We are nearly a month away from The Entry Draft, which will be the third such event where Assistant GM Brent Flahr as "managed the table." The consensus is that the previous two Draft Classes under Flahr's direction have been successes, so as is the nature of the beast, we here at FRB thought we'd do some research in an attempt to get a grasp on who Minnesota could take with their 1st pick, and potentially some other players in the other rounds as well.
Before we really get into the players, maybe it behooves us to take a look at Flahr and his background first- having spent time as a scout for both Florida and Anaheim (working along side Chuck Fletcher at those two stops), before going to Ottawa to serve as Director of Hockey Operations under General Manager Bryan Murray. He had a major say in the direction Ottawa took in those Drafts (2007-09), but became the "guy" to ran the Draft Table when he was hired as Assistant General Manager in the Summer of 2009, although that particular Draft was ran under the last regime's scouting staff.
So what do we know about Flahr as the figurehead of Minnesota's Draft Table? They'll select right off of their Draft list, although if they deem players as equal they'll take into account the positions. I'd say that philosophy has worked out so far- the 2010 Draft Class had 5 players that were in their Top 50- Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker (whom they traded up for), and Johan Gustafsson were the first five selections. The trade-up for Zucker is another element to consider, and it ties in Mario Lucia as well- if they perceive guys to "higher end", Fletcher/Flahr are unafraid to trade up to get them. You can make the case that they prefer Quality over Quantity as well.
There is also this element to Brent Flahr that should be considered- he finds players that fit the Coach, pieces of the puzzle that will make the system not just work, but excel. Let's put aside the debacle under Todd Richards, but instead take a look at his system- a heavy forecheck designed to pin teams in their own end, and freedom for the defensemen to step up into the play. In a way, its not too dissimilar from what Mike Yeo employs. In fact, as Flahr put it when Minnesota acquired Darroll Powe from Philadelphia, "Yeosie, the way he coaches, he wants a couple skill lines, but he wants
his role lines to bring energy and not be easy to play against."
Or maybe we should just take it straight from Mike Yeo's mouth when he was on with Paul Allen yesterday on KFAN- when asked about Zach Parise, he (although he didn't say Parise's name) said that the player "has everything in an/our (indecipherable) organization could look for- character, speed, skill, and just an overall competitiveness."
So with that said...looking back on what has been said about the players taken, you see trends or elements that Minnesota values in prospects.
Mikael Granlund - extremely smart and skilled, plays a competitive game.
Brett Bulmer - skilled, competitive, hard to play against.
Johan Larsson - works very hard, speedy, strong and gritty. Character guy. Competitive.
Jason Zucker - Very competitive, skilled, very fast skater. Great character.
Johan Gustafsson - big and athletic, good character, big international U-18 tournament
*Dylan McKinley was let go from Minnesota's organization roughly this time last year because of off-ice antics. That being said, he was described as a competitive energy guy who has some offensive upside.
Jonas Brodin - hockey sense, moves the puck well, elite skater, poise
Zack Phillips - hockey sense, skilled, competitive, work ethic
Mario Lucia - hockey sense, skilled, character, competitive
Nick Seeler - competitive, skates well, moves the puck, vision
Stephen Michalek - big and athletic, big international Ivan Hlinka Tournament
Tyler Graovac - big, skates well, gritty, character, competitive
When its spelled out like this, its easy what they look for: character, hockey sense, and a competitive nature. Forwards like Granlund, Zucker, Phillips, and Lucia all fit the "skilled line" mold, while Bulmer, Larsson, and Graovac are all hard players to play against, fitting the "bottom-6" mold.
Interestingly enough, only two defensemen have been picked- Brodin and Seeler, but they are similar in attributes- they are both mobile and are able to move the puck. The conclusion I draw from this is that the idea with the blueline is to have a group of guys that defend well but also get the puck up and out of the zone to start the forecheck; then you have your skilled forwards controlling the play from the goal line out to the offensive blueline, instead off the opposite. After all, the D are able to continue on their paths and jump up into the play, but then are mobile enough to recover.
That would explain why Minnesota has passed over players like Cam Fowler and Ryan Murphy the last two years, more offensively talented players than a Brodin, or a Seeler (who The Wild had rated highly, and were shocked to see him available with their 5th pick last year.)
Flahr seems to subscribe to Jonathan Willis' ideology on drafting goaltenders- due to how readily available NHL-caliber goaltending is (Niklas Backstrom was a free agent signing for christ's sake) it makes no sense in using a high pick on what essentially is a developmental long shot, but it does make sense to use late rounders on goalies (big, athletic goalies who do well in International tournaments seems to be the formula) who can be stashed away and left alone to develop- you get enough bullets in a gun, one is bound to fire. I know it was a previous regime's draft, but Darcy Kuemper was a late rounder who is developing well- Matt Hackett was a third rounder, but he was also a re-entry, meaning he was ahead in development and also closer to being put in the professional system. I'd say that's worked out pretty well.
All in all, there's a pattern in the drafting, but there will always be more to it in terms of interviewing prospects, doing background work, etc. However, I think we are able to look at the values that Minnesota covets and prognosticate from there.