Poll: How Does A New Winnipeg Team Affect The Wild

We take a quick break from the 10 at #10 series to react to something a little more close to home. It was announced today that the Atlanta Thrashers will be relocating to Winnipeg for next season. It's news which has been met with various reactions depending on which side of the 49th parallel one is on. Personally as someone who has lost their own NHL team once (in the North Stars), I feel the pain of every Thrasher fan (something which Dan touches on below). It's great to see Manitobans celebrate the arrival of their new team but I hope they take a moment to remember the feeling of losing the Jets. No one should ever have their team ripped away from them and for those who disagree I hope they volunteer their own squad next time.

I also wanted to touch on this from a Minnesota Wild perspective. Atlanta moving to Winnipeg means there is another team within 8 hours of St. Paul. One of the criticisms by many Wild fans has been a lack of rivals (both geographic and historical) and now there is a team in Northern Minnesota's backyard. A team in Winnipeg also could mean a division switch (although not until 2012-2013) for the Wild and new opponents. At the very least, today's news does touch our favorite team so how does a new Winnipeg team affect your interest in the Minnesota Wild? Feel free to vote below.

The New Colossus



In what was hardly a shocking revelation today it was formally announced that The Atlanta Thrashers had been sold and will play next season in the tropical clime of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The former home of the Jets once again has an NHL franchise- needless to say, 'Peggers were estatic.

(photo courtesy of Jared Zanewich)

While the implications of the move across conference and divisional lines are being prognosticated and pondered, there is the other side of the coin here- the folks in Atlanta, who for the second time in 30 years that the city has watched an NHL franchise leave for Canada.
There is outrage and justifiably so. There is lament. (Please read that.) There is even teary displays from the former owner.
There is also compassion and empathy- while there are some in Manitoba who can identify with Thrasher fans, there are fans throughout the league who know what its like to watch yours, mine, and our favorite team pack its shit in a Mayflower Moving Truck and hit the highway.

Quebec.
Hartford.
...Minnesota.

We feel your pain...almost completely. Not only did our team, The North Stars, move to Dallas under Norm Green's direction, but our one-time IHL franchise, the Minnesota Moose, packed up and went...that's right...to its current location in Manitoba.

So in the spirit of shared pain and experiences, and to the forging of a new brotherhood, I welcome any and all Atlanta Thrasher fans into Minnesota Wild fandom. Come and read, comment, and participate in the blogs like this one, Hockey Wilderness, Gone Puck Wild, and Hitting The Post. Immerse yourselves in the best hockey beat writer on the planet Mike Russo. Come to the Xcel Energy Center and catch a game (no promises on the Winter weather though.) We don't want you to be disenfranchised- We will welcome you all with open arms.




10 For 10: Matt Puempel





Matt Puempel, Left Wing, Peterborough Petes (Ontario Hockey League)



Dossier:

Born January 24, 1993...6'0", 190 pounds...Left Hand Shot...Ranked 28th in Central Scouting Final Rankings, moving up from 29th at Mid-Term...6th overall pick in the 2009 OHL Priority Draft...won the 2009-10 CHL Rookie of the Year award after scoring 33 goals and 64 points in 59 games for a bad Peterborough team...scored 34 goals in 55 games before season ending hip surgery...was on pace for 42 goals and 85 points in 68 games...had little offensive support in Peterborough both years, seeing opposing teams' top checking lines night in and night out...season ending surgery entailed removing a chip in his hip bone which was calling a fluid build up...likely will not participate in physical testing at Scouting Combine in June...Injury does not appear to be degenerative...Puempel's hands, shot, and scoring instincts are very comparable to 2010-11 NHL Rooke Of The Year Candidate Jeff Skinner...opportunistic scorer...possesses a heavy and accurate shot...will go into traffic and the dirty areas to score...average skater with a good stride, which should improve with more strength...maybe the most pure goal scorer in this year's Draft Class...has slender frame which requires more strength to succeed at NHL level...stuggles with inconsistency but is constantly a threat to find the scoresheet...is aware of the shortcomings in his game...defensively his game needs refining, but has been working on rounding out his game...good anticipation...lauded for his passion of the game and character...honor student...compete level has been criticized...can make his teammates better with skilled passes...not a very toolsy player...defensive instincts aren't as good as offensive hockey sense...Are his rankings more of him being off the radar because of surgery, or just because there are better players?


Dan Shrader on Matt Puempel:

"Puempel's an interesting cat for me. He's more of a forgotten man and I could see a team grabbing him earlier than expected because he's been one of those "out of sight out of mind" guys, but if they are going more off of what he did a year ago and believe they can coax a better effort against him, he's got legitimate top-six upside."
- Kirk Luedeke

Puempel is really really high on my list, if not number 1- and I think Brent Flahr and Co. have to take a big look at him. You just can't teach goal scoring, but the things in his game that are knocks- the average skating, compete level, size, his still-refining defensive play- all can be remedied with maturation and proper coaching. He's put up back to back 30 goal years on a putrid Peterborough team, and he's the object of the opposition's checkers. He's a character kid (which seems to be a common theme amongst draftees in the Flahr era; the staff is high on character,) an honor student, and I love this quote by Puempel in an interview with Dan Sallows:
"I think my biggest strengths are in the offensive zone. Going forward I need to work on every part of my game. I might find parts of my game that I’m happy with, but will never find any part of my game that I am satisfied with."


Remember, you have to project kids 3-4 years down the line. And Puempel, with his intangibles, developing all-around game, and ability to score goals, could be huge for Minnesota. I really think Puempel goes higher than he's ranked.

Nate Wells on Matt Puempel:
If past drafts are any indication, you can go off the board at number ten. Just look at New York choosing Dylan McIlrath last year and a couple of the profiled players in the 10 for 10 series; this year is no exception. It speaks to the depth of the players between 6-20 and that a player like Matt Puempel can be profiled next to Mika Zibanejad. There are going to be a lot of different guys going in unorthodox spots; what one team sees as the sixth-best player, another may have him further down on the list.

With that said, I'm not as big of a fan of Puempel at ten as Dan is. While he is an offensive scorer which the prospect pool needs, it's not to the point of drafting a scorer over a better player. That's not to say Puempel isn't underrated. He is. But between the question marks, the injury concerns (as Wild fans we should just embrace the hip surgery) and lack of high-end tools Puempel is not the next Jeff Skinner and not a player who can really jump 12-17 spots in mock draft rankings. And from talking with those who follow the OHL, he's a player who would and can be a good project - Puempel works his ass off and can score even without top players - but a 3-4 year project without an extremely high ceiling is not the player I want to take at 10...even if he can score goals.

Previous 10 for 10 Entries:
Joel Armia
Mark McNeil
Mika Zibanejad

Saturday Morning Mail Bag

Every so often at First Round Bust we get a variety of emails from our readers, asking of our opinions about certain topics pertaining to our Minnesota Wild. I thought today would be a good time to answer some of those questions.

"Dear First Round Bust-
With all these coaching candidates being bandied about, how do you feel about them and who do you think will be the next Head Coach?" - Todd R., Crystal, MN


Thanks for the email Coa...I mean Todd. At this point I'm convinced that the premise behind the coaching search isn't about schematics or style of play- this is about having a coach that holds his players accountable, and can get every single iota of talent out of them. That's why you see the Hitchcocks, and the MacTavish's- guys with a track record of success. You also see hot commodities like Kirk Muller, Mike Haviland, etc. too being thrown around too; the new trend in the NHL isn't hiring a retread, but going after respected Assistant Coaches and AHL Coaches.

But frankly I'd be shocked if Mike Yeo doesn't get the job. He's got everything Fletcher is looking for (he's got the Aeros up 1-0 in the freaking Calder Cup for christs sake) and going forward he'd be coaching the same players, in the same philosophy Todd Richards was using with the big club. It just makes too much sense to me.

First Round Bust- How do you feel about Minnesota possibly drafting my br...Finland's Markus Granlund in June? - Mikael, Helsinki, Finland


Thank you for writing in from Finland! Did you see that Mikael Granlund stamp? Pretty cool stuff.
As for lil' Granlund...he's not as talented as his older brother, but is still a solid prospect who could be available when Minnesota picks in the 3rd Round (remember we just gave away our 2nd pick in that awful Chuck Kobasew trade,) unless something changes with that.
Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus has Granlund as his 69th best Draft Eligible, and is statisically comparable to Niklas Hagman. Not bad.

FRB...Where do you think Max Noreau fits in to Minnesota's long term plans, with guys like Chay Genoway being signed? - Maxim N. Houston, TX


Go Aeros!

Sorry to let you down Max, but I think Chuck Fletcher is in the process of filling the toybox with "his guys", so to speak, and I think Noreau will get squeezed out. I'm not sure if he'll be more than a 3rd pairing guy at the NHL/AHL star anywhere.

Dear FRB...first off I want to say your site ROCKS!!1!!111! I read it every day. I want to know, do you think Brent Burns will be traded? FRB RULZ! Brent B., Lake Elmo, MN


Brent Burns doesn't have to be traded but I think Fletcher will certainly entertain offers between the Draft and Free Agency. At this point we know what Burns is as a player (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and he's going to get PAID, simply because his agent is Ron Salcer.
To me, this sort of thing just screams COLUMBUS- GM Scott Howson essentially has to make a splash in order to retain fan attention, keep his veterans like RJ Umberger, and they're willing to deal their first pick (8th overall) and/or shake up their young core (Brassard, Voracek, etc.)
Columbus has some things of interest to us, and vice versa. This is all conjecture, but this sort of scenario makes a ton of sense to me. BUT, like I said, we don't have to trade Burns, and it wouldn't be bad if he was still on roster come Training Camp.

Will The Wild draft any Minnesotans this year? Da Wooger, South St. Paul, MN


This is actually Nate will be writing about in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for that.


I feel this went well, so look forward to more installments of the Saturday Mail Bag. Send your questions to firstroundbust@gmail.com.

Your Moment of Zen 5/27




Score a ridiculous goal at The World Championships, get immortalized on a stamp.

This begs the question- does the term "He got stamped" enter the hockey lexicon now? Maybe it should...right Peter Forsberg?

10 for 10: Mika Zibanejad





Mika Zibanejad, Center, Djurgardens IF (Sweden)




DOSSIER:

Born April 18, 1993...6'1.5" 191 pounds...Right Hand Shot...ranked 2nd in European Skaters, after being 3rd at the Mid-Term...scored 5 goals and 9 points in 26 games with Djurgardens Senior Team...made debut on Senior Team December 7th, 2010...tallied one goal and one assist in 7 games of Eliteserien Postseason play...scored 4 goals and 8 points in 6 games at the U-18 Championships this Spring...Mother is of Finnish Descent, Father is of Iranian Descent...fluent in Swedish, Finnish, and English...signed two year extension with Djurgardens, under contract til 2013...considers his older brother his role model (a center in the English Premier League) and credits him with improving small details in his game, like attacking the offensive zone and faceoffs...a huge riser late in many rankings...can dictate the pace of play on every shift...hard worker...balanced skater...hard to knock off pucks...doesn't possess high end speed, but is fast and will continue to gain speed with more strength...owns a heavy shot and quick release...also capable of setting up teammates...is willing to hit, understands that physical play can be beneficial...can play center and wing...plays with intensity...is responsible in all three zones...saw time on the 2nd PP unit and PK with Djurgardens...needs some fine tuning, like receiving passes and setting up around net but has the work ethic to improve...a solid prospect, but the question is will his offensive game translate to the NHL?



Dan Shrader on Mika Zibanejad:

Not gonna lie...I'm a fan. He's got so many things to him that you love as a player- he works his ass off, he hits, he kills penalties, and oh ya, he's got a slick pair of hands and a heavy, accurate shot. He is so goddamned effective, in all three zones- this is the kind of player you want. Zibanejad seemingly is a player who could play just about anywhere in your forward lines and contribute somehow.
I've seen comparisons stylistically to Jeff Carter and Mikko Koivu- I can see a little of both in Zibanejad. He does admit to watching guys like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Alexander Ovechkin to try and learn from in regards to certain facets of the game.
I do think that the question mark about his offensive game, and how it translates is intriguing, but I'm almost in the train of thought that even if he isn't an elite player offensively, he'd still be an effective cog in your lineup night in and night out.
The bottom line is I don't know if Mika Zibanejad will even be there at #10- he's skyrocketed up the rankings of many scouting services, and presumably NHL team's Draft Boards as well.


Nate Wells on Mika Zibanejad:
Zibanejad is one of the more intriguing prospects that could be available for Minnesota at 10. He has a lot of tools which Wild fans love (and there's nothing wrong with being compared to Mikko Koivu) and some flashy play. Just look at this goal against the #1 draft eligible Swede Adam Larsson:


Thanks to NHLDraftVideo for the clips

Again, it's always good to see prospects be a late riser and improve throughout their draft year and that has certainly been the case with Zibanejad as Mika has been continuing to impress scouts and fans everywhere. He is also hard to get off the puck and solid on his skates; a true power forward in all sense of the word. It's also great to see Zibanejad score as a 17 year-old playing against men as he had nine points in 26 Swedish Elite League games this season; for comparison Wild second-round pick Johan Larsson is a year older and had one less point in 43 games.

However, despite Zibanejad size and skill, from talking to scouts who were at the U-18s there still seems to be something missing his game. He clearly has skills and showed chemistry with linemates Viktor Rask and Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall, but it's not all there yet. Throw in the fact that Mika will most likely spend another season or two in Sweden and not join the Minnesota organization if he falls to ten and it could make for an interesting season with two top prospects playing overseas. That might be for the best given the state of the prospect pool; especially if Zibanejad is not ready to make an immediate impact. I will be happy to see him available for Minnesota at ten as his size and hands trump offensive questions, but like Dan said it's hard to count on Mika being there right now.

Previous 10 for 10 Features
Mark McNeil
Joel Armia

Wild Sign Kris Foucault To Entry-Level Deal

Yesterday it was Darcy Kuemper, today it is Kris Foucault. From Wild.com

The Wild signed left wing Kris Foucault of the Calgary Hitmen to a three-year entry level deal on Friday, locking up another prospect acquired via the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

In his final season of junior hockey, Foucault led the Hitmen in scoring with 48 points. He tied for the team lead with 25 goals and was third with 23 assists. He also registered 11 multi-point games. At the completion of his season, Foucault signed an amateur tryout contract with the Houston Aeros and appeared in one game.


As far as signings go, this is pretty ho-hum. Foucault has been hit-or-miss throughout his junior career and twenty-five goals as an overager in the WHL is not a great total for a prospect who is seen as a scorer. His one shining moment since being drafted was going on a tear in last season's CHL playoffs (scoring nine goals in twenty-three games) but even then Foucault was not able to follow up this season. I'd be surprised if he makes the big club without adapting his game (i.e. becoming more physical or working on two-way play) but Foucault should be a good addition to the Aeros and Wild organization.

This should be it as far as any other prospect signings go. The team can still sign Jere Sallinen and Kyle Medvec but it appears unlikely the team will do so based on speaking with a couple people in the know. Minnesota can only have fifty players under contract at one time and they are pushing the limit. The fact that those two haven't developed as much as many would like doesn't help either.

Wild Sign Darcy Kuemper To Entry-Level Deal




From Wild.com

It will be announced this afternoon that the Minnesota Wild has signed goaltending prospect Darcy Kuemper to a three-year entry level deal. Kuemper, who posted eye-popping numbers with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League last season, was named the WHL Goaltender and Player of the Year.


This puts an end to any speculation of whether or not Kuemper would sign with Minnesota by June 1 or re-enter the draft (although it was reported and insinuated by Kuemper himself that he could become an UFA, Darcy would have to be passed over in the 2011 draft for him to become an unrestricted free agent). If anything, goaltending is the one strength in the Wild prospect pool and adding another piece always helps; at the very least Chuck Fletcher has more assets at his disposal in case of a trade. It's also great to have another person fight to be Niklas Backstrom's eventual successor even though I still am not convinced that Kuemper's WHL season will translate into being a NHL starter. We'll see if it gets proven wrong and Kuemper becomes another Cam Ward (something Wild fans everywhere would be happy about) but for now it's good to know between Matt Hackett, Dennis Endras and him (sorry Josh Harding) there appears to be a successor in the pipeline.

10 for 10: Mark McNeill





Mark McNeill, Center, Prince Albert Raiders (Western Hockey League)




DOSSIER:

Born 2-22-1993...6'1", 207 pounds...Right Hand Shot...ranked 14th in Central Scouting Final Rankings, up from 22nd at Mid-Term...comes from a hockey background- father played for Edmonton Oil Kings and worked in WHL...scored 32 goals and 81 points on a weak Prince Albert team...had 6 assists for Team Canada at the U-18 Championships...is Captain at Prince Albert at 18...works hard on the ice and in the weight room...solidly built through the core and back end- big and very strong...finished 2nd in the fastest skater competition (14.132 seconds) at the CHL Top Prospects Game...good teammate...smart player...does the little things very well...nasty fighter who is given a wide berth by opponents...suffered an achilles injury a few years ago which has hampered his skating and altered his game from before...good acceleration...skilled around the net...possesses a heavy and accurate shot...can bull his way to the net...may be more effective as a winger than a center...doesn't possess the hockey sense or creativity required to be a top line center, even 2nd line center...went through a mid-season slump of just 3 points in 9 games with a -16, which was attributed to a viral infection and bicep injury...scored 28 points in his last 16 games, scoring in 15 of them...was an offensive disappointment at U-18's, moved to checking line by tourney's end...scouts point to inconsistency as a problem in his compete and along the walls...could be still learning and growing into power game because of said Achilles injury...needs to play with more urgency...more of a "throw it at the net" type...still needs work in tight spaces in regards to quickness and agility...where McNeill is selected will primarily be based on how many times he was viewed and what his upside is seen as.



Dan Shrader on Mark McNeill:

To quote someone I talked to in regards to McNeill, he said that "he's polarizing among scouts." There are a lot of things about his game that a fan would like- he's big, strong, nasty, can score; but then you find out about what looks like a glass ceiling in terms of his playmaking ability, which just isn't creative enough to make his linemates better- and you have to ask yourself if you want a guy who could in all likelihood be moved to the wing in order to maximize his effectiveness, or is there a better option?
You're looking at a surefire NHLer here- he should be able to transition to the pro game's physicality, and has a horse quality to him, but is Minnesota convinced that they can get more offense out of him? Don't get me wrong, I like McNeill and I think he fits what Chuck Fletcher covets- speed and grit, but if this was pick, say 14 or 15, then I'm all over Mark McNeill.

Nate Wells on Mark McNeil:

I'm a little higher on McNeil than Dan. It's not the easiest thing to be a power center in the WHL, let alone putting up more than a point per game on a bad Prince Albert team. Mark has also been rising up the rankings which goes to show his development and potential; if anything, he is a lot like Ryan Johansen (fellow WHL forward and #4 pick by Columbus last year). McNeil is a bit of a mystery in terms of putting things together (aka he has tools but is raw), but he's a player who a GM would make an off the board pick.

He's not my number one choice due to being another forward better known for his defense, but if Fletcher chose McNeil with the tenth overall pick I would be fine with it. You need players like McNeil on any winning team and he fits Minnesota's philosophy.

Previous 10 for 10 features:
Joel Armia

10 for 10: Joel Armia





Joel Armia: RW, Assat, SM-Liiga (Finland)



DOSSIER:

Born 5-31-1993...6'3" 187 pounds...Right Hand Shot...Ranked 4th for European Skaters in Final Central Scouting Rankings after being ranked 2nd at Mid-Term...18 goals, 11 assists, 24 PIM in 28 games for Assat...tallied just one assist at the World Junior Championships, but impressed at the U-18 Championships with four goals and 13 points in just 6 games...possesses great hands and goal scoring instincts, along with NHL compatible frame...wants the puck on his stick; literally said in an interview "I want the puck"...is fantastic with competing for the puck and with it on his stick...among a handful of the most pure goal scorers in this year's draft class...sees the ice well and makes good decisions distributing the puck...can create scoring chances and shots for himself...excels when given time and space, but also capable of operating in tighter checking situations...can be dominant along the walls in the corner, using his natural size to his advantage...has nose for net...will become a dangerous offensive threat when filled out but still physically immature...due to lack of physical strength is knocked off the puck easily because of high center of gravity...a one-dimensional player at this stage of his development...still raw, especially in terms of defensive zone responsibilities...can take himself out of position...slow to cover for others- i.e. a pinching defenseman...can act indifferent, if not lazy, at times during games...Armia possesses all the tools and the upside, but is still raw and will need alot of coaching, especially in respect to the defensive side of the game.


Dan Shrader on Joel Armia:

I've seen a number of mock drafts (tis the season for them) with Minnesota taking Joel Armia at 10. It makes a lot of sense, since outside of Mikael Granlund, we lack prospects with offensive upside that could be considered "elite." Historically this franchise has struggled to score goals, and now you have a big, goal scoring Finnish winger who could be on the board- I can see why the authors of these mocks would pencil in Armia. Throw in also that Armia is a quiet kid without a strong grip on the English language, Minnesota would have a built in support system with Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, and Niklas Backstrom.
However...
I talked to Kirk Luedeke (a great reference by the way, make sure you visit his site early and often,) who gave me a generous amount of insight on Armia- this quote by Kirk really resonated with me-

"The question is- will he put in the work and energy it takes to maximize his prodigious gifts? His fans and boosters say yes, but I have yet to see the hard evidence that would lead me to believe that light is going to come on for him."


I'll pass on Armia. Even if Joel Armia is exactly what Minnesota desperately needs in the toybox, I can't get behind taking a player who looks to have an issue with motivation, and reaching his potential- I've seen a comparable to Mikko Lehtonen, who is Wild property but chose to stay in Europe after three seasons with Providence in the AHL, and to hit closer to home, we have Benoit Pouliot. Guys who ooze talent, have everything a scout could want, except that inner drive to get better. Sure, its easy to look at what looks like a promising upside (especially offensively) but at what cost? Not at 10.

No Thanks.


Nate Wells on Joel Armia:

Whether it's because the Wild are a team chalk full of Finns or there aren't any Minnesotans looking to be a top-fifteen pick, Joel Armia is popular amongst the Wild masses. However more than any prospect, Armia is an enigma. His numbers look good but they aren't Mikael Granlund (who went one pick earlier) good. Armia has size but watching him during the World Juniors he was knocked off the puck by players smaller than him. In theory he's a player that the Wild need given their lack of top-end wingers and goal-scorers, but fans should be aware that Armia is more of a project at 10 than other available players. He has a high ceiling and tools teams love (you don't see too many 6'3" guys with such great hands) but it will take time and will not be any immediate help. Because of that he's not my first pick at ten - I just don't see him being the best player available and is a reach despite his high ceiling.

The Rapture Has Been Postponed

Here we are, on the eve of ahem, "The Rapture", and although it's raining, I'm not seeing the souls of the people going in and out of the Perkins across the street from my place suddenly eject from their earthly shell and rise up to heaven. Yet, if at all.

But I think these doomsayers, prognosticators, and "prophets" have got the date wrong. They're a year too early on their "Rapture Forecast"- because Mikael Granlund will stay in Finland one more year. The key quote here, to get all biblical: "(Todd) Diamond (Granlund's agent) said the plan is to "SIGN THIS TIME NEXT YEAR."







Its a bit of a bummer because of the excitement he's generating, but from a priority standpoint, it's a very smart move. The so-called "housecleaning duties" include finishing school, fulfilling his military commitment, and continuing to evolve his game to where he can hit the NHL running- and have that be his sole focus. His skating continues to progress, and it gives him more time to strengthen to handle the grind. Needless to say, his appearance at the Wild Prospects Camp, which generally has scrimmages open to the public, will more than likely be seen by a packed house.

Granlund's performance at the World Championships has really opened eyes across the scouting world, and for Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, it has made him crown Granlund as the best:

Mikael Granlund, Center, Minnesota Wild (SM-Liiga):

Granlund had some injury problems this year and didn't blow the doors down as I thought he would, but at the Worlds the head injuries seemed to be behind him and his game simply looked at another level. The mainstream is likely familiar with his highlight reel goal in the semi-finals, but Granlund's performance at this tournament was so much more than that. He was playing at a high level in just about every game and there were times where he looked like he was toying with some of the defensemen he was lining up against. His puck skills and hockey sense both looked well above-average to potentially elite tools and there's little question in my mind—if Granlund can handle the NHL's physicality—that he will control the possession game very well. His patience, vision, anticipation, defensive awareness and overall hockey sense is extremely impressive, and when you combine it with the puck abilities that consistently make people miss, it makes Granlund a feared weapon. His ability on the power play is very good and he has the uncanny ability to wait out opponents, make last-second decisions as a lane steadily opens and execute. His skating seems to have developed a little bit too, and while it's not at pro-average, it looks a little better than where it was last year. The physical aspect is the only thing that will hold Granlund back, and he's shown the work ethic to play physical so if he can handle pro defenders regularly, he's going to be a star. If you asked me a few months ago who was the best NHL prospect I likely would have juggled between a few names including Granlund, and said there was no standout number one player. However after seeing where Granlund is in his development, there is no question in my mind, the Wild's 2010 first rounder is the best prospect in hockey and may be ready to score in the league as soon as next season.

Update: Mikael Granlund will remain in Finland next season to complete high school and his military service requirement.




And because he deserves a mention too, 2010 2nd Round Pick Johan Larsson has signed an Entry Level Contract with Minnesota, but will play with his Swedish Elite League club Brynas this upcoming season. The Wild and Brynas are negotiating dates where Larsson can participate in Training Camp this fall- it is a bit sticky, considering the SEL season starts before then, and I believe Larsson will be a part of the Prospect Camp in the summer along with Granlund.

"Just a Honey Badger"

The collective known has the Minnesota Wild fanbase is in the doldrums; another Spring being spent watching the Playoffs from our couches, Lay-Z-Boys, and bar stools. And while the postseason so far has been just scintillating television, there is a feeling gnawing away at each and every fan wishing that the Playoffs could be that much better if Minnesota had made it- after all, the NHL Playoffs are traditionally wide open. Get in, and who knows what may happen.

Things got even worse for a fanbase down in the dumps.

Friday Night bore the news that Derek Boogaard, arguably the most popular player in franchise history, was found dead in his Minneapolis residence. In the days that followed, there was an outpouring of grief from around the league, and the fanbase manifested its appreciation for "The Boogeyman" by way of a tear jerking and heart felt tribute at the Xcel Energy Center, which Derek's family attended. It was really touching, something that still tugs at the heart strings even when I read things about it days after it happened.

There is a beacon of light though.

In Hamilton, Ontario the Houston Aeros are playing the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Western Conference Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Aeros are up 2-0 in the series, and as of press time, are leading 3-2 going into the second intermission. A win and the Aeros seemingly have a stranglehold on not only the series, but what would be Houston's third trip to the Calder Cup Finals since 1999. Enough cannot be said for what Head Coach Mike Yeo has done (he's my pick for next Wild Head Coach, buy a country mile) but something funny has happened while our attention was elsewhere.


Colton Gillies has become one hell of a hockey player.

On message boards and amongst fans, Gillies has become a bit of a joke- he was drafted in the 1st Round, and was/is projected to be a checking line winger. AND DOUG RISEBROUGH AND TOMMY THOMPSON traded up to get him! Keep in mind, that Gillies came just after a dark time in Wild Draft Pick History- a lack of riches, a GasHouse Gorilla swing and a miss against a Bugs Bunny Changeup-like effort of non-success. We call those whiffs at the proverbial pinata the "The Unholy Trio"; as in AJ Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, and James Sheppard, all considered First Round Busts, and all three served as the genesis for the title of the blog you're reading now. It was too easy to kind of string Gillies into that category, considering the head scratching nature of the pick. He was fast tracked to the NHL for some reason, sat in the press box (presumably to keep James Sheppard's seat warm), and when we underwent a regime change, was sent to Houston...pretty much indefinitely.

Going into tonight Colton Gillies has (ready for this?):
- 7 goals and 1 assist in 14 games
- He's +8
- He's tied for the postseason lead (with fellow Wild Prospect/Aero Carson McMillan) in game winning goals with 2.

I saw Gillies at the end of the fateful Wild season, and he was a pleasant surprise- his tour of duty in Houston has served him well. But I wanted to know more about this revelation, so I got in touch with someone much closer to the team than I- Heather Galindo, or as many know her Ms. Conduct.

I asked her about his development during his time in Houston;
"I'd equate it to a hill on a rollercoaster... click-click-clicking to the top and the real thrill is obviously coming but then playoffs hit and BAM!...He said last night he's consciously working to go to the net and be a bigger presence around the net. Of course, my question was, "Why didn't you do this before?" but whatever. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? Just appreciating the way he's playing right now. He's a BEAST. Don't expect fancy things out of him. He plays a very simple, hard-working game where he really just goes to the net and looks for the puck and would set himself on fire if he thought it would make the puck go in."

What about Coach Yeo? Considering where he has this team, and the level they're playing at? "I have no doubt that he's had a positive influence. He's put him in a position to succeed and has framed his game in this really positive way." She also made mention that this is Gillies' third year of pro hockey, which is generally when the "late bloomers", as she called it, "generally get it." It turns out, according to Galindo, that much of Gillies success is due to his linemates. "(Jed) Ortmeyer is just an amazing linemate, as is Warren Peters. Both veteran guys with veteran wisdom and I think that's been a big deal for Colton to be around those guys in particular. It's calmed him down, and he's more focused and controlled but still just a honey badger if you're trying to stop him. He don't give a shit. He's hungry."

I talked to a scout a few years ago, post-draft, and he said this about Colton Gillies. "Gillies will make an impact every shift; not necessarily a goal, or an assist, but a hit, a forecheck, a blocked shot. You win with guys like him." That's what Houston is doing- winning with him.

We're getting a glimpse of the player Risebrough and Thompson thought we'd have- a gritty character guy who can make an impact every shift, a beast, a "honey badger", a guy you win championships with. That's present day Colton Gillies.

Or as Heather Galindo succinctly put it..."COLTON MOTHERFUCKIN' GILLIES!"










*photo courtesy of TheAHL.com

Former Wild Prospect Niko Hovinen Signed By Philadelphia


Big body, big shot-blocker. That made more sense in my head.

Remember Niko Hovinen? The 6'7" Finnish goaltender who the Wild drafted in the fifth round of the James Sheppard 2006 Draft? Well it looks like he has re-appeared in North America after Minnesota Wild relinquished his rights as the Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they had signed Hovinen to an entry-level deal similar to Dennis Endras. Right now it appears as if Hovinen will spend next season in Europe and then come over to North America in 2012 but that's not set in stone. It would make sense given that he is still a wildcard and the Flyers are in a position where they can wait much like Minnesota with Endras.

On the Minnesota end it was a little disappointing to let Hovinen go. It's not as if he was lighting up SM-Liiga after being drafted; if anything Hovinen was a backup and looking to be a bust. However, there aren't too many goalies with the tools and 6'7" body which Hovinen possesses and that speaks well despite the plethora of Wild prospects. This past season has served as a wakeup call, as he responded well with a .921 save percentage and 17-25-5 in 49 appearances (his team finished last) alongside being the third-string goaltender for Finland's World Championship-winning team. I can't be too disappointed given Minnesota has goaltending depth but the hope as a Wild fan is that this doesn't turn out to be another Pekka Rinne or even for Philadelphia another Sergei Bobrovsky. It's not like we've been burned before.

Remembering Derek Boogaard


This is a weird blog to write even after having three days to comprehend everything. Like many of you, I've never met Derek Boogaard; unless walking down the same hallway counts. I'm not family, I'm not a friend and I'm not someone who has interacted on a personal level like Mike Russo (if you haven't read his piece on Boogaard, you need to). But I am someone who follows the Wild and has a connection with the team. And when the news of Derek's Boogaard death struck a celebratory night, it was amazing how for someone we(as hockey fans have never met, it feels like we lost a member of our family.



For me, one of the interesting things after seeing "Derek Boogaard (6/23/82 – 5/13/11) " on Sportscenter was being out with people I didn't really know but were hockey fans. Seriously, the nice thing about hockey and Wild fans is that we are able to come together in times like this. Even though Boogaard hasn't worn Iron Range Red this year, there is a sense of family of any hockey player who has played in the State of Hockey. Sometimes it is can be frustrating when people clamor for "Minnesota-born Player X" or "former Bulldogs Player Y" to be drafted/signed/traded to the Wild - hell, we make fun of it and will make fun of it - but the fact that Minnesotans everywhere could Boogey one of their own gives hockey fans everywhere a sense of pride. So it was great to be around a group of hockey fans and discuss such great moments as...

....Boogaard breaking Todd Fedoruk's jaw (it's funny how they eventually became teammates)...


...Boogaard versus David Koci...


...flattening Rene Bourque...


...and that time he shattered glass....


...his crazy ass smirk...

...that really weird Team of 18,000 commercial with Pierre-Marc Bouchard...


...and finally Boogaard's comic struggles to score a goal sometimes (the mantra "Boogie Needs a Goal" came up) and its epic payoff this season on national television...


As this continued a few other strangers came over and started throwing in their own memories of #24 and bonding over our shared loss. That small gesture has snowballed on a larger scale throughout St. Paul, New York and everywhere hockey fans exist in the last 72 hours; culminating in a public memorial yesterday. It's unfortunate that we don't know what we have until we are gone. But I hope that the Boogaard family can take solace in the fact that one man has touched and affected the lives of many; including those he hasn't met.

We would all be that lucky.

RIP Boogeyman...history will always remember #24

It's been a rough week...

We've lost two bona-fide legends, all our baseball games, maybe even an entire football season... It's been the sort of week that can really weigh on you. Jim Souhan explained what we're going through and what to take away from it quite eloquently, so I'm just going to leave you with this:

thoughts and prayers

I speak for all of the contributors at First Round Bust in sharing our condolences with the Boogaard Family upon the news of Derek Boogaard's untimely and tragically unfortunate death. Derek without a doubt forged an immensely popular cult hero like status in his time with the Minnesota Wild organization; a larger than life (literally and figuratively) presence, one that will forever be etched into the fabric of the franchise.

As fan we are very thankful for this, and am saddened by the news of his passing, which is far too soon at age 28.

Again we would like to extend our sincerest condolences, thoughts, prayers, and well wishes to the friends and family of Derek Boogaard. You will be missed.

Mikael Granlund's Amazing Lacrosse Goal

While Mikael Granlund has been an outstanding player for Finland in the World Championships, this lacrosse-style goal (in the spirit of Mike Legg's game-winner against the Gophers in 1996) is unbelievable. Look forward to some of this when he's wearing Iron Range Red.



And if that's not enough, here is some more Granlund highlights - check out 1:50 and 3:55.

Will Minnesota Sign Darcy Kuemper?



With the Draft coming up, Mikael Granlund tearing it up at the World Championships along with the team still searching for a new scapegoat head coach, something has flown under the radar in the State of Hockey concerning prospects. With June 1 coming up fast, Minnesota needs to sign some of its 2009 draft picks to maintain their rights. Outside of those who play college hockey (i.e. Erik Haula), teams have two years to sign their draft picks or else they forfeit the rights to that player and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. One of these players is current Red Deer goalie Darcy Kuemper.

On this week's Pipeline Show , Kuemper was discussing his contract status with hosts Guy Fleming and Dean Millard. The WHL MVP (and possible CHL MVP) who led the Rebels to 45 wins was noncommittal on his future with the Wild, preferring to lay back and leave matters to his agent. Although it's normal to let your agent do the dirty work, the way Kuemper came off made it sound more like he would rather get paid regardless of the organization.

And frankly, that makes sense. Kuemper is a sixth-round pick but is much more valuable with how his past season went. Despite If he ends up as an unrestricted free agent, someone would be willing to pay good money; although maybe not the first-round money some speculate that Darcy wants. He is drafted in an organization which is strong in goaltenders (including fellow 2009 draft pick and Aeros goalie Matt Hackett) and while there is no guarantee he will ever become a NHL-caliber goalie, like every prospect, Minnesota will give Kuemper more opportunities if they have pay more.

On the other hand, it's hard to justify paying first-round money on a twenty-year old sixth-round goalie. Kuemper did have a MVP season he should be dominating the Western Hockey League at twenty. There are plenty of goalies who have dominated that league, it is a more defensive league than its Canadian counterparts, but for every Cam Ward who blossoms in the NHL there is a Justin Pogge. The Wild aren't in a position where Kuemper is the best or only goalie in their system as there's Hackett along with Dennis Endras waiting in the wings. He deserves the accolades that he's getting, but it doesn't mean that Kuemper is worth a first-rounder or even more than Matt Hackett $900,000 cap hit.

In the end, it is going to be interesting over the next two and a half weeks to see whether or not. the Wild are able to sign Darcy Kuemper. Both sides feel like they hold bargaining chips as Minnesota can develop goalies in their system and Kuemper had a MVP-type season with Red Deer. Kuemper's value probably lies in the middle as he's worth more than his sixth-round selection but not a first-rounder. However, the NHL operates in the real world where what is fair is not always the case. If one team thinks he is worth first-round money, then the Wild's thin prospect pool might be thinner.

Roundtable Report Cards: The Coaching Staff

The next item to be graded out by the FRB Roundtable staff will be the Coaching Staff...I mean, what was the Coaching Staff.



The Coaching Staff...or what is left of it:
(Todd Richards, Dave Barr, Rick Wilson, Bob Mason, Darby Hendrickson, PJ Deluca)

Notables:
- 39-35-8 Record
- Third in Northwest Division
- 12th in Western Conference
- 19-17-5 record at Home, 20-18-3 record on the road
- Finished with a -27 goal differential (206 for/233 against)
- Coaching Staff was a combined 77-71-16 in two year tenure.
- Finished Season with 6-11-2 record


Jarick:
I will start my way at the "bottom" and work up to the top.

Darby/PJ - I have no idea what they did or how well they did it.

Bob Mason - B

Backstrom had a lot of problems down the stretch in terms of not making the initial save, even unscreened off the rush, and that's the only reason I'd drop him to a "B"...but I'm not sure how much of that was Mason or Backstrom. Theodore stepping in and playing as well as he did most nights is a testament to Mason's ability to work with new guys as well.

Dave Barr - I have no idea what he did or how well he did it, but considering his three years as an assistant coach of the NHL were huge disappointments, I won't be missing him.

Rick Wilson - A

Wilson IMO was the biggest reason the Wild were in the playoff hunt at all. He settled down the defense and had them go from pretending to play goalie to actually playing defense (as in boxing out the forwards, moving bodies in the crease, defending the rush). Unfortunately the wheels fell off the bus later in the season and Brent Burns went into headcase mode. Still, the Wild won a hell of a lot of games with as many as THREE rookie defensemen in the lineup, and most nights they were playing fairly well.

Todd Richards - D

While most people say he had nothing to work with, I disagree. He had a lot of talent in this roster, and more talent than Lemaire usually worked with. The team played fairly well in the middle of the season, but playing a different style than last year, which tells me it was Wilson and not Richards doing the coaching (especially since Wilson is the defensive coach and so much talk was on the different D style). Yet Richards stubbornly stuck to not matching lines or D pairings, not changing his lines up throughout the year, not managing the ice times of his players based on who was playing well or not, not taking timeouts when the Wild were getting blown out, and looking befuddled and overwhelmed on the bench. Countless times after losses he had no "answers" for what happened. That's the main thing a coach SHOULD have. IMO, he might have a mind for the strategy, but he is far from being able to manage players, run the bench, and make adjustments. I am very happy the Wild are going in a different direction.


Ben:

C-

After spending the 09-10 season deprogramming the Wild of Lemaire's systems, Richards and Co. were able to make some adjustments that improved certain areas of the 10-11 Wild. The first area the Wild improved was their play on the road. The Wild finished 20-18-3 on the road, which is much better than the 09-10 season of 13-24-4. Secondly, the addition of Rick Wilson brought experience that would tighten up the Wild's defense. The Wild were much stingier in the defensive zone, blocking shots, covering passing lanes and not getting caught up ice as defensemen were not activated nearly as much. Lastly, except for one month, the Wild played harder and more consistent than they ever did the year prior.

However, the coaching staff was not able to correct a few areas that hindered the Wild team of 09-10. First, Richards was still not able to figure out how to be a tactician with his line matchups. Too often he would simply roll lines 1-4 without trying to get an advantage. Secondly, his persistence in keeping Miettinen on the top line even when Miettinen was struggling or not giving 100% effort. Lastly, and most importantly, the Wild were horrible at home. In their brief existence, the Wild have always been a strong team at home. This year the Wild went 19-17-5 after going 25-12-4 the year previously.

Even thought the Wild had a horrific March that ultimately led them to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, Richards and Co. had the team playing better than they did last year. As with all sports, though, negative results overshadows minor improvements.


Bozak:
Wow. When you break down the numbers, that coaching staff has a losing record. Throw in over time losses into the loss column, the record is 39-43.
The only way that you can grade a losing record is with a huge FAIL. I would slap the Failure label on both Todd Richards and Dave Barr but I have no idea why PJ Deluca was canned. What does a video coach do? Watched video and prepares the coaching staff? Okay… Ron Wilson was the only saving grace behind the actual bench this season, but I wish he would have stepped up February 28th and led, but I also understand that coaching is very hierarchical. If the “leader” says something stupid or gives a stupid command, you don’t usurp him behind the bench, during a game.

It is no big surprise that my opinion of Richards never changed. I just didn’t like the way it appeared that he processed the game. Our road record this year is also pretty much indicative of one of the big reasons why Richards never was really up to speed on processing the game. Line matching is a HUGE part of winning in the NHL. The fact that Richards never matched lines against other lines or even situational lines is telling in regards to these road stats. Why? If you don’t match lines, and you don’t have last line change, you rely on the players to do whatever they can to succeed. You see good coaches take the time to understand who their opponent has put out there and will shift accordingly, even if it’s immediately after a faceoff.

Example; In these playoffs, we have been treated with phenomenal coaches. Dave Tippet would send Belanger out for a face off, and as soon as it was won or lost, he would sprint to the bench.

The failures in our home record this season are indicative of no line matching as well as the crowd being completely out of emotion. The X has always been a tough place to play in as the visitor. Yet, this season, the fans will to drive the team with enthusiasm was sapped after last year. The feeling in the crowd was very different from the crowd last year. We heard several times from both the Wild and the visiting team about how the crowd was more against the team than they were for it. Kick us in the proverbial sack enough times, and the fans start to bail.

Endtroducing...10 for 10: Draftboard Dossiers

Since the offseason for our Minnesota Wild has moved along at a snail's pace, including the search for a new Head Coach, I feel its time that we turn our attention to the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, which coincidentally, will be held at the Xcel Energy Center June 24-25.

Minnesota has the 10th pick in the first round, and since that pick tends to be the face of the respective Draft Class for a few years, it behooves us as fans to really develop an opinion on whom Chuck Fletcher and Co. should select with that pick, because, well...we don't got much to talk about for now.

10 for 10 is something I used to do at my previous writing destination, as a way of highlighting guys (the number is subject to change, thank god I never had to do things like "23 for 23") who I feel Minnesota could take with their first round selection.

Considering the current status of the projected first rounders, there is the mythical "Top 8"; these guys (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couterier, Ryan Murphy, Dougie Hamilton, and Gabriel Landeskog) are the concensus top eight players seemingly across the board; Central Scouting, Redline Report, Future Considerations, International Scouting Services, amongst others. While things usually never shake out like these rankings do (NHL teams' lists are typically vastly different than these rankings) but these rankings serve as a barometer of sorts for the draft eligible talent. Crazy things do happen; Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley, both of whom were perennially ranked in the Top 5 all of the 2010 season, both slid and were drafted at 12 and 13 respectively. There's been a claim or two that its wide open after the Top 8.

This makes this year's guessing game, and the new, revamped version of the Draftboard Dossier for First Round Bust, that much more exciting.

I will have the first participant in the series up in the next day or two.

Stay tuned.

From The Horse's Mouth: Craig MacTavish



As an update to Dan's post, Craig MacTavish spoke tonight about being a candidate for the Wild coaching job. It sounds like he's interested in the job at the very least; however that hasn't worked for other TSN employees interviewing for Wild vacancies.

We'll see how that goes and which other names come up in the search - there better be other names given MacTavish is not the best candidate or biggest name out there - but there is one brave soul who wants to be head coach in St. Paul.

Thanks to Felix for the video.

Stickin' In My Eye

I wrote that Craig MacTavish is the latest hat to be thrown in the ring for Minnesota Wild Head Coach. MacTavish is defensive-oriented (re: TRAP), gets the most out of little talent, went to a Stanley Cup in 2006, great communicator, etc.

Essentially his philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of Todd Richards, who preached a proactive, aggressive forechecking scheme. Again, MacTavish's preliminary interviews make sense if indeed Fletcher wants to move in a different "direction."

Here's where things get interesting though.

In two interviews following the season and the firing of Todd Richards, Owner Craig Leipold made reference to the "uptempo" style of play, and the subsequent marketing of said term.

Interview with the Associated Press:

"Jacques Lemaire's attitude was if you win they'll love you. A lot of people still feel the same. It is still about winning. Winning ugly is still winning. I think we all believe that," Leipold said. "I think we got a little bit caught up in the whole marketing uptempo stuff. It's about winning. We don't care how we do it."

...And with Mike Russo:

--Do you regret going from the defensively responsible Jacques Lemaire system to up-tempo and need to be “entertaining?” “We’re not an up-tempo team, so that part didn’t work out. The issue of entertainment I still think is important. But as Jacques Lemaire would say, ‘Winning is entertainment,’ and I think that’s true. Now if you score more goals, is that more entertainment? Absolutely, as long as you can win. That’s our objective. We want to win.”


This concerns me. To me this is a sign of impatience, that the wheels that have been set in motion- overhauling a roster of mediocre aging talent with youth, grit, and speed- ain't moving fast enough. Nevermind that the last two Draft classes are chalk full of those kinds of players, nevermind that the kids in Houston (nevermind how marginally talented they may be) are developing such that many could see NHL time next year, and nevermind that it looks as if none of our UFA's will be back next year, freeing up a decent amount of cap space. And nevermind that Chuck Fletcher is willing to pull the trigger on trades that are deemed to help the club.

Still, gotta go in another direction right?

Unless, this is about communication, which (this is conjecture on my part) may have been Todd Richards' downfall. Then I completely am on board- there were serial underacheivers under Richards' command, and when there is such a limited amount of overall talent, overachieving is necessary in order to be competitive for the time being.

I do agree that maybe the term "uptempo" become an unfortunate buzzword attached to a new era of Minnesota Wild hockey, but because it may have been ill-fitting to the ill-fitting personnel that occupy the roster, but it doesn't mean you have to pull the plug on being a proactive, aggressive, speedy, forechecking team! No need to be drastic and go the complete opposite direction philosophically speaking. I really cannot understate the aspect of continuity, which tentatively stretches from Houston, under Mike Yeo's watch, to the big club- since both coaches essentially had the same ideology. So why waste time re-programming a team that looked like it had just been successfully re-programmed from the previous program, which is potentially the same as the new program?

And The Next Contestant...

Last night Mike Russo relayed a nugget of information concerning a potential Head Coaching Candidate- Craig MacTavish.

(Getty)

Russo had this to say:

"According to multiple league sources, the former Edmonton Oilers coach has had a handful of conversations with Chuck Fletcher and was recently interviewed by the Wild general manager at a Toronto hotel.

The 52-year-old MacTavish, who coached the Oilers from 2000 to '09, has been unwilling to talk about any of the NHL coaching vacancies other than to say he's "recharged" and ready to return to coaching."


Russo classified MacTavish as a "strong contender" in a blog post later. This makes sense from Fletcher's standpoint; in the quest to go a "new direction", why not at least interview a guy like MacTavish- a Coach who is defensive minded, a good communicator, great at in-game situations. Just by way of Twitter I was able to learn some things about MacTavish's style- he can get a lot out of little talent, and he prefers...brace yourself...THE TRAP.

But thats what he is though for now- a candidate. If you're going to conduct a search (and a thorough one, if not deliberate) for a head coach, it behooves the man in charge, Chuck Fletcher in this case, to look at an array of suitors who bring different things to the table.

Your Moment of Zen 5/6/11

This is a little prospect on prospect action here.

At Center Ice? Mikael Granlund.

In Net? Dennis Endras.




Granlund 1, Endras 0.

Save some of those moves for the big show, kid.