2011 NHL Draft Profiles: Mario Lucia



There's still another thirty regular season games to be played, but it's never too early to look at this year's NHL Entry Draft. Like the "An In-Depth Look At The Future..." series of posts which feature Wild prospects, these are taking a look at some young prospects and why they would or would not be a good fit for the Wild. I'll be the first to admit that while I am hockey savvy, I'm not a professional scout. Don't take these as gospel; I'm just a fan like everyone else and want to collect as much information. So with that, it seems fitting to combine Minnesota and prospects and focus on Mario Lucia; a junior forward from Wayzata H.S. who might be the first Minnesotan to hear their name called in St. Paul this June.

With a lack of a hype machine compared to some of the European or Canadian leagues, it seems like every year there's one Minnesota High School hockey player who shoots up the draft rankings. Blake Wheeler, Jake Gardiner, Nick Leddy and Nick Bjugstad are all players who have benefited from getting proper exposure in their draft year. That appears to be the case for Mario Lucia, who despite being the son of Minnesota Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia, has flown under the radar. Lucia is currently the 30th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting and second Minnesotan (Seth Ambroz is ranked 28th) but has risen since the fall rankings. He's well-liked by scouts - compared to Derek Stepan - and it would be no surprise to see Lucia continue to rise.

"He's a very smart player with a projectible frame and a great shot. His hands are soft and his stick is strong. He's not overly physical but he has a knack for winning lose pucks along the walls. He reminds me a bit of Derek Stepan. He's one of my favorite players in this draft period, let alone from high school."

-Redline Scout Max Giese


Lucia has a few attributes going for him. He has size; Lucia is 6'2", 185 lbs and is still fitting into his frame (Lucia believes he can get up to 210 lbs). He has skill; Lucia leads the Trojans with nineteen goals in eighteen games and is fast out of the blocks. And finally, he has smarts and great vision. This is not surprising given his last name (although he has some of the skills Tony lacked) but everything combined makes for a dangerous player who is still growing; this is especially true as Lucia is young for his draft year.

On the other hand, Lucia is unproven compared to other 2011 draft-eligible players. Despite playing with the United States National Development Team earlier this season, he doesn't have the experience against top competition like others in the 2011 draft class. Choosing a player who primarily plays in the Minnesota HS system early on is a risk/reward proposition (see: Brian Lee, Patrick White and David Fischer) due to the level of competition and system but Lucia's play with the USNDTP U-18 team and in the Four Nations Cup gives him a leg up on some of the other names.

The Wild need a player like Lucia who has size, speed and skills as there aren't many forwards like that in their system. With , a big skill player coupled with Mikael Granlund could go a long way to cementing Minnesota's future. He's a player on the rise and I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucia named in the first round; however if anything he's a stretch to be drafted in the Wild's current slot outside of the provincial fans who want the Minnesota NHL team to be filled with Minnesotans. That's unfortunate - especially since the Wild presently don't hold a second-round pick which can be used as leverage - but if someone with that skillset is rising at the end of the first round, that means there are plenty of good players for Minnesota at their slot.

4 Keys For the Final 33 In Order to Play At Least 4 More

In the latest Sunday Roundtable, the question was posed "What Do The Wild Need To Do In February?" in order to remain relevant in the playoff hunt. Everyone involved all added very good insight (which they always do) but I thought I could expound upon the query and take it a step further- what the Wild need to do in order to capture a playoff spot over the final 33 games of the season.

1. Take It Back Home.



The Wild are 14-8-3 on the road, but are 11-11-2 at home. While we as the paying public can appreciate the fact that the players know that they are also entertainers, we as ticket buyers are willing to forego that cheap thrill for wins, no matter how ugly they can get. So forget about looking for the pretty pass, and grind it out like you've been doing in opposing buildings, because a few wins at home gets the crowd into it, gets you more attention in the relatively quiet winter local sports scene, and we can give you guys a competitive advantage at the X.

2. No More Milk Carton Kids.

While we can look at this recent two month surge as a team coming together, getting on the same page, and playing for each other, I can point to a handful of underachieving veterans finding their games and contributing. Andrew Brunette (3g, 2a in his last 5,) Matt Cullen (2g, 5a in his last 5,) and Chuck Kobasew (2g, 3a in his last 5) were counted on from the get go considering their "top-6" designation (which is as ambiguous as it gets when it comes to the Wild lineup); its important because secondary scoring is paramount when there will be games where Martin Havlat and Mikko Koivu are schemed for and contained. And to a lesser extent, the occasional contributions of guys like John Madden (2g, 1a in his last 5,) Kyle Brodziak (6a in his last 5,) and Cal Clutterbuck (1g, 2a in his last 5) do nothing but help the cause as well. As Jarick said in the Roundtable, in the eight wins in January, the Wild averaged 4.25 goals, but just 1.25 in the losses.

3. Paging Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

We all the know the story by now, and we're glad that he's recovered from concussion issues and is back in the lineup (finally that $4 million/year deal is justified!) but now is the time where we have to demand more from the winger. He's been prone to bouts of inconsistency, disappearing from the scoresheet for stretches of time (one patch of five games, and another one of three) and we all know he doesn't exactly excel in physical games, or in the dirty, high traffic areas. It is what it is; but for this team to have success, and to build on the theme of secondary scoring, Bouchard has to step his game up. While he and Havlat have chemistry, he's been playing with Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck to a modicum of success. In theory that line should work, with Cullen's speed and Clutterbuck's propensity for, uh, creating space, that should fit PMB's game, while this creates a spot for Guillaume Latendresse to return to Havlat and Brodziak. I want to see more assertive and determined play from Bouchard; a willingness to shoot more often will also create chances for his teammates, especially Clutterbuck, who doesn't fear any spot on the ice.

4. Continue to Play For Each Other

Over the course of the last two months we've seen teammates sticking up for each other, the willingness to pick each other up after penalties or goals against, people dropping down to block shots, hit, hustle, and an all-around team resiliency to handle and fight back the when the leaderboard shows them down a goal, two, or three. Where the team fails is when you see players dodging checks, not winning battles in the corner or races to pucks, or take lazy penalties. This team has clearly come together as a unit, as evidenced by the scouting reports by opposing teams, and its brought them into the forefront of a hunt for a playoff spot. And for them to continue to push for that, they need to continue to play with that sense of urgency, and for each other. The reality is that there won't be a splashy trade deadline acquisition, although the returns of Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky are on the horizon; so these guys know that who they look at in the locker room will be the guys they go to war with every night. In a way, this team will be stronger for finding ways to win close games, the 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 games.

It remains to be seen how things turn out, but all I can really tell you is that these multi-day breaks between Wild games seem like an eternity, especially considering where the team stands with 33 to go.

Sunday Roundtable: What The Wild Need To Do In February

The Sunday Roundtable is a weekly feature where every Sunday a group of Wild fans discuss what's going on with the Minnesota Wild and other hockey-related issues. Today's question is "What is one thing the Wild need to do in February if they want to make the postseason?"

Nate:
Besides continuing to play well on the road and staying healthy, the Wild need to keep controlling the pace and score first. Right now Minnesota is tied for eighth in winning percentage after scoring first and were able to do that throughout the past month (including four of the past five games). Their system and personnel aren't really suited for playing from behind - the team is 1-20-4 when losing after one - and as cliche as it sounds, don't have a player to take over a game. When they are ahead and able to force the opposition to make mistakes, Minnesota is a team that can play with the best in the league; if they can continue to control the pace, the Wild can make the postseason.

Jarick:
Here's a fun fact: the Wild are tied with three other teams for 7th in the West in points per game (Chicago, Colorado, San Jose). Which means that they are on pace to make the playoffs over 82 games.

Anyways, the Wild went 8-4 in January. In the 8 wins, they averaged 4.13 goals for and 1.25 goals against. In the 4 losses, they averaged 1.25 goals for and 4.25 goals for. Pretty big disparity, so there's not a lot of information to be gained, but basically, the key to the Wild's success starts with strong team defense and scoring by committee.

They need to continue to play coach Richards' system (imagine saying that two months ago!), continue to play strong on the road, and pick it up at home. The team has success when they slow the game down and capitalize on scoring chances rather than running and gunning. And of course, staying healthy until reinforcements arrive will be extremely important.


Nick:
The one thing that the Wild need to do in February if they want to make the postseason is to continue playing as a team and for the team. That's what has gotten them to this point.

The team can't skate with the best team, and they can't score with the best teams, but they can win games with solid goaltending, keeping shots to the outside, and being opportunistic. They will have to to do this to win games and we know that they can.

With a tandem like Backstrom and Theodore in the pipes, we should have good goaltending for the rest of the year. The defenseman have played very well under Coach Rick Wilson. He has been huge in turning the defense around, and they just have to continue playing for each other and they will make the playoffs.


Tommy:
If the Wild are going to make the playoffs (and I'm not quite convinced just yet), then they've got to separate themselves from the momentum a bit more. Every few weeks this team seems to put together a handful of wins in a row, climb up the standings, and make us think they're going to be contenders, only to lose a game, and then seemingly give up and just drop the next two or three in a row. If the playoffs are going to come back to the State of Hockey, one loss can't mean three anymore; someone has to teach them to keep their heads up and keep battling. Between that and a better home record, they've got a very real chance to get above that 8th place line, but they'll need to fight some tendencies that seem very much ingrained in their nature as a team. (Also, Latendresse.)


The Speckled Kiwi:
This might sound funny but they need to stay healthy. They are very thin on depth and they need to stay healthy. They need to get Lats back but mostly they can't have any significant injuries going into March. And the injuries they do have, they need to recover faster. With 5 teams vying for a few playoff positions, an injury is going to hurt this team a lot.


Tony:
Besides staying healthy? I would say they need to figure out exactly why the Bruno-Koivu-Mittens line cannot be split up at all, as opposed to what is going on now. While Koivu and Bruno are producing somewhat consistently, the other part that threesome isn't doing what he needs to be doing. I would like to see a 30 goal scorer come this way to help out the team, but I just don't see it happening at the deadline unless it costs us our 1st and most likely one of the prospect guys. None of the callups on the wings will be able to do what we need so the best thing I can say is we will end up limping into the playoffs with no scoring that is consistent game in and game out. I would imagine that Fletcher will most likely make the assessment on Anton, Theo, and Harding at some point before the deadline to see if a combination of goalie + Mittens/Kobasew would be enough either for a 1st or 2nd rounder and hope to regroup next year.

So in short, while I want to say we need an accurate scorer, I see us still being sellers more than buyers. Fletcher is going to be patient.


Bozak:
I'm going to make it a little more generic. "What is the one thing the Wild need to do in February?"

The Wild need to decide where they are going.

The trade market has been gradually picking up, but for some reason, it still feels like it is going to be a trade deadline with very little movement. Only one or two teams will need an upgrade in goal. The depth lines and D are the easiest to fill out during free agency. Only four teams are truly out of contention, one of them being in the West and the other three in the East.

Once the Wild decide where they are going, there are logical steps for each path.

With only nine points separating 4th from 14th, someone within the organization needs to step up and look at the schedule for the remaining ten weeks.

There are thirteen games between now and the trade deadline. Every single one of those games is against a Western Conference team. Most of the games are against teams that are within that nine point spread with the notable exception of games against Vancouver and Detroit. Well, Edmonton at home is... wait... Watch the Wild drop that game and get blown out in the process...

What do they need to do if they want to make the post season?

Get healthy and find a spot for Latendresse.


Dan:

They have to go at least 5-3 at home. At the bare minimum, although I'd like to see 6-2 or 7-1- but this team needs to be better at home than .500, so doing that would be a huge boost for the month and the rest of the season.

Tidbits: The "Halftime" Edition




I am a self-confessed NHL Entry Draft Junkie.

For me, one of the more fascinating aspects of being a fan/follower/critic of any sports team is the youth element; for the most part, the respective Drafts of the major sports leagues tend to draw a lot of attention- especially the NFL and NBA, since those picks can step in and make an impact right away, while the NHL and MLB tends to be more of a developmental and down the road type of scenario.
So with that being said, I like to pay attention to the prospects we have in the pipeline, and keep an eye on the draft-eligible players that will have their name called June in St. Paul. Scouting is a intriguing science to me; the observation of physical and mental traits, behavior patterns, and the element of guesstimation almost has a sociological tinge to it. While I wish I knew what to look for and knew the minor minutia of the game better, all I can really do is rely on what is essentially a layman's eye for the game and the scouting reports that fans, scouts, and publications provide through the series of tubes we call the interweb when it comes to my team's past, present, and current properties and their respective contributions at the NHL level.
While its the All-Star Break at the NHL level, the scouting year is basically at the same stage, with many sources releasing their mid-term rankings. For me, this is where my interest starts to pique a bit; the risers and fallers begin to shake out a bit, and the respective playoff races, postseasons, and international tournaments are on the horizon. I have found a player of interest; Vincent Trocheck, who is a center for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. He's seen as a likely 2nd round pick this summer; therein lies the rub.
We don't have a 2nd rounder this year, as it was sent to Boston as part of the Chuck Kobasew trade last fall (it is nice to see some return on the trade now that Kobasew is healthy for a stretch of time.) The general thought was that there would be enough time for GM Chuck Fletcher to recoup that pick, which is important considering there will be some talent depth into the third round this year. When it looks like it may be slim pickings after the cream at the top, its important in my eyes to get picks, and that may mean trading down on Draft day. We traded down four spots in 2009, and ended up with the guy we wanted (Nick Leddy) and a 3rd round pick, which turned into Matt Hackett, who's learning the ropes in Houston. It's about having options, and while its dependent upon the evaluators of talent and how they see it, but to me having a pick in the second round is important considering how the talent pool is panning out.

- Justin Bourne has a nice piece at Puck Daddy about the all-star break from the players' perspective; a nice in-season break to let the body heal, relax, and take a break from hockey before the big stretch run. I think the most worrisome part about the break in schedule is that the Wild have a history of stumbling following multi-day breaks from games. Early in the year we had won three in a row, had four or so days off, and went on a three game skid, and a few weeks later it happened again.
- Food for thought here: in eight games, Guillaume Latendresse had three goals and six points. That's more goals than Eric Nystrom (one goal in 49 games) and Cam Barker (one in 40), and more points than Barker (five) while Nystrom has six points total.
- Thinking about if and when Marek Zidlicky returns; I don't think there is much trepidation about having a couple rookies in the lineup on the backend, but its the notion of having a defensive pairing comprised of rookies. This is going under the assumption that Cam Barker sits in the press box because he's being outplayed by both Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon. I do however think that a Spurgeon/Zidlicky pairing could work well though, because I like how effective Stoner and Greg Zanon are playing.
- I did very much enjoy the All-Star Fantasy Draft, but I think how lighthearted and entertaining an event it is depends on the charisma and personalities of the Captains. The TSN analysis panel was a bit of overkill however.
- Finally, Nate and I are participating in a Roundtable Discussion at Hockey Wilderness. Check it out.

What I Read This Week (1/28)


If you don't get this, you're not following us on Twitter.

It's Friday and that means another look back at the week. With the all-star break upon us, it's time to recharge the batteries, watch Brent Burns and Martin Havlat Sunday and get ready for the stretch run. I don't know what that entails for the Wild, but it should be a great ride.

Besides everything below, Dan and I participated in a roundtable of Wild bloggers this week over at Hockey Wilderness. It was an honor to be invited to participate as we're still the new kids on the block. The first part is up here and there should be more over the weekend. As always, you can follow First Round Bust on Twitter and I hope everyone has a great weekend. Enjoy!

Minnesota Wild:
-Wild beat writer Michael Russo answers all. (Star Tribune)

-Happy early 1000th game to Andrew Brunette! (KSTP)

-One Year Later, Cam Barker returns to Chicago. Let's be honest, Hawks fans are happy and they probably should be. (Chicago Now)

-A personal tale of a Wild road trip to Chicago. (Mileposts and Goalposts)

-Niklas Backstrom's amazing stick save against the Blackhawks (Puck Daddy)

-In honor of Marty being named an all-star...




Prospects and the Farm:
-Did you know the Aeros are in a playoff hunt as well? Well read on. (The Third Intermission)

-Video of Mikael Granlund scoring a goal this week. (Nelonen.fi)

-Video of Johan Larsson scoring his second SEL goal against AIK (the second goal of the game). (Elitserien TV)

-It's been an interesting season for him, but Dylan McKinlay regains form. (BC Local News)

-Can't forget about Erik Haula's play at the WJC, can we? (American Chronicle)


General Hockey:
-In what can only help the NHL's profile, NBC Sports creates a new ad agency. (NY Times)

-Sporting News' Mock Draft.

-TSN's Mock Draft featuring Biznasty (Paul Bissonnete) and Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes. Always good to see some positive Coyotes coverage by TSN; plus this is hilarious.

-PHT Mock Draft featuring plenty of 90s pro wrestling references. The game is being in Flair Country after all.

-It's never good to see something like this happen anywhere, but Jason Bailey sues the Anaheim Ducks for anti-Semetic attacks. (Pro Hockey Talk)

-It's hard to see this happening, but former coach Ken Hitchcock is open to zero-tolerance on concussions. (CBC)


College and HS Hockey:

-This week's WCHA preview. (Star Tribune)

-The first Bracketology from USCHO

-INCH Power Rankingsc

-Let's Play Hockey HS Rankings

My Wild Midseason Awards


Sorry James, maybe next midseason...

Hope everyone is enjoying the All-Star break or at least not having too many withdrawal issues. There's a few things on the back burner here at First Round Bust that we're looking forward in the near future, but for now I'm looking back at the past. The All-Star break leads for a good opportunity to assess the Wild and of course that's what all the scribes and keyboard pundits are doing. It's that or come up with mock All-Star drafts. Anyways I was reading Brandon Mileski's midseason awards over at KFAN.com and while I respect his hockey mind (if you haven't done it before, check out Beyond the Pond), it's hard to agree with most of the awards. So in the spirit of fairness - I hate to disagree without giving my own two cents - here are my Minnesota Wild midseason awards.

MVP: For this award, Mileski has Martin Havlat while I counter with Brent Burns. Havlat is very deserving of the honor - in fact, I wrote about him being so a couple days ago - but a MVP to me is someone who performed outstanding throughout the entire (mid)season rather than have a couple great months. And in my eyes, that's Brent Burns stepping up and finally becoming a #1 defenseman.

Most Improved Player: For this award, Mileski has Cal Clutterbuck while I'm once again going with Burns. Now to be fair, he does acknowledge Burns as a viable candidate based on stats but my rationale has more to do with his role on the team and intangibles than stats. Ironically if I was going to go on stats alone, Clutterbuck would be my choice. However, some of the things Burns has done this season are above my expectations. He plays in all situations, shuts down the opposition's #1 line and has been a scoring fiend despite a lackluster powerplay offense. That to me is barely more of an improvement than Clutterbuck hitting a career high in goals.




Most Disappointing: This one to me is the biggest head scratcher. Mileski went with Erik Nystrom on the rationale that he's only scored one goal (an empty-netter) and is a -12 in +/-. Although I'll admit that it would be nice to get some offense out of the snake-bitten Nystrom, he's a fourth-line grinder whose main job is on the PK. Those are my expectations for him and anything offensive is extra. It's like being pissed at Alex Ovechkin for not playing defense. So with that, the easy answer for biggest disappointment is Cam Barker. Even with disappointing play since coming over in February, the expectations for him on the team are higher and when an offensive defenseman with five points gets replaced on the power play, there's disappointment to be had.

Best Rookie: I agree with Mileski on this one as Marco Scandella has proven he's ready to play full-time with the big club. Unfortunately Scandella is presently recovering from a head injury, but hopefully he recovers and continues to show his long-term worth to the Wild.

Best Offseason Acquisition: It's hard to count Jose Theodore as an off-season acquisition (and Mileski does discuss this in his rationale of why Theodore is his choice) when he was signed in training camp, so I'm going with Matt Cullen. The Moorhead native signed for three years $10.5 million in July and has put up good numbers (he's on pace for his first fifty point season) in addition to being able to play with multiple scorers and systems (Cullen has three shorthanded goals this season). He also can thrive in the Richards system and is a player whose leadership is invaluable; especially after the locker room issues that were rumored last season.

So there you have my midseason awards. Feel free to agree or take me to task in the comments below.

Martin Havlat: All Star!


Havlat's fashion career will have to be put on hold for now...

This is quickie, but according to TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie (which is about as gospel as one can get), Wild winger Martin Havlat has been named an all-star injury replacement. After a slow start and having his agent call out the team, Havlat has stepped up his game. He currently has 43 points (13-30) in 48 games, leading the team, and is second in ice-time amongst forwards (only Mikko Koivu plays more). Despite not playing with Koivu on the "top" line, Havlat has been able to adapt and play well with a plethora of Minnesota forwards; including Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck to be the de facto top line. After signing a six-year, $30 million contract in July 2009, this is the Martin Havlat people expected to see.

To be quite honest, I'm happy with this selection. It's quite easy for the Twin Cities to be overlooked and for Havlat's accomplishments to be acknowledged is a big deal; especially after a lackluster and snakebitten October. I was hopeful this how he would respond after Allan Walsh called out the team - when something like that happens, it's shit or get off the pot time - but it wasn't a guarantee. The Wild need Martin Havlat to play well if they are going to continue their stretch of play as he gives Minnesota a credible second scoring line and after an outstanding two and a half months of play he is deserving of representing the State of Hockey in Raleigh.

Sunday Roundtable: All-Star Game Interest

The Sunday Roundtable is a weekly feature where every Sunday a group of Wild fans discuss what's going on with the Minnesota Wild and other hockey-related issues. Today's question is "With the rosters announced, are you looking forward to All-Star Game weekend?"

Nate:
Not really. Despite adding a new system of picking teams and revamping the SuperSkills competition, the All-Star Game is something which has outlived its purpose. With the Winter Classic taking away most of the mid-season promotion, the ASG takes a backseat outside of corporate sponsorship and the fans in Montreal. I mean the game wasn't even played last season and no one missed it. Now while there are some fun moments which come out of the game (Nolan's call the shot comes to mind) due to the lack of defense and number of goals, it doesn't answer anything.

I am interested in seeing the Fantasy Draft and possibly catching the highlights, but since one of those will be the Guardian Project unveiling, I'll be doing something else next weekend.


Nick:
I think like most fans this year I am looking forward to the drafting process and seeing how things shake out that win in terms of who picks who, and where guys go in the draft. I think it's a better concept than East vs. West, but it won't make the All-Star Game that much better to watch. It will just be a game where too many goals are scored and just kind of a celebration of the best players in the league rather than actually showing what each of these guys is good at. The draft will be the part where I will actually watch, I don't think I'll be watching the game because it just doesn't really matter that much to me. I think I'd rather be watching a regular season game rather than the All-Star Game.


Jarick:
There are only two things that really get me excited about All-Star weekend, and that's the skills competition and seeing if a Wild player will get some much needed recognition.

A few years back, Brian Rolston got the hatty (including smashing Manny Legace's microphone on a rare ASG slapper), and it was great to see. I'm thrilled we have Brent Burns repping the home team as he deserves the honor and I have a feeling he's going to impress. Unfortunately, that's about the only interesting thing as the game itself is a slow, soft, pale impersonation of true NHL hockey.

I love watching NHL players take off their helmets and show off their elite, all-world talent. That doesn't happen during the game itself, but in the skills competition. Granted, the NHL makes big mistakes like not putting Rolston in the hardest slapshot (seriously?). But to see the players doing things us ankle benders can only dream of and acting like big kids, that's why I'll tune in.


Bozak:

I'm probably in the minority on this one, but the All Star Game is very "meh" for me.

The only activity that has much of an interest for me is the Super Skills competition and that interest isn't very high.

With all of that being said, though, it is hockey. It will get DVR'd. It will get watched. It won't get watched live and I will fast forward through commercials.

In summary, I'll watch because it's the only hockey going on.


Tony:
About a decade ago, this was the single moment of the season I looked forward too. Always brought excitement and there was just something about seeing Joe Sakic and Stevie Y on the same team. Now, I just wish they would let anyone in the league do the skills competition and I can for sure say that would be the only thing I'd watch. It is kind of disappointing, almost NBA like, that its either a bunch of players I know are not the fastest or have the hardest hitting shot, yet they are the ones participating. Same with the actual game itself. The fan voting is always skewed and it ends up putting people who never have a place to be in the game to begin with. Will I watch it? Of course I will because there probably isn't anything else on at that time....

The Speckled Kiwi:
I look forward only to the draft. I think that's going to be interesting this year for the All Star Game. It is also the point where trade talks heat up, so that will be interesting as well.


Shrader:
All-Star Weekend is all about the Skills Competition. I can't really tell you much about the actual All-Star games of the past but I do remember things like these:
- Al Iafrate and Al MacInnis doing battle year after year for the Hardest Shot
- Raymond Bourque OWNING the accuracy competition year after year after year after year...
- Mike Gartner, a North Star at the time, winning Fastest Skater.
- Zdeno Chara and Adrian Aucoin (who was using a wood stick) tying for Hardest Shot when the ASG was here in St. Paul a few years ago.
- Those awesome Prince of Wales or Campbell Conference All-Star sweaters.
- Players like Jeremy Roenick being mic'd up.
- The occasional prank and the chirping (god forbid you miss the net on the hardest shot!)
Its such a treat to see players in their respective jerseys interacting with their every day competition under the premise of being teammates and friends. Without a doubt its the highight of the weekend.

Tidbits: The "Our Backup Goalie Is More Punk Rock Than Yours" Edition





Being a punk rawk aficionado myself, this is pretty f'n cool.

By this stage of the game now I'd like to think that every Wild fan, no matter how ardent, has become a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this team. It's the sort of that don't-hold-your-breath mentality, where even though when things are going good- (maybe almost too good?) one tends to think that the other shoe will drop, and the inevitable let down and multi-game skid is gonna happen. And then we're back to square one; in a sense its not too dissimilar from the children's board game Snakes And Ladders. But looking at the schedule, February will be the month that makes or breaks the Wild. Starting tonight and not til March 2nd, every game we will play is against an opponent that is in the top eight spots in the West, or within five points of that 8-spot, except for the Edmonton Oilers. Even then, you can't just overlook the Oilers either. Basically there is no room for that letdown, because the playoff grind begins tonight.

- A secondary element to this upcoming month is that eight of the 16 games between now and March are at home. Let's face it, 11-11-2 isn't good, and a .500 home record going forward isn't going to cut it. I want to see The Wild reclaim home ice as a competitive advantage- it shouldn't be a problem packing the house if they come back home riding high on a winning streak.
- It'll be interesting to see how much of a media presence the Wild begin to get in the local market.
- The Vikings season is done and Leslie Frazier has finalized his coaching staff- you can argue that if Green Bay goes on to the Super Bowl that the attention will still go the NFL's way. But the Draft isn't til April.
- Carl Pavano resigned with the Twins, but Spring Training is still 40-some days away.
- The Timberwolves are a better product, but still aren't capturing the imagination.
- And Gopher sports are still relatively early into their respective seasons.
If the Wild continue to contend for a playoff spot, I'm guessing alot of attention will be turned their way, even from the crusty, admittedly non-hockey guy columnists in this town.
- I mention the Oilers, and even though they're young, and well, terrible, but they still present a tough matchup for the Wild because of their speed. That's the book on Minnesota, is that they don't matchup well with teams with great team speed. Look at what Nashville's done to us; sure you can game plan for it, but dealing with it in reality is another issue.
- All I could do is shake my head when it came to the Curtis Glencross/Dean Lombardi fines. It's a really odd paradigm where a player, who has a history of suspension, recklessly boards another player, and it costs him $2500...and a GM comes out and rips the NHL VP of Hockey Ops for bad calls, and it costs him $50,000. So the message here is that the commodities (the players) aren't as important as the principles (the league), right? I just find it odd.
- That being said, I'm really glad Stoner came out of the boarding healthy, because he's had his fair share of injuries and is really starting to play well now that he's getting ice time.
- If the 2006 Entry Draft was redone, Cal Clutterbuck has to go in the first round, right?
- Word on the street is that Clutterbuck cut down the length of his stick to improve his shot accuracy. I'd still like to see him shoot lower to generate rebounds, but I'm not going to argue with a guy with 14 goals on the goal-starved Wild.
- Maybe the most encouraging thing about this recent run is that we're seeing veteran players, the ones we were counting on at the beginning of the season, begin to produce. Matt Cullen and Andrew Brunette have scoring streaks, and to a lesser extent, John Madden is chipping in with three points in his last three games, and three goals in his last five games.
- Credit to Todd Richards for shaking up the lines a bit too because its jumpstarted a number of players.
- Never seen a more snake bitten player than Eric Nystrom. At least he's a good sport about it.
- And finally...Courtesy of Fel96, our unofficial youtube guy:

What I Read This Week (1/21)


Holy $#*! It's Cold Outside!

Another week in the record books and it's been a good one for the Wild as they've won their last three games by a combined score of 14-1. Throw in the US Pond Hockey Championships this weekend (I salute those brave souls as the current temperature in Minneapolis is -2) and there's plenty of great hockey to be found. Good news for someone who has to go skate shopping.

As always, you can follow First Round Bust on Twitter and I hope everyone has a great weekend. Enjoy!

Minnesota Wild:
-After reading this article, John Madden might be irritated at Tom Powers. (Pioneer Press)

-Minnesota still feeling effects of weak 2006 draft. At least it's better than 2005. And 2004. And maybe 2007. (Hockey's Future)

-And by six games it was $2500. More Senseless On-Ice Acts (ESPN)

-This always reminds me of fifth grade and playing the Stock Market Game. Wild Stock Market Report: Left Wingers Edition. (Hockey Wilderness)


Prospects and the Farm:
-Darcy Kuemper continues to win the WHL Player of the Week.

-The big picture featuring all the Wild prospect updates. (Wild.com)

-Joel Broda gets sent to Bakersfield. (The Third Intermission)

-Not the first nor last time this headline is used. Jason Zucker heats up ice. (DU Clarion)

-Video of Mikael Granlund in the shootout. It's good to see someone associated with the Wild organization be successful in it again.


General Hockey:
-Bouchard knows concussion struggle all too well. Yes it features PMB, who admits he's not 100% back yet, but the overlying focus of the article is on concussions and player saftety. (Globe and Mail)

-How Elite Is Tampa Bay? The answer might surprise you. Or not that much. (Hitting The Post)

-Aiming For The Top Episode 3 (Sports Agent Blog)

-The origin story of the NHL Guardians. True to form, we're seeing parodies already (Puck Daddy/PensBlog)

-Hockey As You've Never Seen It (NY Times)

-The NHL is changing up the Superskills competition (corporate sponsorship and all) although personally I'm saddened there is no Ric Flair woo-off. (NHL.com)


College and HS Hockey:
-The Gophers and Sioux played nice last week. Oh wait...


-Hobey Rankings (INCH)

-INCH Power Rankings

-Let's Play Hockey Rankings

Guest Blog: Assessing Fletcher’s Moves

Editor's Note: In the true spirit of FRB, we encourage and endorse guest blogs from Wild fans near and far. If you want to guest post on First Round Bust, please email us at
firstroundbust@gmail.com.


(Getty Images)


My name is Nick Anderson, and I've been a huge Wild fan since it's existence, however, I didn't really become the fan I am today until I went to the Wild game on New Year's Eve in 2008 against the Sharks. I remember watching most of the 2002-2003 playoff run, but that's the most I can remember about the Wild before the 2007-2008 season. The Wild game reminded me of why I had fallen in love with the game in the first place with it's fast paced action, the hitting, the fighting, and most of all, the rush you get when your team scores a goal. That one was close to being a stinker, I think Setoguchi tied it up with about 30 seconds or so left, I remember being disappointed, but then, in overtime, Koivu sent a cross-ice pass to Brent Burns who fired it top shelf over Nabokov's shoulder for the game-winner, it was the coolest experience I could remember, and then I was hooked and started following the Wild much more closely.

I thought I would take an inventory of Chuck Fletcher’s moves and give them a minus, neutral, or positive rating for each of them. It’s meant to encourage discussion. I will judge the signings and the trades he made, it’s too early to assess his drafting in my opinion. So here we go:

2009 Entry Draft:

Moves back from #12 Overall to obtain picks #16, #77, and #182.
I give this move a +. There is some question to the overall value he got here, but the move was a good one to grab more picks.

Moves picks #99 and #133 for Kyle Brodziak and #161.
I give this one a +. He got Brodziak for a cheap price. Brodziak has played well for us and most specifically lately, he has made this trade a good one.


Free Agency 2009:
Martin Havlat 6 years, $30M
This one is a neutral, but starting to lean toward positive. He had a slow start to the 2009-2010 season, but has really picked up his play leading the Wild in points. Has been great lately, but the jury is still technically out. Very close to a +.

Greg Zanon 3 years, $5.8M
This one is + to neutral. He was great in his first year here, but hasn’t been as good this year, however, it’s a good deal for a #4-5 defenseman who’s great on the PK.

Petr Sykora 1 year, $1.2M
-. It was a low risk move, but it was basically a failure of an experiment. The good part is that it was only a 1 year deal.


2009-2010 Season:
Alexander Fallstrom, Craig Weller, and 2011 2nd Round Pick for Chuck Kobasew.
I’d rate this as a -. Weller was a salary dump, and Fallstrom hasn’t been great in college, but it’s still giving up a young prospect which were “gold” according to Fletcher. The 2nd Round pick is the piece that hurts the most now because Kobasew’s tenure as a member of the Wild has been derailed by injuries and not getting much of a chance only getting 4th line minutes. He has looked much better lately.

Benoit Pouliot for Guillaume Latendrese.
+. This was a great trade that brought in a young player who bloomed playing with Havlat. Easily a +.

Nick Leddy, Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker.
-. This one has been talked about a lot. Cam Barker has been a bust plain and simple. There’s many of us who just want him traded to re-coup something for him. Nick Leddy is still a ways off from making a real big impact in the NHL, and Kim Johnsson is done, but I think this was a bad trade.

Eric Belanger for a 2nd Round Pick 2010.
+. Belanger was a good FO man and getting a 2nd round pick was good value. Not much else to say about it.

Re-signs Marek Zidlicky 3 Years, $12M
+. Zids has been a great part of our blueline, but part of me wonders what we could have received for him at the deadline. He is a 2nd pairing guy who is starting to play well on the defensive end. It’s probably more neutral to + because it depends on what we think we could’ve gotten with that cap space.

Re-signs Cal Clutterbuck 3 Years, $4.2M
+. Cal brings so much to this team in terms of energy, and this current season, goal-scoring. If he scores more than 10 a year, this contract is a bargain. We all know how important Cal is to our team.

2010 Offseason (Pre-Draft):
Brad Staubitz for a 5th Round Pick 2010.
-. Staubitz brings toughness and signed for a small price, but he wasn’t worth a pick in my opinion. I’d rather have the pick, and I thought we could have picked up a tough guy type in FA and not give up a pick, but it just seems against Fletcher’s “gold” reference.

2010 Entry Draft:
Picks #69 and #99 for #58.
+. Jason Zucker projects to be a great pick at this point, I give it a positive now, but it’s subject to change.

2010 Free Agency And Beyond:
Signed Matt Cullen 3 years, $10.5M
Neutral. He might be overpaid, but he has helped the team a lot on the PP. It remains to be seen at this point if this one is a disaster.

Signed Eric Nystrom 3 Years, $4.2M
-. It seems like this signing might have been okay if Nystrom could chip in some goals. Yes, I like his hard work, but it only gets you so far before you have to produce some results. I feel some of our guys in Houston could have filled this role cheaper.

Signed John Madden 1 Year, $1.25M
Neutral. He is a nice 4th line center, and has playoff and Cup experience. I’m indifferent on this signing. It’s kind of a “meh” move to me, but I do like the fact that he addressed the horrible need at center.

Re-signs Mikko Koivu 7 Years, $47.25M
+. He may overpaid, but Koivu is the captain and heart and soul of this team. He couldn’t let him walk away after the way Gaborik walked away. He will be with the Wild until he is 34, so I think it’s a good deal for many reasons.


2010-2011 Season:
Signed Jose Theodore 1 Year, $1.1M
+. He has provided great depth, but he was kind of forced into it. Either way, it was a good deal.


I left out some of the minor signings. As you can see, Fletcher has made some very good moves, but has also made some bad ones. It just so happens that his worst trade also probably has the biggest impact on the team in terms of trading for a Cam Barker and giving Nick Leddy. I also think he hasn’t made moves that are super detrimental to the team, and haven’t put the team over the top.

I think if you consider everything, Fletcher has done a mediocre job and the Wild are pretty mediocre themselves. We will see how his drafting record end up sorting out, which we all know is the biggest thing to building a successful team. With the trade deadline approaching, he faces some tough decisions to trade away some of his upcoming UFA’s (Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Chuck Kobasew, etc.), or add some players to try to push for a playoff spot (only 1 point out at the time of this writing).

It should be a good 2nd half, so let’s enjoy it. Go Wild!

Western Canada Bows Before The Wild Blueline


Check out that Grimace... (Photo credit to Felix)

I don't know if anyone's noticed, but we've sort of slowly phased out post-game recaps. There's not a big reason for it other than the fact that every other Wild blog does them. Seriously Russo does them (quite well I might add although that's what he gets paid for), the Pioneer Press does them, as do Hockey Wilderness, Hitting The Post (along with other games), State of Hockey News, Wild Nation and Pucks Wild (okay the last one is the Edmonton game, but you get the point). It's something which is covered by others; plus between Twitter and message boards I'm burnt out to write up a tedious game recap.

With that said, there is one thing I'd like to touch on during this three-game win streak against Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary: the unsung heroes of the blue line. It's easy to give credit to good goaltending when things go right and both Anton Khudobin and Niklas Backstrom have played well, but the lack of grade A opportunities and outstanding penalty kill is one of the reasons why Minnesota has outscored their three Western Canadian division foes 14-1.

One of the biggest worries with Marek Zidlicky going down was how it would affect the Wild defensemen. Say what you want about Zidlicky's defensive abilities, but losing him is still a loss and Minnesota misses a triggerman on the power play. However, other players like Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner have stepped up when needed by creating scoring chances and getting back on D. In addition, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz have been their usual self as well and have made pretty good goalies look good and good goalies look great (say that five times fast) by playing a little goalie themselves.

The biggest reason to praise the blue line over this stretch of play has to do with killing penalties. After a night of killing six penalties in Edmonton, no one would have been surprised to see the Wild fold and play sluggishly in Calgary. They haven't won both games of a back-to-back all season and in many cases had what my HS coach called "concrete feet." There were a few cases in the third period against Edmonton where that appeared to the case. However, this Wild . In all three games, Minnesota was the aggressor for most of the game and forced the opposition to make risky plays. It might have started as babying Khudobin but by the end of the Calgary game, skating and moving their feet allowed for and an AHL goalie and a rusty Niklas Backstrom to have an easier opportunity and might have set the work ethic for the Wild if they want to make the playoffs.


Other Random Thoughts:
-The Saddledome might win the award for biggest WTF Dasher Ad with one for Viagra.ca. Runner-up might be the one three down for "The Keg." Those two together make a powerful couple.

-After a hit on Clayton Stoner, Curtis Glencross deserves to be suspended for a few games.


-The Wild having a three-game stretch outscoring their opponents 14-1 is nothing short of amazing. It's even more so when you consider the fact that Minnesota won 6-0 last night despite whiffing on a five minute major and 4-1 Tuesday night despite taking six penalties.

-Really enjoyed Cal Clutterbuck and Greg Zanon's nose celebration after his career-high 14th goal.


-It's a big change going up to Calgary and expecting to win after years of being snakebitten at the Saddledome. The Wild have won five of six in Calgary after winning three games in eight years (during which they played the Flames eight times instead of six). Now if only that could be implemented at the American Airlines Center.

-This is the 100th post on First Round Bust. It seems like yesterday this was bandied about on HF Boards so thanks everyone for reading and contributing to this blog!

A sighting!


(Thank you RDS!)

In an article by RDS, a FRENCH CANADIAN sports station (I say that because I can in no way translate it, and am relaying what has been conveyed to FRB)Guillaume Latendresse stated that:
- he had five surgeries in one day.
- rehab is going well (although last Friday Todd Richards on KFAN said there had been some setbacks- shrug.)
- his goal is to be back for the last 15-20 goals for the playoff push, and...
- ...he's gonna be the same player he was last year. But with a serious beard.

Here's hopin...

Draft Stew, Part Deux




Hungry for more?

In the second installment of Draft Stew, Redline Report Scout Max Giese and I get a bit provincial; we talk about the USHL and High School Draft-Eligibles, including ones here in Minnesota.

After churning out some quality prospects for the past few years, this year looks to be a down year for Minnesota HS kids. Who is the top dog in your opinion?

Max Giese: Yeah it's a down year for sure. That said, Mario Lucia is a legit pro-prospect. He shoots the puck like an NHLer already. He has a tall frame to fill out. His skating is fine and will get stronger with added strength. Besides his shot, it's his hockey sense that distinguishes him.

He's a very smart player with a projectible frame and a great shot. His hands are soft and his stick is strong. He's not overly physical but he has a knack for winning lose pucks along the walls. He reminds me a bit of Derek Stepan. He's one of my favorite players in this draft period, let alone from high school.

Seth Ambroz was so highly touted, and I continue to read one disappointing report after another on him. What is going wrong with his play?

Giese: Ambroz hasn't progressed since the second-half of his first season in the USHL. His skating hasn't gotten any better and he's actually less physical now than he was when he first entered the USHL. I'm beginning to seriously doubt his ability to develop into an NHL player. Even after his poor fall classic I thought maybe he could still be a big guy who gets to the front of the net and scores once in awhile, but even that projection now appears too kind. He's slow, his first step and agility are bad, his skating hasn't improved in three years. Heck, he hasn't improved anything about his game in three years. He's not an intelligent player, he doesn't see the ice or have any playmaking ability. For a supposed power forward he isn't mean or nasty. Sure he has a quick, hard release but he lacks a scorers accuracy and presence. Instead of going to the front of the net now he hangs to the side of it and makes poor decisions on the PP. The only positive I can say about him is that he has been good defensively and is keeping his feet moving without the puck. Other than that his development has completely plateaued.



Outside of Ambroz, who is some of the other top USHLers available this year?

Giese: Scott Mayfield is the cream of the crop. He's big, strong, assertive, and is a great skater for his size. He's raw and hasn't developed a lot in Youngstown but once he gets to Kitchener or Denver that will change.

With his size, ability and demeanor sky is the limit. He's a mid-first sleeper much like Derek Forbort was last year - although Forbort has more offense and Mayfield has more edge.

I recently took in the UM/U-18 game a few Fridays ago, and it doesn't look to be a banner year for the U-18's. John Gibson's the top NA Goalie, but what else is there besides him?

Giese: Gibson is a terrific goaltending prospect, he's the #1 goaltender out there this year for me. Tyler Biggs, JT Miller, and Michael Palliotta are the other kids with the best chance of going in the first round. Biggs is a big, strong and physical power forward with quality skating and offensive ability. When you grade out Miller on all the individual categories he grades out as good as above-average to great in every respect, but he's been a bit snake bitten this year and hasn't produced as well as you would expect, so he's one of the enigmas this year. Michael is big, can skate and he projects to be a physical defensive defenseman who makes the first pass. He could go early 2nd round or as high as top-20. There isn't as much consensus or strength from this years' development team as there has been in the past.

How good can Rocco Grimaldi be, despite just being 5'6"?



Giese: Rocco pound for pound is one of the best players in the draft but he's going to have a tough time. I saw him lose one-on-one battles and foot-races with '95 born Ian McCoshen of Waterloo. I do wonder how if McCoshen can shut Rocco down how will Rocco do against NHL defenseman? (ed. note- McCoshen is a 6'2", 190 defenseman for Waterloo of the USHL.)

Minnesota aside, are there other HS/Prep School kids around the nation that are drawing scouts attention?

Giese: Phillipe Hudon is getting alot of attention, as is Mike McKee. Alex Lyon, of Lake of The Woods, has been also getting some buzz lately as well, but I haven't seen him yet.


Stay Tuned for more...



(also, sorry if people get pissed for not getting proper credit for me hijacking their pictures for my use. So ya, sorry if it happens.)

Dobby Scares The $#*! Out Of Me


Not this guy, although on second thought...


It's hard to be upset after a 4-0 shutout win over the top team in the Western Conference. The Wild played what might have been their best game of the season. Minnesota was aggressive, they didn't let Vancouver settle into a rhythm and were able to take advantage of the opportunities which passed them by in the previous three games (Antii Miettinen not included). The Wild even scored a shorthanded goal which for them seems as rare as a unicorn. So with all of that, the one thing that is left in my head after the game is that Anton Khudobin's play between the pipes scares the crap out of me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with Khudobin's performance. It's not every day a goalie shuts out the Canucks and Puck Daddy named him the #2 star yesterday. However, his style and play seem like they aren't a consistent fit for the NHL. While most goalies attempt to cut down the angle of the shot, Dobby flops and spins around to stop shots. Throw in the fact that half the time it seems like his reflexes are a step behind NHL players and it's hard to see being consistently good; especially once teams get the opportunity to play against Khudobin a second and third time. Even last night there were a couple golden opportunities for Vancouver to score and were saved by defensemen (Brent Burns threw a puck heading into the net). The team sort of collapsed on top of Dobby at times which reminded me of being similar to the Philadelphia game last season. It does works sometimes but is not a recipe for long-term success.

In the end, Dobby is a fun guy who is best served as being an AHL goalie. Khudobin is capable of shutting down the best team in the NHL or giving up a goal from center ice and that inconsistency makes it hard to rely on. That's not to say he hasn't accomplished anything but I'm very thankful GM Chuck Fletcher signed Jose Theodore before the season started to be the primary backup. It's scary to watch Dobby play twice a year and I don't if my heart could take twenty-thirty games of it. And with Theodore looking like he'll be ready soon, I thankfully won't.

Sunday Roundtable: Second-Half Predictions


Will someone else be wearing #17.615 by the end of the season?

The Sunday Roundtable is a weekly feature where every Sunday a group of Wild fans discuss what's going on with the Minnesota Wild. Today's question is "Where do you see the Wild going in the second half?"

Nate:
I see the Wild in a position of solidifying their core for the future and jettisoning a few unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline. While the team has been inconsistent this season, they have been showing signs of life and overall are a better team than last year. However, injuries and a lack of depth still leave Minnesota in a tough position and because of that the second half is an opportunity to figure out next year. None of the potential free agents (Brunette, Miettinen, Kobasew, Madden, etc.) have been essential players this season and if a good deal can be made, GM Chuck Fletcher should look at taking it. The Wild are still in a rough position in terms of their prospect pool and do not have a second-round pick in this year's draft; however they do have assets to make up for it.

With that said, I still it's possible for the team to make a run and be playoff-bound. Getting back Guillaume Latendresse and his 25 goals last season will help Minnesota out a lot but the team will have to show a lot more consistency and better home play to make a run for the postseason. Like I said before, the Wild are a better team this year but with half the games in the book, time is running out. If I were a betting man, I'd say a double-digit finish in the West but never say never.

The Speckled Kiwi:
This is an excellent but tough question because it puts a lot of pressure on Fletcher and the team. A lot of contracts are coming off the books and teams could use a Kobasew, Miettinen or a Brunette. Does he move them? Given the uneven play that has plagued Minnesota for the past two years and given the return on Belanger, I think Fletcher is going to bite the bullet and trade some of the veterans off.

I don't think we'll see much of a change in terms of play, a still uneven team that can be good one game and flat out awful the next. So where does that put Minnesota? A few points shy of the playoffs unfortunately. And that might not be a bad thing. I wish I could say they would make a splash in the draft by finally grabbing an elite talent in front of the home crowd but I just don't see them doing anything of that sort.

There is too much pride in this organization to have an off year.

But I think that we won't see much of a change from the beginning of the season other than some youth infusion as veterans are traded off.

Tony:
While the players may have openly stated they are getting the system, they still lack the offensive skills required to actively compete within the Western Conference. They show flashes of being able to compete against the leagues top talent, but they falter against the teams they shouldn't have quite that hard of a time against. Tie in the fact we have not won a single shootout you almost pray they win it in regulation because of the fear of it going to overtime and losing the extra point because our goaltending tandems cannot make the saves. Frankly, this team is a Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu, or Brent Burns injury from going from 8th seed (where I still have them projected) to 13th place in the conference. The next interesting question is do we want the playoffs and sacrifice a high draft pick over getting younger, faster, and more talented quicker?

Jarick:
The Wild seems to be figuring out Richards' system and generally playing well, although they still lack enough talent to win on a consistent basis.

With Latendresse and Zidlicky out until at least the deadline, and with Chicago, San Jose, and Los Angeles all underachieving, I would think that those teams will start to win again and the Wild will find themselves out of a playoff spot.

If they are more than a few points out, Fletcher will have to make some deadline moves, and if last year is any indication, some players will pack it in early and the team will fade down the stretch.

I expect them to finish 12th in the West with 89 points.

Cole:
While the nice "mini run" the Wild recently went on was fun and all from a fan's perspective, I believe it was pretty obvious to most Wild followers that type of play wouldn't be sustainable from this squad. Call it regressing back to the mean, being 'who we thought they were', or what ever you wish. That wasn't the team we've been watching for the last two seasons. Given how this team is currently constructed in comparison to the rest of the league, the Wild just don't have the make-up to offer a good, consistent effort on a nightly basis. Especially in a very tough and competitive Western Conference that will likely go right down to the wire again this season.

Essentially, that's a microcosm of my feelings about this Wild team moving forward in the second half of the season. They just haven't shown us as fans that they have the staying power to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. If we're seeing it as fans, I've got to assume that Chuck Fletcher and the front office sees it as well. In that case, I believe it would be safe to assume that the Wild will likely be sellers as the deadline approaches, thus likely negating any slight playoff hopes they may have.

Bozak:
I see us sliding further down the standings.

A team with a lack of depth cannot sustain a winning pace with all of the injuries we have had this season. New York Rangers can complain all they way, but they still have a mostly complete roster.

Detroit can handle injuries with their depth. The Wild cannot.

It does offer a pretty good window for Mr. Fletcher, though. Shortly before some of the key injured guys come back, he will have the opportunity to clear the stock of UFAs. Lats can slide in place of Miettinen, etcetera.

Good thing we have three starting goal tenders on IR.

Dan Shrader:
Probably more of the same; a three game winning streak here, the resurgence of hope and mathematical plausibility, and then a two or three game skid. And things may really go south if Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore continue to deal with nagging injuries, because we can't score goals, especially at home. Ultimately I think it will be a position where we'll finish three to five spots out of a playoff spot, which on paper seems close but in reality it isn't.

Which is just great for us Wild fans, isn't it?

Tommy:
I thought we had a pretty decent shot at getting back into things after that four-game streak, but the Wild have a knack for tempering my expectations. It seems like these streaks and slides aren't anything they're likely to get over any time soon, so I can't really say I see them coming out on the top side of the playoff cutoff line. The busts and booms are getting quite predictable at this point. The stream of injuries really isn't helping things at all; Khudobin has showed that, despite his brilliant play in his callup last year, he just isn't up to the level where he can do that consistently. Our "deep" defensive prospect pool is suddenly looking quite thin; I imagine the Aeros are just wheeling out some appliances they found in the Toyota Center's basement to man the blue line at this point.

Between all the injuries, at this point, I'm pretty much just praying that the next one won't be to anyone on an expiring contract. Yeah, losing Zids, Backs, even Scandella is a pain, but that's only this season in jeopardy; they'll be ready to go at the beginning of next season. It's crucial that trade bait like Miettinen and Brunette keep themselves in game shape, because I don't think there's any reason that this team shouldn't be holding a fire sale on expiring contracts come March. Hopefully Fletch has a huge pile of picks to use in front of the hometown fans––better chance they can make that all-important hometown pick, right?

Tidbits: The "Spinning Wheel" Edition



What a difference a week makes.

Roughly a week ago Wild Nation was flying high coming off a four game win streak, including two very good victories against Boston and Pittsburgh, who are among the heavies in the East. The roll also brought a sense of legitimacy and suddenly inserted us into a playoff picture and into a group of teams which for some reason have been middling and inconsistent; Phoenix, Chicago, San Jose, LA, etc. There was buzz.
Fast forward to now, where we've been blown out three straight games, including twice at home, both of our starting goaltenders are injured, our current on-roster tandem has less than a handful of NHL games under their belt, and things are negative- the critics, skeptics, and casual observers once again have enough fodder to feel emboldened about their opinions of the Minnesota Wild.
Its not that the team has played terribly, well aside from the Nashville game, but the proverbial bounces aren't going their way, despite just a week ago it was the Pens and the Bruins hitting the posts, while Minnesota were getting the fluky bounces. This is literally nut cutting time; Todd Richards continues to grasp the silver linings, but its up to the players to continue to pin their ears back despite the tough sledding- hard work will bring luck.

- I think this team needs to see results when it plays. And what I mean by that is that there are instances throughout the game, and throughout the season, where there will be shifts where we own the offensive zone, buzz the net, get quality chances, but just can't bury it- yet the opponent will get one chance, score, and now there is a letdown because all that work is for naught. I get the frustration (hell I'd be frustrated too) but I think there are nights where it gets to the team to a point where it gets them off of their game and things snowball.
- Maybe the hardest thing to replace when it comes to Marek Zidlicky's absence on the PP is his willingness to shoot. Opponents and goalies know its a heavy shot, but Zidlicky is willing to hammer it from the point, the slot, the faceoff dots, along the half wall, wherever- without that weapon at their disposal, I think there is a notion where we have to pass to get the "perfect play", instead of just shooting the f'n puck.
- I do like the idea of putting Marco Scandella on the point; he does possess a heavy shot, which he can keep low, which can create rebounds. The problem is last night we never gained the zone, nor prolonged possession to see how he will operate. Also, we don't know the extent of the puck-to-the-head injury he received last night.
- My question about Scandella; what kind of defenseman do the coaches want him to be? Is he going to be more of a matchup style guy like Nick Schultz, or do they want him to be an all-situations guy like Brent Burns? I ask that because at the very least it seems he can be a matchup guy, but on the surface he doesn't have that sort of innate puck skills to be a real offensive catalyst.
- I wonder if the precedent has been set with Patrick O'Sullivan: get your game in gear and compete, or there will be consequences. Cam Barker's been taken off the PP, and was scratched in favor of three rookies. Again.
- What I want to see from Jared Spurgeon is to be more assertive in the offensive zone. Maybe pair him with a stay at home guy like Schultz and let Spurgeon free wheel a little bit.
- O'Sullivan has accepted a demotion to Houston. Two things come to mind; maybe a guy with offensive acumen like him can help the prospects around him, but there's a chance (and I don't think its likely) he could negatively affect the locker room.
- All credit goes to Ms.Conduct for this thought, which she posted on twitter; she mentioned that Khudobin just isn't the same goalie as last year (hungry to succeed) because the perceived chance to move up to the NHL level just isn't there anymore. Why? The likelihood of signing Darcy Kuemper (who's put up huge numbers in the WHL) and the offseason signing of Dennis Endras, who will come across the pond next season. And with Khudobin sharing time with prospect Matt Hackett, someone's gonna have to go, and its likely the likeable Russian.
- Does anyone do more skating and end up with less results than Matt Cullen? When is he gonna start to get some heat for his lack of production?
- Its probably coincidental, and its not meant to be fuel on the fire, but this team is different when Antti Miettinen is back on the Koivu-Brunette line. I know that the chemistry isn't the same, but Chuck Kobasew brings speed to a line which isn't quite the most fleet of foot. And to be honest, this line just isn't productive.
- This is just me, but if I'm Chuck Fletcher, I'm not resigning either Miettinen or Brunette, especially after this year. You have to get younger and more cost effective; but you likely have Mikael Granlund coming over, and ideally you'd want Koivu to be a mentor.
- Finally, it was a scary situation, but I can speak for everyone when I say that we're extremely relieved to hear that Ryan O'Reilly of Colorado is going to be ok. Nobody wants to see a player stretchered off the ice.

What I Read This Week (1/14)


It's Friday.

Well it's been an interesting week. The Wild had some highs (victories over Boston and Pittsburgh) and lows (losses to Dallas and Nashville), Brent Burns became an all-star (we were onto something) and I somehow cracked a skate blade and got food poisoning. Nevertheless, there's plenty of stuff to read this week that you may or may not have missed. As always, you can follow us on Twitter; there's always good stuff on there. And if there's not, you can follow me.

Minnesota Wild:
-And then they proceeded to lose two games. Coach says Wild deserve more respect. (Calgary Herald)

-Wild need some home improvement to make the playoffs. Sounds about right. (USA Today)

-Pictures of Prudential Center. And Consol Energy Center. Maybe it's just me, but other states showing off their non-existent HS hockey programs is weird. (Wild.com)

-Also at Wild.com, the team needs to find another way to sell tickets or get a rival. I suggest making the playoffs on a consistent basis or moving out of the Northwest.

-Both Wild goalies have hip injuries. Throw in Gophers starter Alex Kangas and it's a trifecta. (Star Tribune)

-The Wild and Gophers should pay for a Vikings roof. Of course this is on Bleacher Report but the kicker is the rationale for the Wild paying for a retractable roof is outdoor hockey.


Prospects and the Farm:
-Dan went over this in his blog earlier this week, but the NHL Central Scouting released their Midterm Rankings.

-Our friend CircularTheory profiled Max Friberg. (Hockey Wilderness)

-Hear Ms. Conduct is backing up Tjordman. (The Third Intermission)

-Mikael Granlund in action yesterday. (Nelonen.fi)

-Darcy Kuemper was nominated for CHL Player of the Week and just secured his seventh shutout.(Winnipeg Free Press/Discover Moose Jaw)

General Hockey:
-Nick in New York is chronicling something I've always wanted to do. Building a backyard rink. (Hitting The Post)

-Ms. Conduct Goes To Boston.

-The Curious Case of Nick Leddy (or) Same story, different team. (NBC Chicago)

-Gary Bettman's Post-Winter Classic FAQ (Down Goes Brown)

-For the statheads, a look at even-strength save percentage to determine the best goaltending. The Wild are up there. (My Friend Corey)

-Mostly dealing with Team Canada's WJHC collapse, Ten Thoughts last week. (Hockey Now)

-Ongoing look at a hockey sports agency (or) great self-promotion. (Sports Agent Blog)


College and HS Hockey:
-My Gophers play some team without a name next year this weekend. And if you don't know why that's a big deal, read up on it. (GPL/USCHO)

-INCH Power Rankings

-Let's Play Hockey Minnesota HS Rankings

-Hot Seat in a Hockey Hotbed. A profile of Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner. (Star Tribune)

Waiving Patrick O'Sullivan (or) No Harm, No Foul


We'll always have Philadelphia Patrick...

Today the Minnesota Wild placed forward Patrick O'Sullivan on waivers. It's not a big surprise given O'Sullivan has spent stretches of time this month in the press box and his stints on the ice have been lackluster to say the least. While he has a good shot and can play a top-six role, it came at the expense of lazy play and no defense. With Pierre-Marc Bouchard back after a year recovering from post-concussion syndrome and a few grinders stepping up their play, the writing was on the wall; despite an amazing start and fans revolting over his first healthy scratch, it was time for O'Sullivan to go.

In the end, I'm a little disappointed that O'Sullivan didn't work out. At the time he was claimed, we wrote about how Patrick was a low risk, high reward. While that's even more true now - at the time he was claimed, Guillaume Latendresse just announced he was undergoing surgery and Bouchard had not come back - it's always great to see a success story and coming back to the team which drafted him would be a good one. Plus the Wild would be better off having another shooter given the lack of goal scorers without Latendresse.

However, I'm content with the move as sooner or later O'Sullivan's laziness was going to overshadow any positive play. Everyone knows he can score, as shown by O'Sullivan's fifty point season with the Kings (in addition to the 93 point performance in Houston which made him viable trade bait), but in the National Hockey League that is not enough. He had his chance to play top-six minutes with Marty Havlat and Matt Cullen but unless he can gain more energy or O'Sullivan grows a few inches he will be a permanent resident of the AHL or Europe. It's no surprise Los Angeles, Edmonton, Carolina and Phoenix have all gotten rid of Patrick O'Sullivan in the last two seasons and sadly at this point it's just par for the course.