Your Minnesota Wild Top 10: Introduction, Some Tapdancing, and Missed Cuts

Nate and I felt like it was apropos for this time of year, post-draft purgatory, to put together our Top 10 Wild Prospects list. Its en vogue this time of year, ranking the toybox since the latest Draft Class arrived roughly a month ago, and that coupled with the steps forward and steps backwards taken by some of the kids in the pipeline, it can make for some interesting dialogue.

We basically boiled it down to this criteria; what sort of impact the player can have on big roster if they reach their projected ceiling. Some are more NHL-ready than others, but may not have the same sort of potential as the "projects."
In doing this audit and ranking (which we're still arguing about positions right now,) it is such a nice surprise to actually have some decent forward prospects, but forward prospects who can fill a top-6 role.

(I'm really trying hard not to use the term "upside" because an avid reader of FRB dislikes that term a great deal.)

There's some solid, if not intriguing goaltending prospects, and the usual litany of defensemen who likely top out as bottom pairing guys, although a couple have enough to their game where they could sneak into a second pairing.

Speaking of which, here are a few players that just missed the cut:

Chay Genoway- The NCAA free agent impressed in Development Camp not just with his play on the ice, but with his commitment, work ethic, and his conditioning too. The 23 year old is on the smallish side for a defenseman, but is so dynamic in his mobility and offensive capabilities. Two concerns- his age, which one can wonder just how much better he can get, and the concussion he suffered at UND, which led to him missing a large chunk of time. I fully expect Genoway to see time in Minnesota at some point this season, and could very well be a guy who quarterbacks the power play.

Justin Falk- Big, very mobile blueliner who made the team out of camp last fall, but then lost his game part way into the season. Has been a rock in Houston, but the hope is that he learned a valuable lesson in March- he has to play with more sandpaper to his game. Could top out as a 4th defenseman.

Erik Haula- Smallish playmaking Center had a successful year; He was one of Finland's top players at the World Junior Championships, and until he broke his foot halfway through the season, was very productive as the top line center at the U of M. Not a particularly dynamic skater- that will have to improve if he wants to be a productive NHLer, but he has the other tools to produce effectively.

Darcy Kuemper- Had a stellar year at Red Deer, leading to an Award tour picking up hardware. Has a big frame, and improved every year since he was drafted in 09. He signed after a short holdout because he wanted more $$$, but he'll be Houston bound and will push Matt Hackett for playing time. Could prove to be one hell of a steal in the 6th round.

Brett Bulmer- Tall, lanky player who makes life difficult for the opposition with his physicality and his mouth. The hope is that he continues to develop another element to that game- his ability to contribute offensively. The Brass loves this kid, gave him some run in the Calder Cup Playoffs with Houston, but his development curve will likely be longer than some of the other Wild prospects.

Nate Prosser- Another NCAA free agent signing who will challenge for a roster spot this fall. Prosser saw a few games action shortly after he was signed because of injuries to other players, but for the most part spent most of last year in Houston. He started slowly, but at the end of the year was one of the best defenseman in the Calder Cup.

Tyler Cuma- Maybe the most disappointing omission from the Top 10- and its got nothing to do with his play. Cuma's literally fought injuries since this point:

Its really a shame too- he was really starting to show what he can do until he blew out his knee when Houston played at the X this last winter, and you start to wonder if he'll ever be healthy enough to develop into the top pairing guy he was projected to be in his Draft Year. I really hope so, but his frequent battles with going to IR has opened the door for other players to sneak in ahead of him.

A Million And One Questions: On Kyle Brodziak and Knowing Your Role

One of Chuck Fletcher's first moves when his tenure began was a deal with the Edmonton Oilers, in which Minnesota sent a 4th and a 5th round pick and received Brodziak, who was a Restricted Free Agent at the time, and a 6th round pick (which became Darcy Kuemper- not a bad deal, eh?) The crux of the deal was that Brodziak had played for incoming Coach Todd Richards at Wilkes-Barre of the American League.

For a rookie NHL Coach, it was a nice little deal to have a player you had familiarity with, and one who you could use in nearly all situations; a guy you can trust. And Brodziak did that for Richards- he took key faceoffs, he killed penalties, and he was arguably the most utilized player on the roster besides Mikko Koivu. Funny thing happened though- Brodziak found himself centering a line with Martin Havlat and Guillaume Latendresse, and played.....well- not just keeping up, but he had really nice chemistry with the two skilled players.

When he was traded over, the resounding description for Brodziak was that he was the prototypical 4th line center, maybe a solid checking line pivot. But maybe there is more to his game than we thought- he did score a fair amount in Moose Jaw, and in Wilkes-Barre, so he's got some acumen. Let's not fool ourselves, because he'll flash some stone hands; bobbling passes, missing the net with shots, but there's some tools to be effective. Hell, last year he set career highs in goals and in points.

He should, without a doubt, be penciled in as the second line center, sandwiched between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse- he does all the little things that give a softish playmaker like Bouchard time and space (Bouchard and Havlat are effectively the same player,) which frees up Latendresse to be on the receiving end of the work.

Did I mention the Todd Richards era ended in April?

There's the catch- Richards is gone, and Brodziak was his guy. New Head Coach Mike Yeo has already talked about envisioning Brodziak centering Darroll Powe and Cal Clutterbuck on a really thorny checking line; effectively bringing Brodziak back to square one. Its not that I don't agree with that, because it makes a ton of sense having a big strong physical center making life difficult for others- its that I feel Brodziak is a better option with skilled linemates than veteran center Matt Cullen.

Cullen, somehow someway, is good for 35-40 points a year. SOME HOW, SOME WAY. I don't know how he does it, because there isn't an obvious offensive tool at his disposal- but that doesn't mean he's a better fit than Brodziak on the second line.

Alas, this isn't for me to decide- this will be up to Mike Yeo to determine what will happen with Kyle Brodziak, and that could very well have ramifications moving forward. Maybe Yeo wants to bring in his guy; Jared Palmer was used in that role in Houston from what I've heard- but its certainly something to watch for as the season unfolds.

Undistinguished Moments In Minnesota's Trade History: Chris Simon For A 6th Rounder

"You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone....of bad Minnesota Wild trades."

Yep, still late July.

Month of February, a forward and perception. These are the ingredients of a Minnesota Wild playoff run gone awry. In late February 2008, the Wild were contending for their first Northwest Division title and hoping to make a deep run for a Stanley Cup. With a "healthy" Marian Gaborik and two recent 30-goal scorers/free agents-to-be in Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, Minnesota had talent but was missing that one remaining piece to take them to the next level (James Sheppard was just a rookie). Fortunately for Wild fans, they had a General Manager who was willing to trade a first or a second round pick for someone willing to make a difference. Someone like Mats Sundin, Marian Hossa, Peter Forsberg or Brad Richards; all of whom were up on the block that year. Even Taro Tsujimoto was available.

With a plethora of goal scoring talent available, the time to make a move seemed near. But this is The Twilight Zone and the move to be made by the Wild was for.......Chris Simon.

A goal scorer Simon was not. One time he did this, which isn't even legal in the UFC.

RIP Pride Rules

And once this was thought to be a good idea.

A winning move in the Federal League but not one in the NHL. Although toughness worked for the Flyers in the 70s and the Ducks the previous year, a lot of it came from skilled players. And with tough guys Derek Boogaard (RIP) and Todd Fedoruk, a team with three enforcers who can't score are in trouble as half the time one of the three sat in the press box. And best of all, the team still had skilled players getting hurt and couldn't score in the playoffs. All of this....

...meant a first round defeat to the Colorado Avalanche and a trip to Siberia for Simon.

And that sixth rounder which the Wild traded? Well it ended up being Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player ever. Oh wait, no....the pick turned into left wing Justin DiBenedetto.

Total 2010-2011 Justin DiBenedetto stat line: 0 goals 1 assist 2 PIM (in 8 games for the Islanders)

Total Chris Simon stat line: 0 goals, 0 assists, 16 PIM

Moral of the story: too much fighting is not a good thing. And that's another trip to the Twilight Zone...of bad Minnesota Wild trades.

Undistinguished Moments in Minnesota's Trade History: Michalek for Wood and Westrum

Narrated By This Picture of Bill Kurtis

Its late July, truly the doldrums of the NHL off-season; since there is little news, if any, during this portion of the year, sometimes it is best to take a look back into the past because for now, the future is a cold case. So for now we will investigate some of the great tragedies self-inflicted by the Minnesota Wild: Undistinguished Moments in Minnesota's Trade History.

Today we will look at the deal that sent Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes for Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood.

Michalek was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior League in 2003, and played in 193 games over three seasons with the Houston Aeros. He put up 59 points, and was a part of the 2003 Calder Cup winning edition of the Aeros. He also saw 22 games of NHL action with Minnesota in 2003-04, adding a goal and an assist.

Westrum and Wood were both in the Phoenix system, playing for The Utah Grizzlies. Westrum, a center, had 18 goals and 33 points in 80 games, while Wood, a defenseman, had 2 goals and 10 points in 80 games also.

So on paper it looked like a nice swap of minor leaguers- because after all Michalek was way down on the depth chart behind such luminaries as Daniel Tjarnqvist, Alex Henry, Erik Reitz, and Turd Ferguson.

(ok it was Scott Ferguson but this makes a better storyline.)

Dustin Wood seemed more of a throw-in because WE GOT A LOCAL BOY!!!!! The provincialists rejoiced as Minnesota Native Westrum was brought into a organization that clearly lacked a vital element; that's right, you guessed it...Minnesotans. There was outrage from the locals, as Westrum lit the AHL on fire with the Aeros with 98 points in 71 games. And the Wild sucked again that year, but the cries of "FREE WESTY" fell on the deaf ears of Doug Risebrough, who only let him play 10 games in a Wild Sweater.

But the real outrage should have been that Zbynek Michalek turned into "The Defenseman Every Team Wants" because of his durability, mobility, shot-blocking, and all around defensive prowess. And because of this, Pittsburgh backed up the Brinks truck to Michalek's front door last off-season, shelling out 20 million over 5 years for his services.
That's right, the guy "buried down on the depth chart" (I'm sure there is a cesspool analogy that is apropos here) turns out to be a key cog in Phoenix' resurgence, and ends up getting a big fat stack of cash from a perennially Cup-contending team.

Wood and Westrum? Shown the door right after the last day of the 2005-06 season, and likely never to be heard or seen of again, unless you recognize them lining up opposite from you in Tuesday Night Beer League.

I'm Bill Kurtis, and this trade really, really sucked. Stay tuned as we take a look back at more Undistinguished Moments in Minnesota's Trade History.

"Becoming Wild" Episode 2 Review

Success doesn't come without hard work.

After an opening episode which covered the Houston Aeros' run into the Calder Cup Finals, this week's "Becoming Wild" episode focused on the big club. With an overlaying theme showing the coaching search Chuck Fletcher undertook to replace former head coach Todd Richards and the immediate aftermath of hiring Mike Yeo, "Becoming Wild" branched out into many different directions to show the changes Minnesota has made while trying to go young. There were many great aspects of the episode which kept me interested throughout the half hour program but something was missing and it still feels like the team is beating around the bush.

The first half of this week's episode mainly focused upon the Minnesota Wild's preparations for the 2011 NHL Draft. As a prospects guy, I was really entertained by seeing how the scouts come together and make their big board. It wasn't too different as what fans do both online and in real life; everyone has their favorites and are willing to fight for them. The Wild's scouting department, which has picked up over the last couple years, seems to have great cohesion and aren't above setting pranks on each other. Even though there were plenty of vague arguments (no prospect names were used but it was fun to try to figure out who they were talking about), that is exactly what I would want out of my scouting department.

At the same time, the team used fan interviews to gauge a reaction and try to sell the "getting younger" mantra Chuck Fletcher continues to tout. Those were a good touch given how fan friendly the organization tries to be and they did show the frustration many fans have (one woman was fine with wanting just one round) yet understanding what the team is going through. Somewhere Minnesota has to be very happy with some of the things said because a few toed the company line but said some weird things like how Colton Gillies was a scorer in junior and will be now (he wasn't). As great as the team will be (or won't be) next season, fans still need to manage expectations "getting younger" or not.

The major development in this week's episode, the coaching search and its aftermath, was a fun theme but something felt off. Maybe it was because all of this was old news, unlike when "Hard Knocks" makes an episode, but. as much as I praised the Mike Yeo hire some of the business stuff makes for bad television. Other moments were more interesting like seeing FSN analyst Kevin Gorg essentially do a 180 on hiring Yeo or owner Craig Leipold showing off his personality, but it is fitting that on a team which is emphasizing youth the GM hired a 37 year-old. Success or not, that to me is the big thing to take away from this episode; getting younger is not just for on the ice.

In the end, as enjoyable as some of the episode was, it still feels like this was more of a transition episode despite showing all the hard work every member of the Wild staff puts in. There was talk about the NHL Draft but that won't be shown until the next episode and there was little to no discussion of the actual players; none of whom have appeared other than a quick Mikko Koivu cameo. Maybe it has to do with all the business shown this week, but a balance is needed between the business side and players. Episode 1 had its best moments when contrasting what the Aeros players were trying to do with Mike Yeo's plans and there was none of that; if anything, Yeo seemed to be more of a background player wowed about the opportunity to be the third Minnesota Wild head coach.

Due to all of that, it still feels like we're looking away from this season on the ice (getting younger) for a reason - the team is most likely a year or two away - and puts a lot of pressure on the next episode when things actually start to pick up.

"Becoming Wild" Episode 2 is available here or you can watch it below:

Previous Reviews:
Episode 1

Mikael Granlund: From Yard Games To The Stars

This might be a little old in Finland but it's new to me. For those fans in St. Paul enthralled with Mikael Granlund's shootout and hockey abilities last weekend, there's a Finnish profile (with English subtitles) on him covering the 2009-2010 season with HIFK. This is the year before Minnesota drafted Granlund with the 9th pick and takes a deep look into his life growing up in Finland, the Granlund family, playing hockey and dealing with the media. There are lighter moments including Mikael driving a car wondering the speed limit and messing around with lacrosse goals (the goal in the World Championships being nothing new) and more serious including the aftermath of a contract dispute and moving to HIFK from Kärpät.

Even though there is nothing new and the only mention of the Minnesota Wild comes in the form of an epilogue, this is a must-see for all Wild fans. With Mikael Granlund being a big part of the future of the team, it is good to know where he comes from and the importance of his family. I came away with it having more respect for Granlund and would be hard pressed to find someone who does not.


(H/T to HF Boards member timanGi)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The Halcyon days are over my friends.

Last Tuesday Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, who were acquired from San Jose in separate trades, were formally introduced to Minnesota. The addition of these two wingers, on paper, should solve some of Minnesota's goal scoring woes from last season, and in essence make The Wild a viable contender for a playoff spot.

This last weekend was the Prospect Development Camp Open Scrimmages, in which roughly 6600 fans total came out to watch the likes of Mikael Granlund, Mario Lucia, Johan Larsson, and Charlie Coyle play, giving the faithful a glimpse of what lay on the road ahead. Sure, there would be those who would come out anyways to watch the kids play, but now the pipeline isn't just solid anymore- its very respectable, with some kids who have real shots at being big time NHLers. There is excitement now.

And while it may seem like the organization took huge leaps forward just in the last three weeks, with a praised Draft Class and dealing for Heatley and Setoguchi, the reality is that this is the third offseason into the Chuck Fletcher regime. Three Draft Classes and free agency bonanzas have now come and gone- including the last one, where we bid adieu to guys like Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen. Its not just that they weren't resigned that holds meaning; its that with their departure, the Doug Risebrough era in Minnesota is now officially over.

This is all on Chuck Fletcher now.

Over the course of the past three years Fletcher has waived, traded, released, non-tendered, and essentially weeded out those who he didn't see fit- and replaced them with his guys. Look at the turnover from 2009 (this was the roster he inherited when he took over) to now- by my count there is just seven roster guys who were kept (and the jury is out on Niklas Backstrom because of that albatross of a contract he was given) and the prospect pool has been turned over to an even greater degree, especially with the addition of a number of NCAA free agents- gotta make room for Fletcher's guys.
He set the vision at The Draft; that this organization will be perpetually stocked so there will be inherent competition from within by youth, but that being said, he's wheeled and dealed and altered the NHL roster with trades and free agent signings that its a legitimate team now too- with legitimate talent and star quality.

We can't blame the "scorched Earth" policy of Doug Risebrough anymore on the on-ice failings, that the team just isn't talented enough, or that Fletcher has his hands tied because of gaudy contracts to players undeserving of such. We can't blame those bad contracts on the sketchy prospect development philosophy (first rounders only!) by Risebrough and his nefarious henchmen, which left next to nothing in the toybox that can contribute. Can't blame bad drafting anymore (see Blog title,) the unnecessary trading of Draft picks, and we just can't blame it on the old boss anymore.

So as we move forward from here on out, the onus is now on Chuck Fletcher because over the course of three years he's made it his team with his guys- and its a rather impressive collection from top to bottom, as witnessed with the events of the last week with the introductions to Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, and the elements of the three Draft Classes tied to Fletcher's tenure.

We bid farewell to the Doug Risebrough Chapter in the annals of Minnesota Wild history, but it leaves one solitary question, but a relevant one at that:

Now who are we supposed to make fun of?

Minnesota Prospect Camp Sunday Scrimmage: Team Green Thoughts

Never a bad seat in the house...

Once again, if you haven't read Dan's thoughts on Team White please check it out. Today I had the pleasure of checking out Team Green, who despite falling to Team White 3-2 in regulation, was extremely interesting to watch. With three of the top offensive Wild prospects and defenseman Marco Scandella, there was more of an emphasis on having fun and scoring pretty goals rather than lighting up the scoreboard. Normally that would be a cause for concern but this was a friendly scrimmage and it's hard to fault kids for wanting to have some fun and entertain the crowd of 3500.

Team Green Line Combinations:
Johan Larsson - Mikael Granlund - Zack Phillips
Kris Foucault - Jack Connolly (UMD) - J.T. Brown (UMD)
Carter Sandlak (Belleville [OHL]) - Taylor Peters (Portland [WHL]) - Mike Kramer (Princeton [ECAC])

Marco Scandella - Nick Seeler
Kyle Medvec - David Makowski (Denver U)
Josh Caron - Dylan Busenius (Medicine Hat [WHL])

Matt Hackett
Stephen Michalek

My thoughts:

Mikael Granlund: The Finnish chosen one and for good reason. Granlund is a playmaker who puts others to shame with his creativity and dangling skills; it's almost Pavel Datsyuk-like. Mikael's linemates Johan Larsson and Zack Phillips each had multiple opportunities due to Granlund waiting the extra second or finding a lane no one else so. Although it didn't seem as if he was the best skater on the ice, Granlund knows when to pick his battles and engage on both ends of the ice. The scary thing about Mikael was that at times it felt like he was just out there to have fun and looked at this scrimmage like it was a pickup game. His main motive was to set up others although Granlund did score the first Team Green goal from the top of the slot off of an excellent pass by Johan Larsson.

And of course there is the sequel to yesterday's shootout masterpiece:

This is the only video out there of Granlund's shootout goal. Sorry for the poor quality.

Johan Larsson: Larsson wasn't the most consistent player on Sunday but was able to hold his own with Granlund and Zack Phillips. Playing on the wing Sunday instead of at center, at times Johan was able to show off his strengths as he looked for the cycle and creating plays from the boards; this resulted in both Green goals. While similar in some ways to Granlund (the jury is out on whether that is or is not a good thing), Larsson disappeared for stretches of play and would appear to not be on the same page as the rest of the team. This weekend didn't give the best view of Larsson - he's a player who fans should look for in a game environment if possible - but at least those in attendance were able to see his wicked wrister.

Marco Scandella: At 6'3" 206 lbs, Scandella is a man amongst boys. This was apparent throughout the scrimmage where he was able to take control of the blue line and force everyone to the outside effortlessly. His skating looked great, was fairly physical and was highly reliable other than one poor decision where Jonas Brodin easily poke checked the puck away and started an odd-man rush. At times he was even able to carry his partner Nick Seeler to good play, which isn't the easiest thing to do. I don't know if Scandella is ready for the NHL full-time but he's putting himself in a good position to make the Wild in October.

Zack Phillips: If there is a MVP of the weekend, Zack Phillips deserves it. After two goals yesterday, the 18 year-old Phillips added a third tally today off of an excellent series of passes. Although he doesn't have the best acceleration and takes four to five strides to get going to full speed, Phillips is not a liability on the forecheck. If anything, Phillips knows his limitations and uses that to his advantage by being a body down low. I also enjoyed seeing him play on both ends of the ice; Zack was physical and not afraid to use his body to slow down opposing forwards or start a new cycle. After having some worries about whether or not he was the product of a stacked Saint John team, this weekend has shown who Phillips is and makes the Brent Burns trade look even better.

Nick Seeler: Like Mario Lucia yesterday, there were moments of potential with Seeler's play but his age (just turned 18 in June) and size (6'2" 185) came into play during Sunday's scrimmage. Seeler was not too strong on his skates as he was continually pushed around and outmuscled; I counted four times during the first half where someone was able to knock him over. At the same time he was inconsistent (either playing well or poorly) and was saved by Scandella at times. The good news for Seeler is that he is still young and a project. Having a coach like Dean Blais at Nebraska-Omaha will do wonders with developing his potential.

Kris Foucault: Foucault is an interesting prospect. After lighting the CHL playoffs on fire for Calgary a couple years ago, he has been extremely quiet. Watching Foucault today was a similar tale of two players as at times he was completely invisible, floating around or had stone hands while other times Kris was out in charge. It seemed to depend on who Foucault was playing with as he was at his best when picking up a few shifts with Granlund and Phillips. If anything, Foucault reminds me of Wild center Kyle Brodziak where his play is elevated with elite players but is not elite enough to do the same with less talented guys.

Kyle Medvec: Watching Kyle play was refreshing. He wasn't the best player on the ice by any means but always worked his butt off. Medvec was perfectly fine with staying back when defensive partner David Makowski pinched in and had the awareness and ability to get in position to stop odd-man rushes. While not a great shot, he was able to use his size as a cheat. It was successful today but I'm not sure how well that will work at the next level. Only time will tell, but it's hard to not see Medvec working his butt off regardless.

Jack Connolly: Did exactly what I expected him to do after watching Connolly play against the Gophers for years and that is to be a thorn in the opponent's side. Alongside J.T. Brown (who also was a great grinder although didn't really get the opportunity to show his shot besides the shootout), Connolly was the leader of the second line. Almost scoring off of a tip to open the second half, he was always in the right position creating offense and really made his mark by forechecking like a madman. After years of being a Wild fan, it was great to see some of that speed and hustle put to good use; at one point Connolly created two giveaways on one shift. A free agent (and a Minnesotan), it wouldn't be surprising to see Chuck Fletcher give Connolly a look after the Bulldogs finish their season (especially if this person has anything to do with it).

Matt Hackett; Extremely solid between the pipes. Although Hackett was less busy than Darcy Kuemper (Green outshot White 14-7 in the first half), he had to make a few good saves and made them look easy due to being in the right position at the right time. Unlike Stephen Michalek, who is a little more active, or Anton Khudobin, who literally scares the shit out of me, Hackett plays the angles and is calm without overreacting. Not too many 21 year-olds can claim that.

Obviously that's not everyone so if are curious about anyone left off the list tweet me (@gopherstate) or ask in the comments and I'll throw in my two cents. I had a blast this weekend watching the future take center stage and feel great about it after years of a thin or non-existent prospect pool.

Prospect Development Camp Sunday Scrimmage: Team White Thoughts and Musings

Just here for the air conditioning...

Another big crowd today at the X, and the cool icy air inside along the rink felt just heavenly, on an oppressively humid Sunday.

I was on Team White duty today; aside from the top line of forwards and defensemen, the Whiteys were more of a blue collar lunch pail squad. There wasn't the sort of talented depth that Green had, but they certainly held their own.

Line Combinations:

Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine/Kyle Thomas (Norwich DIII, ECAC)
Mario Lucia-David McIntyre-Dylan Willick (Kamloops, WHL)
Nathan Burns (Vancouver, WHL)-Chad Rau-Joel Broda

Chay Genoway-Jonas Brodin
Kris Fredheim-Colton Jobke
Sam Lofquist-Derik Johnson

Darcy Kuemper
Johan Gustafsson

And the obligatory Youtube highlight of the day goes to...

Sam Lofquist:


But...Lofquist was EVERYWHERE on the ice. And not necessarily in a good way. He actively joined the rush, but also wandered chasing the puck carrier, which put his defensive partner, Derik Johnson, in a bad way at times. Lofquist has good size, but at times he's just a liability out there because he's out of position doing god knows what. When he showed it, his shot from the point is really heavy.

Charlie Coyle:

This kid is a horse. Great size, gets up and down the ice well; his initial acceleration burst looks to have improved from his Draft Year and he's very good on his edges, allowing him to turn quickly. Very poised with the puck, and made some nice slick passes to open teammates- he would also slow the play down if need be. Very strong along the boards (but full disclosure he is biggest forward prospect on the ice) and protects the puck well. He supports his D well too; just a good solid two-way center who impressed me more than Johan Larsson. That being said, he showed his shot on a breakaway and could stand to use it more. For what its worth, I think he's ahead of James Sheppard at the same age.

Chay Genoway:

Now, he is the oldest player in Camp, so one has to wonder just how much better he can get, but for my money he and Jonas Brodin were the best D pairing in both scrimmages. Excellent mobility, smart with the puck, and can move it either way; outlet passes or just taking it himself. He can be outmuscled in close, but he was able to regain puck possession at times with an active stick (that's what she said.) Maybe the most vivid memory for me is when Genoway went to make a pass, his stick broke and the oncoming forward took the puck in on net. Genoway used his speed to close in on the puck carrier, regain position, and close him off. Impressive stuff for a 5'9" defenseman.

Jonas Brodin:

Effortless and elegant skater- just silky smooth. My feeling is that when you don't notice Brodin it means he's doing his job. His mobility is such that he can start the transition and shutdown oncoming rushes and forechecks with it. Even if the offense doesn't come, he's still gonna log big important minutes and will really be a key to the transition north-south game that Chuck Fletcher wants. Still a bit slight and it showed at times.

Jason Zucker:

The crowd loved this kid and why not? He's a blazer, but he's very savvy about using it; its not like he just flies around per se- very opportunistic about seeing the chance to use his wheels to blow by a flat footed defender, or to streak down the wing for a breakaway when his team gets possession. Not a cherry picker by any means- gets his nose dirty, and he's fearless. Offensively speaking, he'll get his chances just from his speed, but he sees the ice well and can hit teammates with nice set ups, but he will also rip a heavy shot on net. Fun player to watch, like a water bug out there- just a great skater.

Mario Lucia:

At times he showed that he was the youngest out there, but you can see that there's some tools. He's a lanky thing, with a frame that could use some weight. His acceleration will improve with time, but there really isn't anything that is faulty with his skating. He showed flashes of his offensive potential; he could always be found around the net, and made some nice little set ups to his teammates (albeit his linemates weren't exactly world-beaters.) He's got time on his side.

And finally, for the commenters at Hockey Wilderness...

Kyle Thomas:

The hardest working player on the ice all weekend. He was constantly rewarded with penalty shots by drawing penalties with his hustle and hard nosed play. Thomas definitely played like he had something to prove, and he better considering he's a DIII kid playing against other kids of significant pedigree. His skating is a little clunky, but was alright when he got moving; he's really a north-south player who tried to outwork everyone. His hands are just ok, but was able to convert some of the well-earned penalty shots.
I'm in no position to say if he'll get any sort of contract, but he sure laid it out there for the Brass, and that's what you want in a player; if a guy is willing to lay it all out on the line, then maybe he deserves a shot somewhere at some point. I'd like to think that Fletcher, Flahr and Co. will keep an eye on him this season.

It was a fun weekend; a taste of the Winter in the middle of the Summer. We got a taste of the future, some of whom will be here sooner than later, but considering where the toybox was just a few years ago it certainly is a tantalizing glimpse into the future.

FRB: The David Hasselhoff of The Wild Blogosphere

Before I get to today's recap, Nate pointed this out to me at the rink today. There was a spike in website traffic, especially from Finland.


After doing some digging, Nate found that the Team Green Saturday recap was quoted in, what I'm told, a Finnish Tabloid paper. Which is, what I'm told, the third largest newspaper in Finland.

Friend of FRB Jeremy was able to translate (most of it anyways) the article:

I am pleased to report that this didn't cause an international incident (I typically expect the worse, especially if I was quoted) and there wasn't a blue and white "Suomi" spraypainted across my garage door.


Minnesota Prospect Camp Saturday Scrimmage: Team White Thoughts

If you haven't done so already, check out Dan's thoughts on Team Green. It was great to see so many fans excited about seeing some hockey and the future; even if they were only there for one (i.e. the man in front of me did not know who drafted Mario Lucia). It's a testament to the great hockey fans in St. Paul and the State of Hockey. Green

Team White Line Combinations:
Jason Zucker - Charlie Coyle - Justin Fontaine
Mario Lucia - David McIntyre - Dylan Willick (Kamaloops [WHL])
Nathan Burns (Vancouver [WHL]) - Joel Broda - Kyle Thomas (Norwich [ECAC DIII])

Jonas Brodin - Chay Genoway
Colton Jobke - Kris Fredheim
Derik Johnson - Sam Lofquist (Guelph [OHL])

Johan Gustafsson
Darcy Kuemper

Although Green ended up winning in the shootout (the game was tied 5-5 but would have gone to a shootout regardless - this is for fun), both sides played well. White didn't have the stars or depth but they made up with chemistry. My thoughts:

Jason Zucker: After years of prospects not developing, it's great to see a player adapt and continue to grow. With a Denver team full of playmakers, Zucker has used his breakaway speed (the real breakaway speed, not Havlat breakaway speed) to make for an opportunistic player. Unlike an Alexander Ovechkin who just floats and cherry picks, Zucker was able to nicely pick his spots; he scored when a defenseman pinched too early and stepped into the lane. Zucker was also willing to throw his body around which made for an interesting series of events later on where Jason checked a man into the boards, turned around and saw himself on a breakaway during a 4x4 session. A sniper in every sense of the word, it's hard not to gush over Zucker's play today.

Charlie Coyle: Minnesota's newest toy (acquired in the Brent Burns trade), Coyle was one of two palyers who I was interested in seeing the most (the other being Mikael Granlund). Coyle had instant chemistry with Jason Zucker and linemate Justin Fontaine, setting each up on multiple occasions, while having some great hands. A power forward, Charlie was all over the ice with his body (he easily outmuscled Green players off the puck) and early on he covered for a defenseman out of position and went down to block a shot. The only negative I have was that he didn't shoot enough to get a good opinion, but being placed with players like Jason Zucker make it easier to be a playmaker.

Mario Lucia: The youngest player at development camp, Lucia looks the part. At times he showed the potential that many believe Mario has. He had great awareness throughout the scrimmage, good skating and put himself in position to score multiple times. That finally paid off when Mario sniped a shot from the top of the left circle for the most impressive non-shootout goal. However, Lucia's tall and skinny frame was also on display as at times he was outmuscled by older players and the high-risk high-reward plays which worked in HS did not today. With time to develop and get stronger, he will only get better.

Jonas Brodin: Much like Nick Schultz, Brodin is a player who needs to be focused on to see his true strengths. If you aren't paying attention, it's easy to forget about Jonas because gets by him. The kid's hockey IQ and sense is off the charts as at times he would be one or two steps ahead of the play.

Brodin also employed some breakout skills and was able to spring his forwards open in a way which makes me want to see him on the opening day roster. It's very Kim Johnsson-like. He didn't do too much offensively, which was fine given his partner, but did have a good slapshot on target during the latter part of the scrimmage. It wasn't as hard as a Kurtis Foster blast but not as soft as one might think; with some muscle added on over the next year or two, Brodin will add some power and become even better.

Chay Genoway: After a horrible first shift where Genoway gave away an easy opportunity, Chay settled down and became an excellent complement to Brodin. While Brodin is more defensive in nature, Chay is more likely to pinch and look to create offense; Genoway was able to take advantage of a loose puck and put one by Stephan Michalek. A similar player at North Dakota for five seasons, Chay reminded me a little of Jared Spurgeon last season. Whether or not Genoway joins him on the Wild remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that the organization has one more defenseman to add to their depth.

Justin Fontaine: It was tough to see at times whether or not Fontaine was being propped up by his two linemates (Zucker and Coyle) or holding his own. Justin was noticeable during the first part of the scrimmage and had a couple great opportunities but didn't impress me as much as he did during UMD's run to the national title. That was apparent during the 4x4 portion where he was teamed up with Mario Lucia. There were moments of brilliance from the sure handed Fontaine but was too inconsistent for my liking and didn't feel like the PPG player I expected.

David McIntyre: The recipient in the Maxim Noreau trade, McIntyre was a pleasant surprise. Overshadowed by the big names and saddled on a line with a free agent and 17 year-old, McIntyre took charge. Like Coyle, he created opportunities for his linemates (especially Lucia) and was a beast on the forecheck. That latter was great to see because the Wild normally struggle at creating pressure and David thrived; at one point he instituted an odd-man opportunity with a takeaway from Kyle Medvec. I'm not sure how much of his success came from being an adult playing against kids but if this is any indication Houston has another good body up front.

Sam Lofquist: After watching Sam for a year-plus at the University of Minnesota, I was wondering how his time in Guelph would improve his game. It appears that time was used wisely as Lofquist is a much better skater and more confident with his body (it helped that he filled out and is 205 lbs) than during his days as a 17 year-old freshman in the WCHA. Sam also had some great puck movement which created opportunities; however he was inconsistent and wasn't able to make up for bad positioning on occasion. That nearly cost the team a couple goals.

Johan Gustafsson: Along with McIntyre, Gustafsson was the surprise of the White team. Throughout the first half (yes this was played with two 25 minute halves) he had great positioning, didn't give up rebounds and really made a Green forward corps featuring two first round picks and a second work hard for a goal. Usually left out the "Hackett or Kuemper" conversation, Gustafsson shows why the Wild have been so successful with developing and signing goalies.

Darcy Kuemper: For as good as Johan Gustafsson was during the first half, Kuemper was the opposite. While he didn't get the help needed sometimes (the Jobke-Fredheim pairing was abysmal), it felt like Kuemper gave up after a soft goal on his first shot. There was just no sense of urgency and lazy passes and positioning were abundant. Kuemper also had issues in the shootout where essentially the entire Green team was able to time when he would go down and score top-shelf glove-side (it made Niklas Backstrom look good in shootouts). Everyone has a bad game so hopefully Kuemper can bounce back tomorrow.

Obviously that's not everyone so if are curious about anyone left off the list tweet me (@gopherstate) or ask in the comments and I'll throw in my two cents.

Prospect Development Camp Saturday Scrimmage: Team Green Thoughts and Musings

Nate and I were two of the roughly 3300 people who showed up for today's scrimmage; a crowd large enough that it warranted a couple extra sections of seating. And nearly every seat was filled in the allotted space too.

Its truly a testament to a couple of things:
- Minnesota Hockey fans who are willing to spend a couple hours of a Saturday morning in July inside a hockey arena watching a collection of 17-24 year olds play, some of whom may become stars in the NHL, and some of whom are there just trying to make a name for themselves and get their foot in the door.
- And Chuck Fletcher and his staff, for amassing the collection of talented prospects which warrants a crowd of 3300 coming out for a "showcase showdown", so to speak.
- Also, it should be mentioned that roughly an hour and a half inside near a sheet of ice was a welcome reprieve from the oppressive humidity on the other side of the double doors. Gross stuff.

To be honest I couldn't tell you the final score of the game (I believe it ended 5-5 after regulation) because it wasn't particularly a focus of mine, but the game was divided into two halves, 25 minutes a piece. The first 15 minutes was played 5 on 5, but the final 10 were 4 on 4. Then each player had a shootout attempt on the goalies for the 2nd half, which were Matt Hackett for Team Green and Darcy Kuemper for Team White.

Line Combinations:
Mikael Granlund-Johan Larsson-Jack Connolly (UMD)
JT Brown (UMD)-Zack Phillips-Kris Foucault
Carter Sandlak (Belleville, OHL)-Mike Kramer (Princeton, ECAC)-Taylor Peters (Portland, WHL)

Marco Scandella-Nick Seeler
Kyle Medvec-David Makowski (Denver U)
Josh Caron-Dylan Busenius (Medicine Hat, WHL)

Stephen Michalek
Matt Hackett

We decided to take sides; Nate took White, I took Green- and while I took in the game as a whole, I really did my best to focus in a few players I wanted to see but haven't; guys like Johan Larsson and Kyle Medvec, and of course Granlund. I

Here's what I jotted down.

Mikael Granlund:
Of course Saturday will be remembered for this shootout goal.

As he was waiting at Center Ice waiting to go, I turned to Nate and mentioned that this is what the people came for; and he didn't disappoint. Largest pop of the day. That being said, Granlund mentally is a step above everyone else I saw today. He'd have the puck and wait...wait...wait...and throw the puck into an open space in the zone where a teammate would be there to greet it, in lock step, for an opportunity. Just impressive vision and creativity. I didn't really get the impression he was playing to win, but he's a lot of fun to watch.

Johan Larsson:
I've heard about him from a lot of people- scouts, Mike Russo, etc. so this was my first chance to see him in person. He's a good solid player, but there wasn't anything notable about his game on the offensive side that would signal to me that Larsson will pile up the points. He had few shots, and made some decent passes, but largely he was effective at digging pucks out of corners, and doing little things that centers are supposed to do. Kind of disappointing, but it was just my first viewing so I didn't quite know what to expect- but he seems like more of a "glue" type of pivot.

Kyle Medvec:

A towering Oak tree out there- just a tall lanky kid. He's a fluid skater, but he isn't a wide based skater; its almost like he keeps his strides short and underneath him (Think "stack and tilt" to borrow golf terms) so there is a lack of power, especially skating lineally. He's got a hard shot from the point that he keeps low, and shows some nice mitts in the SO and in warm ups. That being said, he had a couple passes that were telegraphed and picked off. He's still intriguing because of his size and wingspan; he wasn't afraid to bust some asses in the corners, but I'd think he'll need to really add some sandpaper to be a really effective defensive D.

Nick Seeler:

I'm eager to watch Seeler again tomorrow, even though I'll be on White duty. He's a solid skater who played on the "top pairing" with Scandella, and the two seemed to play pretty well together. He showed some edge along the boards, but when he got the puck on his stick he was looking to start the transition, whether it was by looking for an outlet pass or skating it himself. I do think his offensive upside will be dependent on how he handles the pace at the USHL level; there were times where he got the puck at the O blueline, gave a head fake that froze the player covering him which allowed him to move the puck to an open player. That being said, there were times where he rushed a pass to get rid of the puck like it was a grenade.

Marco Scandella:

Like I mentioned, he was pairied with Seeler, and he was impressive. Maybe its because he's got a year of pro experience under his belt (and some ATO time with Houston the year before that), but he was so calm, so poised, and damn good. I'd like to see him move his feet a bit more because he tends to glide a bit, but in my opinion he is capable of replacing the 35-40 points a year we lost when we traded Brent Burns- I think he's the same type of player offensively. Burns wasn't a Lidstrom or a Doughty where they orchestrate- he got his goals from rushes, pinches, and vulturing rebounds, and I see alot of that in Scandella. Plus the kid has great size, a frame that can add more weight, and the range and wingspan to be every bit as effective in a matchup role.

Kris Foucault:

This is the third time I've seen Foucault live, and he is just one of the maddening players. In 2009 he was the best player on the ice, and last year he looked pedestrian and disinterested...which carried over into the first 10 minutes today where he looked like he was just going through the motions.
Then something clicked, because he was a force every single shift afterwards. He's a sleek skater, aggressive on the puck, and has great hands; capable of finesse passes and ripping lasers at the net. He was, for my money, the most impressive player of the game, because he was just making things happen; stealing pucks, backchecking, making plays. In 09 after he was drafted I was told by a scout that Foucault could be a real sleeper, a steal of the Draft- and at times he looks like it, and there are times like the first 10 minutes of the scrimmage.
If, and I mean if, he can get it through his head that he has to give it all night in and night out, this kid can really be a player, because he's got the tools to be effective.

Zack Phillips:

Displayed the same vision and play making skills as Granlund, and he'll make his living around the net. Scored one from the door step in the 1st period. His skating is a bit weird; its not so much a stride, but its almost like he hops forward. I'm not overly concerned, given the training techniques at his disposal (and he is aware of it, which is half the battle), but he certainly showed that he's got the offensive potential to be a top-6 guy.

Overall, on paper, I thought Green was the more talented of the two teams, especially in the forwards. Never really paid much attention to some of the invitees or the goalies (Michelek struggled a bit, but Green in general did in the 1st) so if you want a specific player you want me to, shoot me a tweet (@firstroundbust) and I'll give my uneducated opinion.

Nate will be giving his assessment of White at some point today, and then we'll be switching beats for tomorrow.

Looking Forward To The Weekend...

With this week being home to the Minnesota Wild Prospect Development Camp, it's a good time to freshen up and take a look because there are open scrimmages Saturday and Sunday (July 16 and 17) starting at 11 AM. For once these names will be in St. Paul and let fans get a chance to look at the future of the Wild. Dan and I will be there and have more throughout the weekend and next week, but for now here's a helpful primer for those known and unknown prospects.

Maybe there will even be a repeat of this (H/T Felix):

Development Camp Roster (Red = unsigned):

# POS Name '10-11 Team
27 F Cody Almond Houston
73 F Joel Broda Bakersfield
62 F J.T. Brown UMD
54 F Brett Bulmer Kelowna
38 F Nathan Burns Vancouver (WHL)
78 F Jack Connolly UMD
63 F Charlie Coyle Boston U
52 F Justin Fontaine UMD
72 F Kris Foucault Calgary (WHL)
53 F Tyler Graovac Ottawa (OHL)
40 F Mikael Granlund HIFK
81 F Mike Kramer Princeton
47 F Johan Larsson Brynas
56 F Mario Lucia Wayzata
77 F David McIntyre Albany (AHL)
45 F Carson McMillan Houston
83 F Taylor Peters Portland (WHL)
61 F Zack Phillips Saint Johns (QMHL)
75 F Chad Rau Houston
80 F Carter Sandlak Belleville (OHL)
58 F Kyle Thomas Norwich (ECAC DIII)
82 F Dylan Willick Kamaloops (WHL)
59 F Jason Zucker U of Denver

# POS Name '10-11 Team
64 D Jonas Brodin Farjestad
44 D Dylan Busenius Medicine Hat (WHL)
68 D Josh Caron Kamaloops (WHL)
71 D Tyler Cuma Houston
42 D Kris Freidheim Houston
43 D Chay Genoway UND
74 D Colton Jobke Kelowna (WHL)
49 D Derrick Johnson Penticton (BCHL)
51 D Sam Lofquist Guelph (OHL)
65 D Sean Lorenz Notre Dame
57 D David Makowski U of Denver
67 D Kyle Medvec Vermont
6 D Marco Scandella Houston
76 D Nick Seeler Eden Prairie
46 D Jared Spurgeon Wild

# POS Name '10-11 Team
50 G Johan Gustafsson Vasteras
31 G Matt Hackett Houston
70 G Darcy Kuemper Red Deer (WHL)
60 G Stephen Michalek Loomis-Chaffee

Restocking the Cupboard Articles:
Stephen Michalek and Tyler Graovac
Mario Lucia and Nick Seeler (Lucia Draft Profile)
Charlie Coyle
Zack Phillips (10 For 10)
Jonas Brodin
Sam Lofquist
Chay Genoway

In-Depth Look At The Future:
Johan Larsson
Darcy Kuemper
Jason Zucker
Erik Haula
Mikael Granlund

Outside Help:
Hockey Wilderness look at the unsigned prospects
Dylan Willick (Bruins 2011 Draft Watch)
Tyler Peters v. Brett Bulmer (Hockey Fights)
Runnin' With The Dogs (UMD Blog - has info on J.T. Brown, Justin Fontaine and Jack Connolly)
The Third Intermission (Aeros prospects and news)

Prospect Twitter Accounts:
Mario Lucia
Darcy Kuemper
Kyle Medvec
Zack Phillips

Minnesota Fan Teleconference With Mike Yeo, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon Recap

As part of development camp, the Wild held a conference call for over 4000 fans with Head Coach Mike Yeo and defensemen Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Some high points courtesy of HF Boards member Vashanesh:

UPDATE: Listen to the teleconference here

-Yeo was impressed with Mikael Granlund when he skated with Granlund briefly one-on-one

-Yeo wants to be tough to play against, using the team's speed, physicality, playing in the opponent zone while employing North-South hockey.

-Both Yeo and Scandella are "very excited for the moves that have been made" - especially with adding Heatley.

-Yeo doesn't want anyone to try to replace departed defenseman Brent Burns by playing like Burns did. He wants the kids on the back end to handle pressure, he's confident that the kids he's worked with can handle it. He feels that both Scandy and Spurgy can move the puck in their own way. Lundin and Zid can do the same.

-Scandella confirmed that he had a concussion earlier in the year but said that he has had 1-1 1/2 month recovery and is 100% now.

-Spurgeon hurt his ankle and has been rehabbing it (which makes sense after playing 99 games between Houston and St. Paul). He believes he will be ready regardless.

- In response to the Wild struggling with breakouts last season, the guys talked about it being a huge area of focus for the team and also how they need to take more shots from all over the ice.

-A few questions involving the "Becoming Wild" series as all three were featured in the first episode. Neither Sprurgeon or Scandella think that enforcer Matt Kassian can take on Manny Pacquiao for three rounds but feel that he was "very convincing." Yeo was "not particularly proud" of how much he was cussing up a storm in the first episode; however it's a good representation of how things can get, but it's not him from game-to-game. He responded to the situation, and felt he needed to remind the team who they were.

-Yeo wants to try newly acquired forward Darroll Powe with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck.

-Everyone expects the Wild to have a rivalry with the Jets regardless of realignment.

Wild Sign Jonas Brodin To An Entry-Level Contract

What an 18th birthday present. Sure beats a Tuesday night lap dance at the 'Vu...

We're at it again. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, the Minnesota Wild have signed Jonas Brodin, their highest first-round pick of this past draft, to a three-year entry-level contract. The Swede gets a great birthday present as the contract is worth $2.75 million and comes out to a $1.475M cap hit; however like all entry-level contracts that money only gets paid if Brodin plays in the NHL.

With this week being the Wild's prospect camp (more on that later), it's not surprising for the team to be signing prospects. Although they have two years in most cases to sign their draft picks, these deals aren't very hard to do because there is a maximum and most of the time hinge on bonuses. Unless we're talking about a player who is looking to go the U.S. college route or is in college, usually not signing an entry-level is more of a story for a first-round pick (see: Tim Erixon).

At the same time, Brodin's deal doesn't start until he plays professionally in the Wild system. He can spend next season in Sweden with Farjestads without burning a year and that appears to still be the case. However if he does come over, Brodin is eligble to play in the AHL for Houston. Unlike past first round picks, Jonas is not stuck making popcorn on the Wild all season since he was not drafted out of the CHL. We'll see what ends up being the case but with Brodin being signed this is one first-round pick signed and three to go (Granlund, Coyle and Phillips).

"Becoming Wild" Episode 1 Review

When the concept of "Becoming Wild" came out, I was initially intrigued. With Minnesota missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, firing their coach and appearing to be treading water, producing an in-depth look at the changes being made in the organization seems like a perfect way to get the casual fan excited about the upcoming season. Something needed to happen before the Draft (and still does a little post-draft and Heatley/Seto trades) because as much as we like to gloat about prospects here, it's a rare breed who is more interested in the stars of the future than your Mikko Koivus and Brent Burns or Martin Havlats. After watching the first episode however, I ended up having mixed feelings about the project.

The start of "Becoming Wild" mirrors other in-depth projects like HBO's "Hard Knocks" or the "Oil Change" series on Edmonton this past season. The latter series, which chronicled the Oilers' highs and lows over the 2010-2011 season, clearly has influenced Minnesota's production as they go over similar structure and use the same narrator (or someone very similar). This first episode begins with a quick look at GM Chuck Fletcher and Mikko Koivu the day after the season ended (April 11) but the real focus is on Mike Yeo (before being hired as the next head coach of Minnesota) and the Houston Aeros during their Calder Cup run; culminating in Game 6 against Milwaukee.

Throughout the episode, "Becoming Wild" does a great job showcasing the players and coaching staff. While the Aeros are full of prospects and young players who spent time with the Wild like Jared Spurgeon, they aren't big names. Seeing enforcer Matt Kassian contemplate his chances against boxing pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao or Colton Gillies admit that he hadn't grown into his "man body" yet gives these guys a personality which seems to have been missing with the big club the last couple years. It may have been there - and at times players like Cal Clutterbuck let their true selves shine through - but along with a lack of identity the team has a curtain up which makes it hard to invest in the players.

The personality sentiment is further shown with the look at how Mike Yeo approaches his craft. Although there are times where he looks just as reserved as former coach Todd Richards, "Becoming Wild" gives a great look at the new Wild coach. While Richards is the master of hiding behind the curtain - although it's doubtful, for all I know he was a cruel cruel taskmaster who hid behind the world's best poker face - Yeo used different techniques when the time asked for it to get the most out of his players. His fiery speech when down 3-0 to Milwaukee gave Bruce Boudreau a run for its money and led the Aeros on their comeback. With a need for getting the most out of the team, that type of coaching and management make Wild fans everywhere happy to see Yeo do that in October.

With the first episode focusing on prospects and Yeo, the main point of this season becomes clear that regardless of all the flashy moves, the 2011-2012 season is about taking a step back and the future. Whether it is the Aeros or Mikael Granlund's Finnish exploits or bringing in the equivalent of three first-round picks at the Draft, Minnesota is still a team whose future depends on its youngsters. What at times felt like an infomercial for buying Wild season tickets (we might not have made the playoffs but these guys did...get to know 'em), "Becoming Wild" was well done in getting the casual fan acquainted with the future but it failed to get me excited about the season. Maybe it's because I spend my time invested in following and researching prospects but the end of the episode was a disappointment in that sense. It was great to get an in-depth look at the Wild, but for a team whose goal is to make their fanbase excited after years of mediocre play, Minnesota failed with episode 1 of "Becoming Wild."

With that said, I would recommend it just for the highlights. Wild fans everywhere should take a look at players like Colton Gillies who will make an impact and Mike Yeo's tirade. It might not be as great as a HBO production and accomplish its goal but it is still an enjoyable twenty minutes looking at the future of the State of Hockey.

"Becoming Wild" Episode 1 is available here.

Restocking The Cupboard: Late Round Edition (Stephen Michalek & Tyler Graovac)

Stephen Michalek
Goalie Loomis-Chaffee (HIGH-CT)
6'2", 183 lbs

With the 161st pick, Minnesota took their third consecutive high school player in Stephen Michalek. This pick was much in the same vein as WHL MVP Darcy Kuemper where Wild brass saw Michalek, the #5 ranked goalie by Central Scouting, as the best player available.

Besides saving more than 1,000 shots with a .918 save percentage for the Pelicans in his senior year (he essentially was the team), Michalek helped lead the U.S. Under-18 team to a silver medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. According to, "(Michalek) plays big and is very good laterally. When he's in his butterfly, he looks big, he's smooth and controlled. He's very composed and he battles and fights through traffic to track the puck well." In addition, Kirk Luedeke is also a fan although is cautious given the nature of a HS goalie.

Despite a plethora of goalies in the system, Michalek will be given time to develop as he plans to head to Harvard in the fall. It is there that we will be able to see which Stephen Michalek develops.

Tyler Graovac
Center Ottawa (OHL)
6'3", 179 lbs

With their final pick, GM Chuck Fletcher took a flier on Tyler Graovac with the 191st pick. Graovac, who is 6'3" or 6'4" depending on the publication, is a two-way center much in the mold of Ottawa 67s teammate (and 2010 Edmonton draft pick) Ryan Martindale. While a broken forearm and demotion to third-line center helped plummet Graovac's draft stock this season, there are many attributes which make him worthy of being draft. Besides his two-way play, Graovac has size the Wild need and fits the mold of a bottom-six grinder as he focuses more on faceoffs and being sound defensively than offense (he scored 10 goals-11 assists in 66 games last season). As a 7th round pick, Graovac has plenty of time to develop; however this next year is important.

He can also fight...sort of:

Colton Gillies Signs Two-Year Contract

Thankfully we're starting to run out of these "prospect X signs" blogs hitting restricted free agency (speaking of which, Darroll Powe signed a three-year deal), but the biggest and best First Round Bust of the post-lockout Risebrough regime and still prospect according to Hockey's Future should shed that label with a new two-year contract. From Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Well, Gillies was re-signed this morning to a one-way, two-year, $1.25 million contract ($625,000 cap hit), meaning he'd have to be paid his NHL salary in the minors next year. So as long as he doesn't come to camp looking like me, he's got a foot closer than many of the two-way guys.

On his qualifying offer, he would have had to been given a 10-percent raise of his $787,500 NHL salary. In an exchange for Gillies making his NHL salaries more manageable, he gets a one-way deal or more of a guarantee that he'll be an NHLer.

It's a little surprising that Gillies received an one-way contract and essentially a free pass onto the Wild (having him pass through waivers to go to Houston is fairly risky) because competition breeds better players but I understand the financial aspect. One of the problems of being an underachieving first-round pick - Gillies has played great for Houston this season and grown as a player but is no David Perron - is that the first contract has a high cap hit which is not always worth the price of a bottom-six player. With that said, Gillies was more than likely to make the team anyways given his competition for one of the final two forward spots (as much as I enjoy Casey Wellman he's not a bottom-six player) so this isn't a frivolous deal like the last Gillies contract (where Minnesota kept him up rather than have Gillies spend another season in juniors). The Wild get more grit and speed from the 2007 first-round pick and although that is going to be disappointing for Ms. Conduct and Aeros fans, the addition of Gillies and Darroll Powe make for a much improved bottom-six one-way contract or not.

24 Hours And 80 Miles Later...

Fits right with the Twins' bullpen...

For those that follow me on Twitter (and you really should - @gopherstate), you might have seen my initial reaction to the Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat trade. For those who didn't, lets just say there was some profanity directed at Chuck Fletcher. As a hockey fan, Dany Heatley is my most hated player going back to his days at the University of Wisconsin. He hasn't done himself any favors in the NHL between Atlanta (RIP Thrashers) and forcing his way out of Ottawa. So it wasn't easy to accept and process the fact that Dany Heatley was a member of the Minnesota Wild; in fact it took 80 miles of bike riding to get on board. But now that I am, lets face it, the Minnesota Wild are starting to look like they are on the road for a Stanley Cup.

Yes, I did just write Stanley Cup. This thing:
Hayden Panettiere not included...

Are the Wild going to win a Stanley Cup this season? Probably not. I'm not going that far as it would take massive over-achievement, another couple moves and well there are no more Brent Burns or Martin Havlats left to move. But the way Chuck Fletcher picked up a much needed piece in Dany Heatley makes Minnesota a much, much more dangerous organization.

When Dan broke the news to me that the Wild traded Havlat for Dany Heatley, the first question I asked him was what else Minnesota gave up to San Jose. As good of a player as Marty Havlat is, it was hard to see the Sharks trading Heatley unless they received something else in return like one of Minnesota's prospects. Straight up one-for-one all-star for all-star blockbusters never happen in the NHL; in fact, the last one I can think of also involved Heatley. So the fact the Wild got the better player without mortgaging the future is a win right there.

That's not to say that Minnesota will miss Havlat. He did lead the Wild in scoring and was an integral part of the team the past two seasons; however he didn't live up to the expectations placed upon being Marian Gaborik's replacement. Whether that was fair or not, the fact of the matter is that Minnesota (as well as many other teams) needs an elite goal scorer and unfortunately they don't grow on trees. Havlat's a good player but despite his $5 million payday, he's best served as the third or fourth-best player like in Ottawa or the last season in Chicago. Havlat isn't a pure goal scorer and the Wild already are stocked with playmakers so he's much better off on a team like San Jose where he's not carrying the load.

Although my hope for next season was that one of Havlat, Latendresse or Setoguchi stepped up, getting Heatley (who is third in goals over the past ten seasons) gives the Wild one who is better than any free agent this season. Out of all the players who were moved, only Jeff Carter has the same goal-scoring capabilities as Heatley and Columbus essentially sold their farm to get him. Yes Heatley had an "off year" playing through injuries, but his 26 goals would have still lead the Wild by 4. With proper motivation and a great playmaker like Mikko Koivu, things are looking up.

With Mikko Koivu leading the charge, an elite goal scorer in Dany Heatley for the next seasons and a prospect pool which can now fill most roles yet be allowed to properly develop, this is an organization which has a bright future. There are still a few holes on the NHL team such as a need for a top-pairing defenseman or two. It's weird to think that for once the Wild will have a better offense than defense in October but lets face it, when Greg Zanon and Jared Spurgeon are the second pairing, there's a problem. However Chuck Fletcher is showing he's willing to change things without going though a long and painful rebuild. When he said that everyone besides Koivu was fair game last month, he meant it and hopefully the NHL takes notice.

So without sounding too much like a homer or fanboy, the Minnesota Wild are making the right moves. It's been easy to get negative but after years of overspending on mediocre free agents and not developing any draft picks, Minnesota is bringing in elite talent to the organization and compiling multiple top-fifty prospects. They still might be a year or two away from taking the next step right now it's hard to say they are a playoff team next season without some over-achievement by the young guns - but bringing in Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley makes the team better now while still growing the farm. It took 80 miles of biking and 24 hours to get to this point but for my most hated NHL player I have this to say: welcome to the Minnesota Wild. Now don't f*ck it up.

Can't Knock The Hustle

everyday I'm hustlin'...everyday I'm hustlin'...

What a fortnight for Chuck Fletcher.

Last weekend he and his staff had themselves one hell of a Draft; a Draft Class that received praise, which was bolstered by the return from San Jose in the Brent Burns deal- Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and San Jose's 1st (28th overall)- that became Zack Phillips. The Draftees and Coyle, who was largely considered the Top Prospect of the Sharks, added to the newfound depth in talent within the once-bare toybox. It gives you an idea of just how barren it was (or as Bruce Ciskie once put it, "scorched Earth") but under the three years of Fletcher's regime the cupboard hasn't been just restocked- now its pretty goddamned respectable. With this the vision for the Franchise was unveiled- that there will constant competition for roster spots from the youth in the system, which creates cap flexibility- and as we saw in the days that leading up to The NHL Draft, teams with assets i.e. prospects and cap space, can swing major league deals for major league players.

The pieces- Granlund, Coyle, Brodin, Hackett, Larsson, Zucker, et al- are in place.

Fletcher's got hustle though- while the vision for the future is in place, there's still the present. He's got a team that's missed the playoffs three straight years, was putrid in the goal scoring department (historically crappy at it too.) And if you don't score goals, you don't win games, and then everyone involved is sitting on their asses in front of 55" LED TV's watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April.
So with a reticence to trade picks and prospects (for now), he dealt Brent Burns and a 2012 2nd Rounder for Setoguchi+. Setoguchi, despite his streakiness, can score goals, and suddenly gives Minnesota a legit goal scorer in the top 6- and while he's got the potential to do so, Guillaume Latendresse should still be viewed as a question mark until he proves otherwise.
It was a bold move, but very calculated in the sense of time frames- Devin Setoguchi signed a 3 year extension about 5 minutes before he was traded, meaning The Wild has immediate help under team control for the next 3 years, at least. Charlie Coyle, entering his Sophomore year at Boston U., is roughly 2-3 years from seeing NHL ice. And Zack Phillips, who's got top-6 potential, is closer to 4-5 years. With one trade, Fletcher addressed three different time frames in regards to potential roster spots. I thought this was really savvy- it ties into the masterplan, of development and in-house competition. Its not like Setoguchi is an old man either- he could very well be a long-term piece of the puzzle.
So Setoguchi is a nice addition, but he wasn't enough, in theory, to get Minnesota back into the playoffs, especially in the West- where The Wild are closer to the low end of the talent spectrum. So in a mutually beneficial (and been in-the-works for a while) trade with San Jose (again), Fletcher dealt Martin Havlat and got Dany Heatley in return. Straight up, one bad fit for another- and our goal scoring issue has been significantly corrected with two moves.
I posted this on Twitter last night, but the scorecard reads like this- Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, and a 2012 2nd for Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and Zack Phillips.
So now the current team's been altered to the point where you'd expect them to contend for a Playoff spot- and Heatley, like Setoguchi, is under team control for three more years. He'll be 33 when his deal is up- then a decision can be made: Is there someone in-house who can fill his spot?
But no prospects were harmed in the making of this trade, the vision left untouched- in fact, if anything, the kids in the toybox are now better off for it. With the additions of the two former Sharks, on paper our top 6 is strong enough to the point where when a Mikael Granlund or a Charlie Coyle does make the jump, he won't have to be counted on to carry the load offensively, like Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle in Edmonton. The team can let the kids go through their growing pains at the NHL level, but also will be able to put them in spots where they have the best chance to succeed- without rushing them to the NHL.

This is hustlin' kids- Fletcher set the vision, and then improved the toybox and the current roster significantly without straying from it, in fact costing us just little- setting up the Wild for success in the short term and in the long term.


On the eve of Independence Day, and on the weekend of Canada Day as well, and there are the muffled explosions outside; but one giant fucking roman candle just went off, illuminating the night sky above the Hockey World.

From TSN's Bob McKenzie, who is currently sipping margaritas at his cabin somewhere in Canada- Mike Russo confirmed it shortly after- Minnesota dealt Martin Havlat to San Jose for Dany Heatley.

Chuck Fletcher and Doug Wilson must be BFF's- this is the second blockbuster trade they've pulled off in two weeks, the first was the Draft Day trade, with Devin Setoguchi and Brent Burns as the principle pieces.
Havlat has 4 years left and 21 million left on his deal, and Heatley has 3 years and 19 mil; however Heatley is due 8 million this year, then 6 and 5. Havlat will make 5 mil for the next three years, and 6 in the final year of the deal.


What do we make of this trade?

"Becoming Wild" to air July 8

Tap of the Cap to Felix Levesque, who sniffed these out, but it appears that FSNorth will air a series called "Becoming Wild", which will document that Houston Aeros run to the Calder Cup under New Wild Coach Mike Yeo, and also how the roster for this upcoming season and beyond will shape up. TSN did a documentary series like this on The Edmonton Oilers last year- so think 24/7, except with Yeo and the Aeros.

There are a number of short previews already on Wild TV.

Preview #1







A couple quick notes:
- The premiere episode will be July 8th, following Twins Live. So figure rouughly 10:30pm.
- Interesting to see Yeo in action. Cool, calm, commands attention.
- Early quote of the year from (I think) Aeros Radio Play by Play guy Joe O'Donnell: "The coaches are always playing hard. Mike Yeo likes to go down and block shots sometimes, even though he's not wearing equipment." Our new coach = beast. Mad Mike!

I cannot wait for this to start.