Jordan Hendry: Why We Should Care

In a piece of news that flew under the radar this weekend, Minnesota signed former Blackhawks defenseman Jordan Hendry to a tryout contract. On the surface, this deal makes little sense as the Wild have Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser fighting over the final three spots and our friends at Hockey Wilderness have panned the move. While the defensive defenseman, who spent the last three seasons on the Blackhawks as a third-pairing defenseman, is coming off of a serious knee injury in February and as Jonathan Willis shows has some issues, the move sends a seriously needed message. Once again I have to applaud Chuck Fletcher as he made an excellent low-risk, high reward move bringing in a proven commodity in the NHL for little value.

This is a move we've seen before with guys like Jared Spurgeon (paid off) and Patrick O'Sullivan (not so much) but by signing Hendry to a tryout deal, in which nothing is guaranteed, Fletcher has challenged those young defensive players while giving them a chance to make the roster. Honestly, this year will be one of patience with the blue line. Without Brent Burns, guys like Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin (who are #4/5 on a good team) are heavily being counted on to pick up minutes and step up against the top opposition and younger players are looking to be more consistent.

I'd rather see the team build from within and they are doing so - Fletcher could have easily signed a guy like Chris Campoli to a guaranteed deal - but the fact that the Wild's opening day lineup looks to have three players who have played less than 70 NHL games does bring some concern. Even with five guys fighting for three spots, there is too much complacency in the ranks. As good as guys like Stoner and Spurgeon looked at times last season, they've also had their share of problems.

Making a move to bring in Hendry, who could be seen as Chicago's version of Clayton Stoner, gets another body who has played 80 NHL games in the last two seasons in camp and pushes everyone so that there is no complacency. It's hard to know how exactly a player recovering from a torn ACL will recover - Hendry plays a gritty game without being too physical - but whoever gets those bottom-two spots will have earned them. And those who have not will know Fletcher is not afraid to make a move or two.

For the most part there is little to hate about this low-risk, high reward move. At best Hendry has beaten out the majority of our youth movement (both the Houston and Wild-bound players) and is on a two-way contract as the #5 defenseman. At worst, he doesn’t get tendered a contract due to the depth in both Minnesota and Houston. I don’t know what we’ll get out of Hendry, mostly due to the fact he tore his ACL six months ago, but my bet would be Hendry signs a two-way contract and becomes a veteran leader in Houston (he’s older than everyone on the blue line other than Drew Bagnall) and injury fill-in for the Wild.

There's nothing wrong with taking that chance and in looking outside the box for a guy while giving others an opportunity sends a message about not being complacent. The move itself may not work out, but that's why we should care.

And The #1 Prospect Is...


(Photo courtesy of The Scouting Report)

Mikael Granlund
Center/Wing 5'10" 180 lbs
HIFK (SM-Liiga) 8 Goals 28 Assists in 39 games


No surprise here, Mikael Granlund is the top Minnesota Wild prospect chosen by First Round Bust and any group of Wild fans . Heck, he might be the best prospect in Wild history.

That last sentence might be hyperbole but there is truth in the statement. We're talking about a Wild prospect who has set the internet on fire with shootout goals, lacrosse goals and even gotten his stamp. Who else has come close to that? Sure that might be because most Minnesota blue chippers (and some not-so-blue chippers) have spent their teenage years in the State of Hockey but for a team who has missed the postseason three straight seasons, the name Mikael Granlund signifies hope.


Granlund's latest shootout masterpiece this weekend for HIFK...


Besides the flash, Granlund can play hockey at a high level. The Finnish Elite League is no picnic as the third-toughest league in Europe (it's a man's league) and Mikael helped lead HIFK to a championship as a 19 year-old; being named the playoff MVP and leading it in scoring. Granlund also came close to his second PPG performance in two seasons despite being moved to center after spending last season as a winger. To put those numbers in perspective, the only player in recent history who has put up close to a PPG performance in their draft year was Olli Jokinen. Even Teemu Selanne and Mikko Koivu put up two and one point, respectively, in SM-Liiga their draft year.

Also, while most top prospects are judged by their U-20 WJC performance, Granlund was playing in the top-six for the gold medal-winning Finnish World Championship team. Throw in his creative playmaking, Datsyuk-like dangling skills, good shot and the fact he looks to make others better and, putting it mildly, this is a prospect who is men amongst boys.

The only negatives about Granlund is that he is spending this season in Finland despite Mikko Koivu's attempts and so much of the Wild's future depends on him. If he busts (and it's not like he is above having a bad game or two, which happened in the above video's game) or gets injured (which happened last season as Granlund missed 21 games with a concussion), Minnesota will noticeably take a step back.

Then again, he's the best. Deal with it.


Previous Entries:
#2-Charlie Coyle
#3-Marco Scandella
#4-Jonas Brodin
#5-Jason Zucker
#6-Zack Phillips
#7-Matt Hackett
#8-Mario Lucia
#9-Johan Larsson
#10-Colton Gillies
Intro

And The #2 Prospect Is...

(Photo Courtesy of Michael Cummo)

Charlie Coyle
Center/Wing 6'2", 220 Pounds
Boston University (Hockey East) 7 Goals 19 Assists in 37 Games

Man, it seems like forever since Minnesota's had some quality Top-6 Forward prospects in their system- and Charlie Coyle is as quality a prospect as they get. The Weymouth, Massachusetts native became Wild property as a result of the Draft Day trade with San Jose, and according to Chuck Fletcher, that deal doesn't get made if Coyle isn't involved.
He had an up and down year at Boston University (which is where he dreamed of playing as a kid) but shone at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, where he tied for the team lead in points with 6 points in 6 games. He was named the Top Forward for the US team. Coyle will be counted upon to be one of the driving forces for the 2011 Edition of the US World Junior Championship team, and impressed again at the recent Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid.
My favorite quote about Coyle's play comes from the immensely respected Chris Peters of United States of Hockey: "Coyle...my gosh is he good."
As it stands, the plan for Coyle is to play another season for Jack Parker in Boston- but considering his pro-ready size, his game, and his commitment and dedication, I wouldn't be surprised to see Coyle in Houston on an Amateur Try-Out Agreement once the Terriers' season ends.

Previous Entries:
#3-Marco Scandella
#4-Jonas Brodin
#5-Jason Zucker
#6-Zack Phillips
#7-Matt Hackett
#8-Mario Lucia
#9-Johan Larsson
#10-Colton Gillies
Intro

Everyone's All Set For Traverse City

This is the group that will wear the Wild Sweater for the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. In case you aren't aware of what that is, Detroit plays host to a tournament featuring their prospects and those of seven other teams (Minnesota, Carolina, Dallas, Columbus, New York Rangers, Buffalo, and St. Louis) for a couple days in mid-September in lovely Traverse City.
The rosters aren't just purely prospects though- there is the inclusion of some free agent tryouts to help fill out the rosters because a.) the NCAA kids and Europeans aren't able to play in it, and b.) these same tryouts are exactly that- these kids are trying to make an impression.

For example, Jared Spurgeon, Colton Jobke, and Josh Caron all parlayed strong play at the Prospects Tournament into Entry-Level Contracts. And oh yeah, Spurgeon played 53 games with the big club and looks to be a lock out of Training Camp this Fall.

Here is the schedule of events. Last year The Wild won the tournament, so they will be back to defend their crown.

And you know what the best part is?

I will be there to catch the games in person. Because of travel I won't be able to make it for the Saturday game against Buffalo, but will arrive in time Sunday to catch the rest of the games for the tenure of the Tournament- so I'll be "embedded" to provide a good decent amount of material and coverage of the games.

That's right kids, Hockey season is right around the corner...

And the #3 Prospect Is...


(Photo courtesy of the Wild)

Marco Scandella
Defenseman 6'3" 206 lbs
Houston (AHL) 3 goals 16 assists in 33 games; Minnesota (NHL) 2 assists in 20 games


The top defenseman on our list, Marco Scandella is ready to take the prospect tag off and contribute to the Wild after spending a season split between Minnesota, Houston and injured reserve. A second round pick in 2008 and fully recovered from a concussion, Scandella was able to show at the recent Wild development camp that he is a man amongst boys through his size, skill and play as the best player on the ice.

Although his ceiling might not be as high as other defensive prospects, Scandella appears to have a bright future ahead of him and is much more likely to reach his. It has helped that the Montreal native was slowly brought along in the three years since being drafted and allowed to develop at his own pace. With that, Scandella shines on both ends of the ice. His size and wingspan give him an advantage where he can control the play and force it to the outside. At the same time, Scandella is physical (although has toned down from this) and aggressive but not a liability. If anything, he can carry his defensive partner at the junior level.

And of course, he's a good interview.


As with all prospects, it remains to be seen whether or not Marco Scandella will become the top-four defenseman we see him being with the Wild, but he should start this upcoming season in St. Paul. At worst he's a serviceable NHL defenseman. At best, the State of Hockey will be saying Brent Who?


**ADDENDUM***

Dan: Scandella's been on an upward development curve essentially from the Day he was drafted; he had been projected to be a depth defenseman, a #6-#7 guy, and then impressed at Traverse City that year, and hasn't looked back since.
What puts Scandella above Jonas Brodin for me is two things; the ability to physically match up against bigger stronger forwards because he has the size, strength, and a 6'8" wingspan, and that I think he has the potential to provide more offense. We've seen Scandella take the puck and make a rush, but he's also got a hard bullet of a shot that he keeps low in order to create rebounds and deflections. You could see the progression he made with every cup of coffee this last season (the injury bug kept striking though,) so the potential is there- but what has really stood out to me hasn't been the games he's played.
Scandella was featured prominently in Episode 4 of Becoming Wild; as a guy who is right in front during a motivation session with Leadership Training Guy JD Spisso, leading his "pack" during their adventure at Normandale Park as part of that same training session, and then "The Giraffe" made sure to check with the hired Power Skating Instructor (Carn was his name I think) to make sure that his form was correct- only to be greeted with the news that he had the fastest time in a sprint.
Its this commitment and dedication to improving himself as a player that has really impressed me most about Marco Scandella. He should, undoubtedly, become an NHL regular this season.

Previous Entries:
#4-Jonas Brodin
#5-Jason Zucker
#6-Zack Phillips
#7-Matt Hackett
#8-Mario Lucia
#9-Johan Larsson
#10-Colton Gillies
Introduction

A Million And One Questions: Step Up Step Step Up



"I may only be 24, but I’ve played four years. I’ve been in the playoffs every year and played overtime games in the playoffs every year. I’m at a crossroads where I need to pick up my game one more step, be a professional and turn into that man you’ve got to be in order to play in this league. I’m ready to take the jump and make the step and help out the team as much as I can."


Those are the words of Devin Setoguchi, on the day he was formally announced as a member of the Minnesota Wild. The 24 year old, a veteran of 267 NHL games, will wear a #10 sweater.
And for those who have decided to forget, #10 was last worn by Marian Gaborik, arguably the most electric (and polarizing) player in the annals of Wild history. While comparing him to Gaborik is a grave disservice, Setoguchi can put the puck in the net- but here is where the rub is.

He had the luxury of playing in a well-run San Jose organization, and skating with a perpetually talented and offensively explosive roster of characters such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, etc. You get the point here. In essence, Todd McClellan could sneak a guy like Setoguchi out onto the ice and capitalize on a matchup. He wasn't asked nor had to shoulder the load offensively. But even on a stacked team, Setoguchi was prone to a disappearing act at points in the season. The lack of consistency could be attributed to a lack of maturity and perspective; considering the situation he's been in since he was drafted: class organization, perennial playoff team loaded with talent: it would be easy (and in his defense he's just 24) to rest on your laurels and see that the success comes year after year.

Then one day you sign a three year extension, and then the next day you're dealt to a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2003, much less made the playoffs anytime in recent history. Suddenly you go from penthouse to outhouse; one would hope that the realization that the business aspect of the sport means that you could be here one day, gone the next would certainly be jarring the world that you know. Here, in Minnesota, he'll likely find his place on the top line alongside Heatley and Mikko Koivu. And our offensive depth...well...nothing to write home to Ma about. And making the playoffs aren't exactly a lock either- he will get every opportunity to contribute and be "the guy." Quite frankly, no one involved in this transaction: Setoguchi, Chuck Fletcher, Mike Yeo, the fans, or the rest of the team, can afford to have a season marked with "occasional brilliance" again. Now the things you strive for- the playoffs and ultimately The Stanley Cup, seemingly aren't as close as before. Boom- perspective.

While it makes for nice lip service on the day you slip on the Wild Sweater for the 1st time, the plain truth is that Setoguchi has to do what he said; step up his game and be a pillar that this team can count on night in and night out, and be the player that San Jose thought he could be when they traded up to nab him 8th overall in 2005- because he'll get every opportunity (top line minutes, play with talent, power play time, etc.) to do so.

At a certain point, a player has to protect his career, and that time for Setoguchi is now- because this ain't San Jose anymore.

Minnesota's 2011-2012 National TV Schedule: How Does It Compare To Last Season?

The NHL released their national television schedule and for a team which has missed the postseason three consecutive years/is not on the East Coast, the Wild are featured prominently. Minnesota has:

9 games on Versus/NBC Sports Network (the channel will be rebranded on January 2).
Tuesday Oct. 18 vs. Pittsburgh
Monday Nov. 28 vs. Tampa Bay
Wednesday Dec. 14 vs. Chicago
Tuesday Jan. 10 vs. San Jose
Tuesday Jan. 24 at Colorado
Tuesday Feb. 14 vs. Anaheim
Tuesday Feb. 28 vs. Los Angeles
Tuesday March 6 at Colorado
Sunday March 25 at Washington

1 game on NBC as part of Hockey Day In America
Sunday Feb. 19 vs. Boston

And for our Canadian friends:
1 game on Hockey Night In Canada
Saturday Jan. 7 at Calgary
(Thursday March 1 at Montreal is also on CBC)

3 games on TSN
Tuesday Oct. 11 at Ottawa
Wednesday Nov 30 at Edmonton
Thursday Jan 19 at Toronto

7 games on TSN
All Versus games besides 1/24 COL and 3/25 WSH

The rest of the games this season should be airing locally on Fox Sports North as the Wild were at one point looking to make their broadcasts cable-exclusive for the 2011-2012 season.


So how does this compare to last season?

Despite missing the playoffs again, Minnesota is essentially upholding the status quo with their second consecutive season of having ten US national appearances (9 VS, 1 NBC). It's a little surprising given the declining ratings in Minneapolis-St. Paul. My guess would have to be the extra games coincide with the area being a large market for Versus (since Comcast is the dominant cable provider) as the Wild aren't that big of a national draw for the channel. It's also not like Minnesota regularly shows up on the NHL Network (US) which features the top playoff teams with national marketable stars. A team like Los Angeles may have less Versus games than the Wild but are featured on NHL Network far more often.

Number of NHL Network Games (note: the US version shows the eastern national HNIC game but not the west coast HNIC game)
17 - Montreal
16 - New York Rangers and Boston
15 - Washington
13 - Pittsburgh and Philadelphia
10 - Tampa Bay
9 - Toronto and Detroit
7 - Los Angeles
6 - Chicago
3 - Vancouver, San Jose and New Jersey
2 - Carolina, Anaheim and Winnipeg
1 - Buffalo, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Calgary, New York Islanders, Colorado and Minnesota
0 - Edmonton, Florida, Phoenix and Columbus


Like any market, ratings and viewers will go up if the team wins - although traditional hockey areas like the Twin Cities appear to have more leeway - so it will be interesting to see if the excitement Minnesota has built with their offseason moves translates into higher viewership locally and nationally.

And The #4 Prospect Is...


(Photo Courtesy of EliteProspects.Com)

Jonas Brodin
Defenseman, 6'1" 170 Pounds
Farjestad (Swedish Elite League) 4 Assists in 42 Games

Shortly after Chuck Fletcher made the Brodin selection, the aisles were flooded with Wild fans muttering "WTF is a Joe-Nis Bro-deen?!? He's not a goal scorer!" as they poured out onto the concourses.

I think Brent Flahr succinctly breaks down Brodin's game:



To me, Mike Yeo explains where Brodin's value will be.

The big question with Brodin is if the offense comes or not; a look at his playing history would seem to indicate that he may never be a big time point producer, but that being said, he had two goals and four assists in six games at The World Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid last week as Sweden's top minute eating defenseman, and he'll be looked to again around Christmas time to carry the same workload at the World Junior Championships.
Even though he is a bit slight at 170 pounds, he should be able to bulk up a bit, which will allow him to engage physically with opponents a bit more around the net and in the corners, but Brodin isn't the type of player that will look to blow people up. Brodin was a key cog on Farjestad's blueline for their SEL Championship- as a 17 year old playing against Men. To me his play reminds me alot of what Kim Johnsson was for us (yes he was overpaid I know.) Johnsson's game was moving the puck out of the zone, and matching up against the top lines of other teams. Brodin, like Johnsson, will likely see ice time in all situations, utilizing his skating, poise, and hockey sense.

Brodin did sign an Entry Level Contract on his Birthday during Development Camp, but I've heard it was more to avoid some transfer issues crossing the pond when he does make the jump to the North American game.

He'll arguably the top Defensive Prospect in the Wild System...after this season.



Previous Entries:
#5-Jason Zucker
#6-Zack Phillips
#7-Matt Hackett
#8-Mario Lucia
#9-Johan Larsson
#10-Colton Gillies
Introduction

And The #5 Wild Prospect Is...


(Photo from DU Clarion)

Jason Zucker
Left Wing 5'11" 174 lbs
University of Denver (WCHA) 23 goals 22 assists in 40 games


Any good prospect pool needs a Jason Zucker or two. Zucker, the 59th overall pick by Minnesota in 2010, has exceeded expectations this past season by having one of the best freshman years for Denver en route to being named the WCHA rookie of the year. His 23 goals and 22 assists put him in an elite category of WCHA players who scored more than a point per game as true freshman; this group includes NHL scorers Zack Parise, Paul Stastny and Thomas Vanek among others.

What is most impressive about the Las Vegas native, however, is the many weapons he has in his arsenal. He has speed but uses his explosive first step when the opportunity arises like an Alexander Ovechkin who doesn't float and cherry pick. Zucker has a wicked wrist shot but has the vision to see the ice and set up teammates. He's also not afraid to be physical and an energy player as the last two World Junior Championships for Team USA have shown.

For a player known more for his physical side than scoring prowess when drafted, Zucker has shown his ability to grow and develop. That has been reflected in different prospect rankings as Jason has gone from ranked 13th by HF Boards members and 15th by Hockey's Future before last season to as high as third. Dan and I don't see him that high - other prospects in the Wild pipeline have played as well with higher ceilings - but with his continued growth and weapons allowing him to play any role, Jason Zucker has a bright future ahead in Denver and eventually Minnesota.

Previous Entries:
#6 - Zack Phillips
#7 - Matt Hackett
#8 Mario Lucia
#9 - Johan Larsson
#10 - Colton Gillies
Introduction

At Lake Placid, Familiar Swedes Lead


Wild prospects...scoring? Thanks to HF Boards User Granin

It was overlooked by most but last week featured something which might seem out of place for Wild fans. Familiar names at the top of the scoreboard.

Lets back up. In a week where the focus was on the United States evaluating players for the 2012 U-20 World Junior Championships, including Wild prospects Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, three Swedes with Minnesota ties stole the show. Swedish forward Johan Larsson lead all players at the National Junior Evaluation Camp with fourteen points (4G 10A) in five games. Minnesota first round pick Jonas Brodin lead all defensmen with six points (2G 4A) as an 18 year-old first pairing defenseman. Finally, Wild draft pick and Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson posted a .904 save percentage in three games.

To be fair, this wasn't a true international competition. With four teams from three countries (the United States was split into a blue and white team for half the Evaluation Camp), this was used as a tune-up and chance to scout players for the upcoming Under-20 World Junior Championships; however, that shouldn't take away what Larsson, Brodin and Gustafsson did.

If anything, these three Swedes leading should whet the appetite of Wild fans for what the pipeline has in store. Jonas Brodin looks to be a first pairing defenseman at the age of eighteen for an under twenty tournament while Gustafsson, overlooked by most Wild fans and prospect rankings, could be Sweden's number one goalie. Although it is hard to bank on Larsson scoring like he does in international competition in the NHL, he looks to be the next captain for Sweden in the most prestigious tournament for prospects. Having that type of leadership is important and does wonders for other players.

And it's not just Sweden. Mikael Granlund looks to lead Finland as has been mentioned as the best European prospect ready for the NHL by Pro Hockey Talk. Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle look to lead Team USA in the World Juniors; both prospects survived the cuts. While the three Swedish Wild prospects showed their might by leading the score sheet, the end result is having prospects who can lead on the ice.

And that, more than anything, is worth looking at.

A Million And One Questions: Lessons Learned?, or Get In Where You Fit In

The NHL is about roles: where a player fits in a team, and what they'll do for that team on a shift-by-shift basis. So one of the more under-publicized facets of building a team for the season is who is gonna play where, doing what.
As players rise through the ranks of hockey, from bantams and high school to junior and college and on to pro, they can see their roles shift; a scorer in bantam may not necessaarily be that in junior or college; despite having the resume of scoring goals, that may not be what they are asked to do. Some of it depends on the personnel already in the top-6 forwards or top-4 defenseman, but also in their size. What they did before may not necessarily translate to a higher level either; take Robbie Earl for example. He was a swift skating finesse scoring forward at Wisconsin, yet when we saw him last in Houston and Minnesota, he had transformed himself into a gritty forechecking winger, because that's what he asked to and HAD to do in order to play at that level. It may work out for some, changing personas as a player, and for some, they are terribly miscast and never work out.

So its along these lines where the lesson of "who you will be in order to play may not be who you are now" was delivered to three players this last year.

Cody Almond and Justin Falk are both on the cusp of becoming NHL regulars; both have seen time on an NHL roster (Falk started last fall with the team,) and both were successful in Major Junior in using their skill, along with their size, to be effective at the positions they play. Almond has the potential to be a nice two-way forward; maybe not possessing high-end skill, but able to contribute offensively while playing gritty defense. Falk is a big kid, and really mobile for his size; he was named to the Memorial Cup All-Tournament Team when his Spokane team won it all a few years ago.
But both had callups cut short when it became clear that they weren't doing what they were supposed to do; Almond, as a fourth line center, was playing gritty enough as a checker, and Falk wasn't tossing bodies out of the crease and protecting his goaltender when the opposition had their toes in his crease. Both were sent back to Houston, and two guys, Warren Peters and Drew Bagnall, came back in their place and stayed because they did what Almond and Falk couldn't do- fill that role. Use their size and make life hell for the opponent; that finesse and skill that worked in Kelowna and Spokane won't work here, in the NHL, is what the Brass is asking them to do.

You may have been one of the more skilled guys growing up, but not here. Here's what you got to do in order to stay, and your game can grow from there.

Conversely, there is Casey Wellman. He was arguably the first initial foray in the NCAA free agency bonanza made by Chuck Fletcher, and he had a nice offensive pedigree to him; he did score 23 goals in 36 games his sophomore year at UMass-Amherst. He's quick, will go into the dirty areas, has an outstanding shot, and that intuition that goal scorers have.
But he wasn't doing that in the Calder Cup Playoffs; not so much the scoring, but not even shooting the goddamned puck. See, Wellman's case is different than Almond and Falk; he's likely best suited for playing with talented linemates in an offensive role- the kid is just not built to be a checker, and its likely a waste of what he's good at. So Mike Yeo buried him on the Fourth Line as a message; your job is to shoot the puck, because even if it doesn't result in goals, it can result in rebounds and other opportunities around the net. Wellman, in his first game in that role, scored twice, including the game winner.

The gauntlet was thrown down to these three; this is what you have to do, and what we expect of you, in order to become an NHL regular. I'd like to think that this was conveyed at the exit meetings as well- Mike Russo reported late in the year that Carson McMillan, who had a successful cup of coffee in the last few games of the season, had been challenged to step it up and really pin his ears back in his exit interview last year.

Message sent. Lessons Learned?

And The #6 Prospect Is...


(Photo Courtesy of Sportsnet.Ca)

Zack Phillips
Center, 6'1" 180 Pounds
Saint John (QMJHL), 38 Goals, 57 Assists in 67 Games

The selection of Phillips with San Jose pick, 28th overall, has kind of flown under the radar when its come to the recent surge of columns and posts breaking down the Brent Burns trade that went down on Draft Day. Plenty attention has been paid to the principle NHL figures trading places (Burns and Setoguchi,) and Charlie Coyle, but let's not forget that Phillips was a highly thought of prospect during the course of his Draft Year.
In the Third Episode of "Becoming Wild" the Wild Draft Table got a call from "Army" (believed to be Doug Armstrong, GM of St. Louis) who offered the 41st and 46th picks for #28, but they opted to see what was there- so the presumption is that Phillips is one of the "higher guys" they had on their list, and trading down would take them too far down to grab a guy from that tier.
So here we are, talking about Zack Phillips as the 6th best Wild Prospect.
He was one of the more visible offensive standouts at Development Camp, showing his excellent hockey sense and vision in all three zones; the line combination of him, Mikael Granlund, and Johan Larsson were particularly potent on the second day of scrimmages. The easy knock on Phillips is that his skating isn't particularly explosive, but let's remember that he's just 18- he doesn't have to be a ready-made NHL player right now. He's got time to continue to grow and continue to develop, and The Brass will do what they can to maximize his potential. His game isn't streaking down the wing and launching rockets; he's an honest goal scorer, and excellent playmaker- the more I think about it, he's got an awful lot of similarities to Andrew Brunette. Maybe not the most swift of skaters, but a player so smart that they can compensate for that and be an effective contributor.

Phillips is already in Minnesota training and preparing for Camp and The Traverse City Prospect Tournament in September, which gives one some insight into his work ethic and dedication.

He may get lost in the shuffle surrounding the trade fallout, but he's got the potential to be one hell of a player for Minnesota.

Previously:
Intro
Colton Gillies
Johan Larsson
Mario Lucia
Matt Hackett

It May Just Work Out After All, KFAN




It was announced in April that the Minnesota Wild Radio Network would be heading to the local Sports Talk Radio juggernaut KFAN (which will be transmitting from the lovely confines of the FM dial starting Monday, replacing KTLK on 100.3) for a three year tenure. Since its inception, The Wild had been on the Good Neighbor, WCCO, but it was time to move to a more "visible" station. It was widely promoted on KFAN airwaves as another feather in the cap, and that this new marriage would enhance The Wild's identity on the 50,000 watt monstrosity.

So the trumpeting of enhanced promotion and discussion of Wild Hockey on the radio is great for business right?

Well, maybe. KFAN is home of the Minnesota Vikings Radio Network, and to anyone whose listened to the soon-to-be-former-AM1130 knows damn well that The Purple are the predominant topic on nearly every piece of station programming. Makes sense, considering The Vikings are the undisputed heavyweight champ in terms of the local sports scene- its just a trickle down effect from the 24/7/365 attention paid to the National Football League.

So color me skeptical about this. See, during the work day I have my radio tuned to these very same airwaves (thank you for the redundant playlists in every genre FM Radio, and 1500ESPN's broadcast which is apparently driven by hamsters in wheels,) so if anyone can attest to the saturation of football talk from hour to hour, its this guy. Remember, KFAN had the Timberwolves' radio rights, I can recall little time devoted to that team- sure there would be a segment here and there, but it is something that raises an eyebrow.
But where the problem arises, from my point of view, is the sensabilities of the respective hosts:
- The Power Trip Morning Show features Mike Morris, who is a former NFL long snapper.
- Paul Allen is the Vikings Radio Play by Play voice, and Friday Co-Host Paul Charchian is well-known for his involvement with Fantasy Football.
- "The Common Man" Dan Cole's show is more of a variety/nonsense affair, even though Producer Brandon Mileski is the Head Coach of the Coon Rapids' Boys Hockey Team.
- Dan Barreiro's drive-time show is a bit of everything including politics and sports, but Barreiro himself is more of a Basketball guy than anything.

They just aren't "hockey guys"; and for the most part, none of the other radio personalities in town aren't either. Plain and simple, The Vikings drive conversation on the radio not just because they are topical (and one game a week lends itself to the sometimes tedious dissection of even the slightest minutia of every game) but because the hosts themselves have some sort of investment in the team as well. Its kind of ominous really; even though the Wild games will be heard on KFAN airwaves, they are playing the role of Little Mac and The Vikings and NFL are, well, Mike Tyson.



But I had an epiphany today.

KFAN and Fox Sports North have partnered up, so the last hour of Paul Allen's show is now seen live on Fox Sports North's website. The crux of the matter is that the Minnesota Twins have been the emphasis of this union, and Twins/FSNorth personalities have been frequent guests on Allen's show. The Twins almost exclusively air their games on FSNorth (save the National Telecasts) and the scuttlebutt is that The Wild will be doing the same; so is this FSNorth/KFAN partnership the formula for a constant source of Wild Hockey discussion? Kevin Gorg is already a frequent guest, as is Anthony LaPanta; both of which also work Wild broadcasts- maybe use the same concept but change the lineup a little bit, making it more topical? Why wouldn't KFAN and FSNorth do this- you are, after all, in the business of marketing your own product.

If so, then it's an oasis amongst the (seemingly) nonstop Vikes talk that rules the radio airwaves. And that's all I can hope for.

What I Read This Week (8/12)

It may be the dog days of August but hockey will be back soon enough (or in the case of international hockey, it never left). For those who can't get enough, here are some articles and opinion pieces to get your fix. And if that doesn't work, you can always follow Dan or myself on Twitter.

The "San Jose-Minnesota trade" Section
-Going along with what Dan wrote earlier in the week about Doug Wilson's coup de grace with Brent Burns and (for some reason) Marty Havlat.
"Charlie Coyle Will Be The X Factor In Burns Trade" (Pro Hockey Talk)

-A good look at a bad article. Plus we get a shout out!
"Wild/Sharks Summer Of Love A One Sided Affair? Not For San Jose." (Frozen Ponderings)

-No Sheppard, no problem. Getting rid of the Risebrough stink.
"Fletcher (Almost) Completely Free" (Hitting The Post)

The "Uniforms R Us" Section
-Don't see too much love for both the green and red jerseys. Usually it's one or the other.
"Best and worst sweaters of all-time: Minnesota Wild" (Pro Hockey Talk)

-Both however do top Minnesota's soccer jerseys. (Puck Daddy/Reddit Hockey)


The "Old Guard" Section
-Would have to guess First Round Bust probably has a different title.
"What if...the North Stars had never moved?" (Star Tribune)

-Best logo in sports. Hands down.
"Your Moment In Minnesota Fighting Saints History" (Hockey Wilderness)

The "New Guard" Section
-Looking like Zucker will see his third consecutive WJC come December.
"Jason Zucker Growing Into Leadership Role With Team USA" (NHL.com)

-It's hard to think of another goalie prospect who has flown under the radar like Gustafsson.
"Goalie Tandem Provides Solid Options For Sweden" (NHL.com)

And The #7 Prospect Is...


(photo courtesy of The Third Intermission)

Matt Hackett
Goalie, 6'2" 170
Houston (AHL) 45 games 2.37 GAA .916 Save %


Minnesota's third round pick in 2009, Matt Hackett has proven to be in short order the most promising goalie prospect the team has had since Josh Harding. A quick goalie who also uses his 6'2" size to his advantage, the 21 year-old spent last season with the Wild's AHL affiliate Houston where he supplanted Anton Khudobin as the number one starter by the end of the year and was one of the top reasons for the Aero's run to the Calder Cup Finals. It's safe to say he has proven himself to be the second-best goalie prospect from the 2009 Draft; only Robin Lehner, the Ottawa prospect who outdueled Hackett in the Calder Cup Finals, is ranked higher by the Goalie Guild.

So why is Hackett only ranked seventh?

One of the toughest aspects of creating a top ten prospect list is debating players at different positions. Dan and I had some great discussions while drawing up the first annual FRB Minnesota Wild top ten prospects but none were greater than where to place Hackett. While some prospect rankings have Hackett as high as third, we feel a couple factors warrant Hackett to be further down the list despite his bright future.

As happy as FRB is with his play and development, the limited number of goalie positions compared to defensemen or forwards hurts Hackett and other goalies' value. With Niklas Backstrom firmly entrenched as the Wild's goalie for at least the next two seasons, it's hard to see him getting that opportunity outside of injury. Due to that, the addition and play of other prospects and balancing the fine line between potential and ceiling, the top goalie in the Wild prospect system is below some other notable names. But despite being seventh, our expectations for Matt Hackett is for the 21 year-old to have another excellent season in Houston leading the Aeros.

Previous Entries:
#8 Mario Lucia
#9 - Johan Larsson
#10 - Colton Gillies
Introduction

Hang On A Freaking Second



The highly esteemed Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy had a piece/post/blurb yesterday about San Jose's position amongst the elite of the Western Conference. Its an understandable stance- San Jose, for all of their misfortunes come playoff time, is an exceptionally well run organization from top to bottom- especially considering what they've sent Minnesota's way this summer in a series of trades (which some dimwit has declared The Sharks the winners.) Both pieces essentially paint Minnesota as suckers- taking the perpetually ineffective playoff performer Dany Heatley and maddeningly inconsistent Devin Setoguchi off San Jose's hands in exchange for super-primo defense stud Brent Burns and ultra-breakaway-speed-goalscoring wizard Martin Havlat.

Uh....let's hold on a second here.

Its not the notion that Chuck Fletcher got suckered that gets under my skin- its that Burns and Havlat, by names alone, are the coup de grace for Doug Wilson. That with the addition of a defenseman and a playmaking winger, those two will compensate for Heatley and Setoguchi's departures. It goes beyond that though- just because players are added on paper it doesn't mean they necessarily fit in so cohesively, or will be effective.
Does San Jose have the right mix of linemates for Martin Havlat to truly be effective- and it may not necessarily be Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Which Brent Burns will show up- Pre or Post All-Star Break?

But are folks really convinced that a winger with a career high of 30 goals and a career high of 77 points (both of which came on teams where he was in a secondary role because of the offensive depth) and a defenseman who can score roughly 20 goals a season are the answer instead of two proven goal scorers in Heatley and Setoguchi?

I understand the logic I'm arguing goes both ways, but its the type of players we're talking about- a playmaker and a D for two goal scorers.



"Becoming Wild" Episode Three Review

Even if we need to duck, things are looking up.

As someone who spends time researching and writing on prospects, I've been looking forward to the Draft episode ever since the six-episode project was announced. While there were reservations about how well the team could pull it off, it didn't disappoint. After a player-heavy opening episode and an executive-heavy second show, episode three of "Becoming Wild" found the balance needed for fans to get the best look into the changes for this season and beyond. The episode wasn't perfect by any means, but despite some hiccups the team was able to showcase the preparations players, coaches and management make for the NHL Draft and beyond.

Unlike the last two episodes, the overlying theme was based on a simple philosophy rather than an action. There were no calls of "getting younger" like Chuck Fletcher had done before. Instead the even-keeled general manager was shown as not being afraid to make a bold choice and be aggressive. That was important because with St. Paul hosting the rest of the NHL, the onus was on Minnesota to make a statement and that is exactly what they did. As a selling point for both next season and the group in charge of the organization, "Becoming Wild" was thankfully able to show this and give a clear viewpoint of why the philosophy is needed.

Unfortunately, not everything was as clear. With an episode where there were many pieces and people being showcase, some did not mesh as well as others. The interview process featuring two local prospects (future Gopher Mike Reilly and Edina forward Steven Fogarty) ironically picked in spots where the Wild had no selections (Reilly went in the fourth round to Columbus while Fogarty went in the third to the New York Rangers) was interesting to look in on and get an idea of what teams ask. However there were a few other segments which seemed to just placate the "we need Minnesotans" crowd. I understand that the Wild straddle a fine line in the State of Hockey but those took away from the organization and weren't needed.

Similarly, the scene with Cal Clutterbuck and Clayton Stoner was very underwhelming and seemed to be used to sell the importance of playing well in the minors. The filmmakers had no idea what was in store later that night - as the scene took place in a limo before the Draft - but it's unfortunate that there wasn't a Wild player who went on camera to give a reaction to seeing teammate Brent Burns traded. Even if it was a canned answer being sad about losing Burns but happy with gaining Devin Setoguchi, the contrast between Fletcher and Clutterbuck would have been better.

However despite the few speed bumps, most of "Becoming Wild" episode three was smooth sailing. The filmmakers did a great job showing what happens during the NHL Draft in terms of trade opportunities and what goes on at the team table. I was in attendance during the Draft and the episode was accurate to the crowd's reaction; especially during the Burns trade announcement where the Xcel Energy Center sounded like they got kicked in the gut before slowly (and I mean slowly...you can hear the one person, who is Dan, clapping for getting Charlie Coyle) coming back to life. Learning about a proposed trade the team rejected (#28 for #41 and #46) also looks a lot better because of a trade which unfortunately wasn't shown (#60 for #71 and #101) due to Minnesota getting a player who "fell like they always do" in Mario Lucia

The filmmakers were also able to do what the Wild needed as a team making aggressive moves and make those new acquisitions look like stars. Following Dany Heatley and Setoguchi finding a place to live gave off a sense of the two authentically excited and wanting to be, bad geography regardless, members of Minnesota. Despite "Becoming Wild" also being an in-house production, it didn't like the usual canned answers one gets with "PONDcast" (another Wild in-house production) and came off as organic. The same thing happened with first round pick Jonas Brodin. Despite not diving into what type of player Brodin is or how he is the best available player and can help the Minnesota prospect pool, just seeing the excitement on his face and how Brodin handles himself with media questions sells the kid better than anything the team has done.

Coming out of the third episode, I, along with the State of Hockey, am buying the philosophy the team is selling and that it needs to come on all levels. These episodes need management like Chuck Fletcher, media guys like Kevin Gorg and Michael Russo and the players themselves as each facet gives a different viewpoint which together paint the big picture of a team embracing its mantra of getting younger and better. Some come close to doing so (especially Russo, who in this and his writing shows a knack for making complex situations seem simple) but like everything a little balance is needed. While the first couple episodes of "Becoming Wild" were unable to achieve that balance, episode three has found its stride. If the rest of the episodes are anything like this, Minnesota fans will want to skip to October faster than episode three flew by free agency.

"Becoming Wild" Episode Three is available here.

Previous Reviews:
Episode 2

Episode 1

Thanks For The Memories James Sheppard


So much symbolism. Or "s mch symblsm."

I don't like to get too personal with these blog posts or opinion pieces because it has nothing to do with prospects or the Minnesota Wild but it's going to happen once again. Saturday was my 25th birthday and for me the end of an era which began in college. Sure there are some great incentives like a lower car insurance rate but from this point on those days of being able to live off of HS, college and that awkward post-college period are over.

So with that, it is very fitting that on Saturday night Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher traded the Patron Saint of First Round Bust James Sheppard to our new BFF San Jose for a third-round pick in 2013. For as much grief as Wild fans have given Shep, this is much for the best. Besides joining the other half of last year's team with the Sharks (seriously this is starting to feel like 1991 all over again), James needed a new start and he wasn't getting it here. Once the golden child, Sheppard was the ninth overall pick in 2006 but in 2011 it's just a stat and the Wild have had six first round picks since then.

While no one can disagree with the trade - and in some cases actively celebrate the haul - my Sheppard memories are mixed. It's great to look back on those funny memories but all ATV and "I've been playing since I was 3" jokes aside, the case of James Sheppard is quite sad. Here's a guy who was slated to be a top ten selection and made the NHL at 19 yet was touted as the next golden child despite not being treated as one. Scoring 96 points in the QJMHL their draft year is no easy feat (in fact fans are celebrating spending a late first round selection this year on a player who scored 95) but it doesn't guarantee success. For whatever reason, that point never came across because at times Sheppard didn't appear ready for the NHL.

There's nothing with being a top-ten pick not playing in the NHL as a teenager. If there is then I'd hate to imagine how much better Mikko Koivu or Nicklas Backstrom would be. Shep didn't sit as much as the next first round pick brought up early (Colton Gillies) he was horribly developed.

While having top players play up instead of in the CHL worked for the Wild early, it worked because they were playing for the future (and in one case making an underdog run for the present). 2007-2008 was a year where Minnesota was looking to make a Stanley Cup run and developing the future took a backseat. There's nothing wrong with that because it should be the end result of any organization's five year plan but for a team in that mode priorities change and the Wild did not make the proper adjustments with Sheppard.

Maybe things would have been different with Minnesota if they had James spend that year with Cape Breton but we'll never know. Regardless, he missed out on a crucial development year. By the time it was apparent that the "young future stud" was so untouchable that the team wouldn't part with him for Olli Jokinen, it was too late: he was making popcorn in the press box on a regular occasion and excuses on the ice.

In life you take the good and the bad and try to learn from it. It's all you can do. That's what the team and its management group is doing and it is what I do every day as someone entering a new phase of their life. The case of James Sheppard is one of missed opportunity and growth; it doesn't matter what one does in the past if they do not continue to develop and mature. Yesterday's ninth overall pick golden child is today's ATV injured, scorer of six points in a season and butt of many jokes. But the good news is that guy can be something else tomorrow and a benefit to another hockey team. Just ask this guy.



Thanks for the memories Shep and don't be a stranger.



Seriously please don't. Between the Risebrough era officially ending this summer and now you being gone, we are without a muse now.

The Open Pulpit Policy: Dan Reed Photography

Just got an email from a reader, who wanted to pass along this link to all (13) of our readers:

Dan Reed Photography at Minnesota Wild Development Camp

Please do our friends at Dan Reed Photography a favor and check out the rest of their website- which includes photos from the Outdoor Practice Minnesota held last Winter.

Thank You for the Contribution!

And the #8 Wild Prospect Is...

(Photo Courtesy of Tess Cameranesi)

Mario Lucia
Left Wing, 6'2" 185 Pounds
Wayzata HS (MNHS), 30 Goals, 24 Assists in 27 Games

I'll keep this profile on the shorter side, considering First Round Bust has talked about Lucia about a billion times (especially this one, which has something like 2000 page views) in our short existence.
The skinny on him is this: talking to a few scouts, they saw him as a "safe" pick for a High School kid, meaning he's got all the tools to be an NHL player. He's already 6'2"-6'3", and has room to add another 20-30 pounds of muscle to his frame. He's got great hockey sense, wonderful hands, a smooth skating stride that just needs some oomph behind it. Maybe most importantly is that he comes from a hockey background- he is the "coach's son", so he does a lot of the little things, and since he's announced his intent to play next season in British Columbia for Penticton, he can lean on his older brother Tony for some guidance, who also spent his senior season playing in a different league (USHL), and transferring home to graduate from Wayzata High School in the Spring.

That being said, Lucia was thought highly enough by Minnesota to where they traded up to get him 60th overall, but this will be a long term developmental project here. Playing in a better league this next year is a good first step, as clearly he had little to prove against Minnesota High School competition. To his credit, Lucia handled himself quite well at Development Camp, at times looking the part of a legit prospect.
Mario Lucia, if he reaches it, projects to be a good two-way 2nd line Winger- a guy who will be able to do a little bit of everything. And this is why Nate and I like him as the 8th Best Wild Prospect.

Previous Entries:
Introduction
#10 - Colton Gillies
#9 - Johan Larsson

James Sheppard: High Draft Pick, Mediocre Operator of Recreational Vehicles

...because Chuck Fletcher and his BFF Doug Wilson, San Jose GM, made another deal, which sent Sheppard out West in exchange for a 2013 3rd Round Pick.

There has to be something more to this deal; while Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness brilliantly touched on the topic earlier, the fact remained that Sheppard was the only RFA to not sign his qualifying offer as of yet- and at this stage of the offseason that is kind of odd.

He has literally no bargaining leverage, considering his production in a Wild Sweater (and to be fair his development was pretty well stunted by rushing him to the NHL at 19) and the fact that he found himself on the suspended list because of that fateful ATV accident while, ahem, offseason training in Colorado. He didn't play a single game at all last season because of that injury, and I'm sure as time wore on during the long rehab and watching the game from the press box that he could sense that he was being passed on the depth chart by the Almonds and McMillans of the world- you know, the kids from Houston.

Purely conjecture here, but I'm venturing to guess that Sheppard asked for a trade to start new somewhere, and since Fletcher has Wilson on speed dial, it became a matter of exchanging medicals and figuring out compensation. Its the "change of scenery" trade, even though Sheppard will likely find himself riding buses playing in the AHL, only except for Worcester.

*EDIT* Mike Russo chimed infrom his vacation to say that this was on hold because of more work done to Sheppard's knee.

So we bid adieu the James Sheppard era, and we here at First Round Bust are now out a muse for our work. Best of luck to you sir.



While he was #51 on the ice (when he played HIYOOOOO) he'll always be #1 in our hearts.

We, Uhhh... Forgot About You. I Mean, uh, In A Good Way.

During the formation of this Top 10 list, in which Johan Larsson was just announced as #9, Nate and I kicked around a bunch of names.

And we argued about where they should go. Quite a bit. Sometimes at odd times of the day.

But there was one name we never brought up; NOT ONCE.

Photo Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jared Spurgeon.

You know, the same 21 year old whose whirlwind year went like this: wasn't signed by the Islanders, who drafted him 156th overall in 2008. He got an invite to Wild Development Camp, then to Traverse City, then Training Camp, and a 3-year Entry Level Contract. He went to Houston, where he played 21 games until he was called up to the big club...and he never left. He had 4 goals and 12 points in 53 games, before heading back to Houston for their stretch run into the Calder Cup Finals, where he had a goal and 11 points in 21 games.

Yet, somehow someway...his name was never brought up in our (sometimes) contentious dialogue about who deserves to be ranked higher in this list.

It doesn't make sense on a couple levels; his age, his NHL experience (53 games, I mean its not like he's got a couple seasons under his belt,) the fact that he came out of nowhere (big time kudos to Brent Flahr and his Staff for snatching up Spurgeon right away after the Isles cut him loose.) Or how about that he's still got room for improvement?

Shouldn't these things still qualify him as a Minnesota Wild Prospect?!?

While technically true, its in the way Spurgeon went about playing his 53 games in a Wild Sweater- he was every bit as solid as a seasoned vet, and played like he belonged despite being 5'9"...and 21. While he's not as dynamic and explosive a skater as a scout would prefer to see from a kid his size, he has just crazy hockey smarts; he showed that he knew how to take a hit from on oncoming forward, made great first passes, and calmly moved the puck out of the zone; by season's end he was on the point quarterbacking the power play, which was something he excelled at in Spokane of the Western Hockey League- you know, things he's had to do in order to progress from level to level of hockey. He never lost his game at any point, like Justin Falk did; he never got hurt and had to miss time, nor be a healthy scratch (to my sometimes foggy recollection.) He made it hard to take him out of the lineup- not just that, but you could see as the season went on he became more confident with the puck; and for a team whose blueline looks to be a bit on the neutered side this fall, any added offense from him could be a huge boon to the team's fortunes.

And its because of this, albeit a small sample size, that subconsciously gave Nate and I the impression that he is a lock for a roster spot out of Training Camp this Fall (despite what I wrote the other day.) We just don't anticipate a sophomore slump, or a bad Training Camp; in a way Spurgeon lost his prospect status during the year and now we look at him as something else all together- a full-fledged roster player now.

And The #9 Wild Prospect Is...


(photo from The Hockey News)

Johan Larsson
Left Wing, 5'10" 198 lbs
Brynas IF (SEL) 4 Goals, 4 Assists in 43 Games


The second of three second round picks in 2010, Johan Larsson comes in at #9 with both a good resume and a lot to prove. Despite being less known than his North American prospect counterparts, Larsson spent most of last season as a 19 year-old playing in the Swedish Elite League where he put up respectable numbers for someone his age. He was also good enough for the Wild to sign him to a three year, $2.7 million entry-level contract this past May and will be counted on by Sweden to help lead their U-20 World Junior Championship team this December and January.

It wasn't easy for Dan and I to place Larsson at the ninth spot. With flashes of scoring brilliance at last year's U-18 World Junior Championships - where he scored 6 goals and 8 assists in 5 games - and being on a scoring line with Mikael Granlund during Developmental Camp, Larsson can be a boost to the offense. At the same time, that doesn't define the Swede as he plays a very gritty game and is not afraid of setting up the cycle or creating offense from the boards. In some ways this leads him to be like the number ten prospect Colton Gillies and be a strong two-way player who brings it every shift. While he has a little more scoring upside than Gillies, it's still a player which every team needs. Despite not being the most consistent offensive player, Larsson can earn his keep without being a top scorer.

Although I wouldn't bet on Larsson becoming a fixture in the Minnesota top-six, the fact is that there's a guy with top-six potential and he's only the ninth-best Wild prospect. That's scary.

Previous Rankings:
#10: Colton Gillies
Introduction, Tapdancing and Some Missed Cuts

It's A Long Way To The Top...


...if you want to rock and roll run a top hockey organization.

It's hard to not be happy with the Wild right now. Between the moves General Manager Chuck Fletcher made, the great "Becoming Wild" series and the fact that in August all thirty teams have a shot at the playoffs, things are looking up in Minnesota after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs. The Wild have Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and multiple top draft picks to gush over. But has much really changed?

A few months ago Jarick posted an article here on the value of defenseman Brent Burns where he felt that Burns would sign a six to eight year deal for on average $6.5 million. Obviously this was before Minnesota traded the defenseman to San Jose for what we considerto be a King's Ransom, but it was a little surprising to see him sign a five-year $28.8 million extension with the Sharks yesterday. That contract, which adds up to a $5.76 million cap hit, means Burns gives up a chance at free agency in which he would have been one of the top available defensemen and is something which shows a lot about how far the Wild truly are from the top echelon of the NHL.

$5.76 million is more than fair for Brent Burns but despite saying all the right things before the trade, it's hard to think that he would have re-signed for the same amount of money in Minnesota. $5.76 million for five seasons is a deal where fans would all be applauding Chuck Fletcher for locking up Burns after being the third-highest scoring defenseman while commenting on how our future looks great. That cap hit makes him starting next season the tenth-highest paid defenseman and for a player entering the prime of his career and who is only getting better San Jose could have picked up a steal; especially with Dan Boyle taking away some of the heat from Burns.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the haul Minnesota received for Burns. The Wild have historically been abysmal with asset management. After losing three thirty goal scorers for nothing, squandering countless draft picks and heavily relying on overpriced veterans, it's nice to get some talent back coming in while an elite talent leaves. But the fact remains that those elite talents continue to leave the State of Hockey like jobs leave Detroit.

It's easy to forget as nice as things look with the present regime that the two best free agents the team have signed were a player who came here to spite Chicago and a good defenseman who was disappointing because he wasn't great. Compared to the San Joses of the world who handle their assets well, get players to waive no-trade clauses and re-sign their stars that's pretty sad. The only "star" player Minnesota has resigned who had leverage (sorry Marian Gaborik's holdout) was Mikko Koivu and he didn't take a hometown discount despite being captain.

St. Paul is not Edmonton in terms of players wanting to leave but the Wild are not close to being a free agent destination and have a ways to go. It's easy as fans to raise expectations after three consecutive years of missing the playoffs and adding a goal scorer like Dany Heatley (via trade) alongside a new coach always helps. However as good as Setoguchi and Heatley are, they are the only two major additions for this upcoming season while the team lost half of the top-six and their top defenseman. Regardless of Burns' defense, which could be frustrating at times when he made mistakes trying to save others, there is only one defensive prospect in this organization who has a chance to make the same impact a few years from now. Getting prospects and scoring forwards help on one end, but create a new problem on another which will need to be addressed.

Burns will be missed like those stars who came before him and the Wild will need to continue to build and develop the next generation of elite prospects into NHL stars. The trade of an all-star defenseman and his quick re-signing with San Jose doesn't help change Minnesota's perception throughout the league as an organization which can't keep its stars. Despite the good moves and drafting this summer, it's just a start. As great as the fanbase feel right now, real change and perception take time. Fortunately for the Wild, there's plenty of time until we're talking about keeping the Mikael Granlunds and Jonas Brodins of the future rather than losing them to the San Joses of the world.

A Million And One Questions: The Blueline and Kids With Last Names That Start With "S"

Here is what we know about the personnel that have to do with playing defense for the Minnesota Wild: the collective is a tad bit less dynamic with the trade of Brent Burns, they aren't very big physically, there may not be much offense coming from them even-strength, we may suffer from the departure of Cam Barker and there is likely one spot available for a handful of challengers.

Well, wait. Maybe two. Ok, maybe three.

Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, and newcomer Mike Lundin are givens; all are essentially grizzled veterans when you compare their resume of NHL games played to that of guys like Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, and Justin Falk. So those four can be counted to fill in four of the 6 playing spots in the lineup.

Here's where things get a little sketchy. I think it would be easy to say that Spurgeon and Stoner would be the front runners, considering the amount of time they saw on NHL ice last season. Both took advantage of a Marek Zidlicky injury, and firmly interjected themselves into consideration for a spot on the team out of Training Camp. But hold up- there's been insinuations that Marco Scandella's a lock, but also that Mike Yeo adores Nate Prosser's game too.

So who the hell grabs the last three spots?

-Spurgeon was a revelation last year; he stepped in seamlessly and displayed crazy smarts and hockey sense, and by the end of the year was quarterbacking the 2nd PP unit. You know the kid is doing something right when Mike Russo is just cooing over his play (and it was warranted.)
-Stoner finally got healthy (for the most part) but really took off once he was paired up with Greg Zanon after Zidlicky's shoulder injury around New Year's Eve. He and Zanon formed a wonderful defensive pairing, and for a 4-6 week stretch Stoner was a minus player for just a handful of games.
-Scandella, who is arguably our top defensive prospect (spoiler!) fought through some injuries during a couple stints with the big club (mangled ear/concussion and broken finger), but he showed improvement and a grasp of the speed of the NHL game in every stint. He, moreso than any of the other three, has the tools to be one of the top 1-2 D on the team.
-Prosser started slowly in Houston, but was The Aeros' best D down the stretch and throughout the playoffs. He did have two small cups of coffee each of the last two years. But he's now a Yeo guy; he knows what Yeo expects, and Yeo knows Prosser well now.

Here's where the math comes in; if there's three spots available, that means someone will be in the James Sheppard Memorial Healthy Scratch Seat eating popcorn. And if you got 4 guys who need to play to continue to develop, then there's a hard decision to be made. Spurgeon, Scandella, and Prosser all need to play in order to grow their games, and while Stoner does too, he's proven that he struggles when he plays after being a healthy scratch for a game or three. All four have two-way contracts I believe (I'm pretty sure that the second year of Stoner's deal was a two-way) so that creates flexibility in terms of roster moves, especially in regards to the inevitability of injuries.

Still though- someone will have to sit for the benefit of the others. One has to wonder if a decision will be born from that line of thinking.

And the #10 Wild Prospect is...


photo courtesy of Fred Trask


Colton Gillies
Left Wing, 6'4", 210 Pounds
Houston Aeros (AHL), 11 goals, 15 assists in 64 Games

It's safe to say that this will likely be the last time that we use Gillies and "prospect" in the same sentence; the young man signed a two-year, 1.25 million dollar ONE-WAY deal, which means he'll get his rubles, all 600K of them, whether he's in Houston or in St. Paul.

So, he's on the team this year, financially speaking.

Year Three professionally speaking was when the light bulb went on for Gillies; he found himself as a player, and was a honey badger in Houston's Calder Cup run. He was a call up late in the year, and was just a different player than before- just aggressive on the puck, and did something meaningful with every shift. He will be one of a handful of menacing forecheckers in what make up the bottom-6 forwards, along with guys like Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, and Eric Nystrom. He likely won't add much offense, but he'll hit, forecheck, block shots, and bring energy every shift.
He's a character forward, a leader, a tireless worker, and based off what I saw, the target of plenty of chirping from teammates.

And he's also your #10 Wild Prospect.