuk-like. Mikael's linemates Johan Larsson and Zack Phillips each had multiple opportunities due to Granlund waiting the extra second or finding a lane no one else so. Although it didn't seem as if he was the best skater on the ice, Granlund knows when to pick his battles and engage on both ends of the ice. The scary thing about Mikael was that at times it felt like he was just out there to have fun and looked at this scrimmage like it was a pickup game. His main motive was to set up others although Granlund did score the first Team Green goal from the top of the slot off of an excellent pass by Johan Larsson.
And of course there is the sequel to yesterday's shootout masterpiece:
This is the only video out there of Granlund's shootout goal. Sorry for the poor quality.
Johan Larsson: Larsson wasn't the most consistent player on Sunday but was able to hold his own with Granlund and Zack Phillips. Playing on the wing Sunday instead of at center, at times Johan was able to show off his strengths as he looked for the cycle and creating plays from the boards; this resulted in both Green goals. While similar in some ways to Granlund (the jury is out on whether that is or is not a good thing), Larsson disappeared for stretches of play and would appear to not be on the same page as the rest of the team. This weekend didn't give the best view of Larsson - he's a player who fans should look for in a game environment if possible - but at least those in attendance were able to see his wicked wrister.
Marco Scandella: At 6'3" 206 lbs, Scandella is a man amongst boys. This was apparent throughout the scrimmage where he was able to take control of the blue line and force everyone to the outside effortlessly. His skating looked great, was fairly physical and was highly reliable other than one poor decision where Jonas Brodin easily poke checked the puck away and started an odd-man rush. At times he was even able to carry his partner Nick Seeler to good play, which isn't the easiest thing to do. I don't know if Scandella is ready for the NHL full-time but he's putting himself in a good position to make the Wild in October.
Zack Phillips: If there is a MVP of the weekend, Zack Phillips deserves it. After two goals yesterday, the 18 year-old Phillips added a third tally today off of an excellent series of passes. Although he doesn't have the best acceleration and takes four to five strides to get going to full speed, Phillips is not a liability on the forecheck. If anything, Phillips knows his limitations and uses that to his advantage by being a body down low. I also enjoyed seeing him play on both ends of the ice; Zack was physical and not afraid to use his body to slow down opposing forwards or start a new cycle. After having some worries about whether or not he was the product of a stacked Saint John team, this weekend has shown who Phillips is and makes the Brent Burns trade look even better.
Nick Seeler: Like Mario Lucia yesterday, there were moments of potential with Seeler's play but his age (just turned 18 in June) and size (6'2" 185) came into play during Sunday's scrimmage. Seeler was not too strong on his skates as he was continually pushed around and outmuscled; I counted four times during the first half where someone was able to knock him over. At the same time he was inconsistent (either playing well or poorly) and was saved by Scandella at times. The good news for Seeler is that he is still young and a project. Having a coach like Dean Blais at Nebraska-Omaha will do wonders with developing his potential.
Kris Foucault: Foucault is an interesting prospect. After lighting the CHL playoffs on fire for Calgary a couple years ago, he has been extremely quiet. Watching Foucault today was a similar tale of two players as at times he was completely invisible, floating around or had stone hands while other times Kris was out in charge. It seemed to depend on who Foucault was playing with as he was at his best when picking up a few shifts with Granlund and Phillips. If anything, Foucault reminds me of Wild center Kyle Brodziak where his play is elevated with elite players but is not elite enough to do the same with less talented guys.
Kyle Medvec: Watching Kyle play was refreshing. He wasn't the best player on the ice by any means but always worked his butt off. Medvec was perfectly fine with staying back when defensive partner David Makowski pinched in and had the awareness and ability to get in position to stop odd-man rushes. While not a great shot, he was able to use his size as a cheat. It was successful today but I'm not sure how well that will work at the next level. Only time will tell, but it's hard to not see Medvec working his butt off regardless.
Jack Connolly: Did exactly what I expected him to do after watching Connolly play against the Gophers for years and that is to be a thorn in the opponent's side. Alongside J.T. Brown (who also was a great grinder although didn't really get the opportunity to show his shot besides the shootout), Connolly was the leader of the second line. Almost scoring off of a tip to open the second half, he was always in the right position creating offense and really made his mark by forechecking like a madman. After years of being a Wild fan, it was great to see some of that speed and hustle put to good use; at one point Connolly created two giveaways on one shift. A free agent (and a Minnesotan), it wouldn't be surprising to see Chuck Fletcher give Connolly a look after the Bulldogs finish their season (especially if this person has anything to do with it).
Matt Hackett; Extremely solid between the pipes. Although Hackett was less busy than Darcy Kuemper (Green outshot White 14-7 in the first half), he had to make a few good saves and made them look easy due to being in the right position at the right time. Unlike Stephen Michalek, who is a little more active, or Anton Khudobin, who literally scares the shit out of me, Hackett plays the angles and is calm without overreacting. Not too many 21 year-olds can claim that.
Obviously that's not everyone so if are curious about anyone left off the list tweet me (@gopherstate) or ask in the comments and I'll throw in my two cents. I had a blast this weekend watching the future take center stage and feel great about it after years of a thin or non-existent prospect pool.