"It's Groundhog Day every year in a good way."
Those words were spoken by Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher about this weekend's NHL Draft being held in Pittsburgh. The Steel City is a familiar place for him following three years being the Penguins' assistant GM and short of Ned Ryerson making the drive from Punxsutawny do a good job summing up the annual rite of passage for 18 year-old hockey players. The names and players may change year-in and year-out but the goal remains the same: to sort through and find tomorrow's core pieces today.
Last Thursday, the Wild held a predraft media luncheon where Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr spoke to the media about several topics related to the mindset of what happens Friday and Saturday. There were plenty of good questions asked by those present, which you can listen to here.
(First Round Bust's invitation to the non-existent kiddie table talk that worked around work obligations was lost in the email. Hey if teams and companies can have delusions and lie to themselves, why can't we?)
Some of these cover subjects that Dan explored in his "Draft Tendencies, Patterns and Following the Motif" article while others are new. Fletcher and Flahr are careful to not give anything away that affects the specifics of the Draft (other than the obvious not taking a goalie in the first round call) and the duo's poker face holds up with some humor on the side. Regardless, it's always interesting to take a look at what the guys running the show are saying.
"Our philosophy is pretty simple actually. When you're picking 7 or picking 46 you're at the mercy of the teams in front of you," said Flahr. "So we do our lists the same every year with our guys. We put the list of players in order and at times if it's close we may jump a guy but realistically we're going right off the list and taking the best player available"
Whether or not the "best available player" term is too vague, it's fair to say that the Wild have their own philosophy and rank players along those lines. They aren't afraid to go against common perception. In fact, two of the three Fletcher first rounders were players slotted ten or more spots below their scouting rankings. And as Dan pointed out, the team has and will look for players that fit the coach.
Simply put for Minnesota's GM,"if you draft 3 NHL players in any Draft you are ahead of the curve."
One thing, meanwhile, that may not be as certain is how the depth and uncertainty of the 2012 Draft will affect the pick order. Fletcher believes that there are a lot of good players in the top ten (potentially even down to 20-25 - another take that they may not take the status quo). The man running Minnesota's draft board has it even simpler.
"I think this year the top 12-13 players on each team's list are fairly similar but in dramatically different order," said Flahr.
This could create a situation like 2008 where close to 20 draft-day trades were made in the first round or the opposite where only there were only 7 trades made in 2010's opening night. While everyone at this point is open to talks (in a separate interview Friday with NHL Live, the Wild GM said he talked to a dozen different teams), Minnesota's management was coy on the question of whether they would move up or down.
"Yeah we've talked about (moving up)," Chuck Fletcher said. "We've spoken to some teams about moving up, we've spoken about it internally. It just depends about how the Draft falls. We very well may Draft our 3rd or 4th player at 7. At some point there's not a lot of separation."
"I think the more likely scenario is that we'll stay at 7."
It's a scenario both know well. Only once since 2003 has a team with either guy traded up in the first round, when Flahr (then Ottawa's director of hockey ops) and Senators GM Bryan Murray moved up three spots (#18 to #15) to draft defenseman Erik Karlsson. There were a couple scenarios where they picked up a second first round pick at the end of the round like when Anaheim traded two seconds to draft Corey Perry in 2003 (Fletcher was on Murray's staff this time) and last year's Brent Burns trade but those were bonuses more than anything. In the same time period, they moved back three times and both were in Florida during their stretch of trading the first overall pick to move down.
Lastly, both mentioned that as a goal the Wild is looking at who the best player is 2-3 years down the line. It's a good thing to remember given that despite Minnesota having holes and depth to fill at the NHL level, those (and having the prospect pool restocked) will not be drafted for need. Odds are whoever gets selected Friday will not be counted on until 2014 or 2015 rather than a Colton Gillies. Fixing the issues presently dogging the Wild is a horse of a different color - one the General Manager admitted multiple times he would like to add more NHL talent - yet there is one benefit of a good top-ten pick.
"We're looking for someone who is difficult to acquire in the Trade process," said Fletcher.
Friday is a time both Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr know well. Once again, they're entering hockey's version of Groundhog Day prepared from meetings upon meetings and looking to pick a good player at number 7.
Once again, check out the entire interview here. You can also find out entire 2012 Draft Coverage in its separate page.