Johan Gustafsson Signs Entry-Level Contract


The Minnesota Wild and 2010 sixth-round pick Johan Gustafsson cut it close with a contract but the Swedish goalie will be a member of the State of Hockey. It is, in his own words, a "done deal."

From Wild.com:
Minnesota has signed Gustafsson to a three-year, entry-level contract. The deadline to sign Gustafsson was Friday, otherwise he would’ve been eligible to re-enter the NHL Entry Draft June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.

The Koping, Sweden native has a penchant for last minute heroics. He led Team Sweden to a World Junior Championship earlier this year. In his WJC debut, Gustafsson stopped all 17 shots faced in the gold medal game for a 1-0 shutout over Russia.
Gustafsson's situation mirrored fellow Wild goalie prospect Darcy Kuemper last year when the WHL MVP leveraged a better deal in spite of the position being one of depth for Minnesota. Like Kuemper, the 6'1", 187 lb Johan has played above his level as a sixth-round draft pick. In addition to winning a gold medal, the 20 year-old spent the entire season in the Swedish Elite League where he had a 1.74 GAA and .929 save percentage in 29 regular season games for Lulea. That performance was good enough to be nominated for the Swedish Rookie of the Year but he lost out to another Minnesota prospect - forward Johan Larsson.

Despite being signed to a three-year deal, it is expected that the 20 year-old will spend another season in Europe before heading over to North America. Minnesota has a plethora of goalies in their system between Kuemper, Matt Hackett and whoever backs up Niklas Backstrom so playing in Europe with Lulea gives Gustafsson a chance to play instead of riding on the pine. He will, however, likely be participating in the Wild's prospect development camp once again this July.

With Gustafsson signing his entry-level contract, Minnesota signed 5 of their 6 2010 Draft picks with all five being in their personal top 50. The only exception is Dylan McKinlay, a 7th rounder who was released this time last year.

Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

What We Missed Over Memorial Day Weekend...

...and the first half of this week. Hey we try to put up at least one or two things a day but real life gets in the way sometimes. Other times you get caught admiring your handiwork and forget Jordan Nolan is hot on your trail.



Nah, not bitter. Anyways, as the Draft coverage ramps up - it's less than a month until the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh - and the number of games to cover wind down to zero (remember when the Wild played hockey? Me either.) there is less and less news. Fortunately, the last week has some unfinished business that doesn't include trying to figure out Brent Flahr's tendencies (although Dan knocked that one out of the park) which should be discussed.

After the jump, Saint John loses in the Memorial Cup, Johan Gustafsson contract talks prove to be anything but easy sailing and some good news involving Jack Jablonski.

#FRBDraft2012 Draft Tendencies, Patterns, and Following The Motif

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.

2010:
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.

2011:
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.

A Swedish Jonas Brodin Interview Translated

Something that has kind of flown under the radar during the past few weeks is the play of Minnesota Wild 2011 first round pick Jonas Brodin for Sweden in the World Championships. Much like Mikael Granlund last year, Brodin has raised his stock with a performance that had fellow hockey players buzzing and media members voting the 18 year-old Swede as one of the two best defensemen. It's good enough where the debate of whether he can play for the Wild next season is not an argument held up by hope.

As that time slowly arrives, it's good to get to know the 10th overall pick better. Thankfully a user "SouthSwe" on HF Boards translated a Swedish interview Brodin did and we have that after the jump.

This interview is from right before Brodin began playing in the World Championships and features a variety of interesting answers. Can't go wrong with the Mighty Ducks as a favorite hockey movie - hopefully Jonas had a chance to chill at Mickey's last year - but most importantly, it makes perfect sense that he idolizes Nicklas Lidstrom.

5/25 Wild News & Notes Around The Internet

Editor's note: It's been a while since we've done a post filled with links so between that guilt and knowing a couple of these subjects won't get their proper due, here are the best Wild and prospect links throughout the mainstream media and blogosphere



First of all, I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend whether you travel or spend it at home with some loved ones. Both Dan and I are taking the weekend off (although there are a couple posts scheduled to run today and tomorrow) to recharge our batteries before going full steam into draft coverage. It's something both of us can't wait for and have worked our butts off with scouting, reading and talking with other sources.

(Speaking of hard work and draft coverage, pick up Future Consideration's Draft Guide. I've spent most of the last few days with my nose in it and there are tons of helpful little nuggets and pieces of information from experts across the world, including Dan.)

The biggest thing Wild-related this weekend (unless Mikael Granlund signs again...RIP Granlund Watch) is that Saint John (Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips) have a chance to repeat as Memorial Cup champions. If they win tonight against Shawinigan (the game is LIVE on NHL Network at 6 p.m. CT) the Sea Dogs face London, who beat Saint John 5-3 last week, for the title.

More thoughts and links after the jump...


2012 Memorial Cup: Saint John Play Shawinigan In The Semifinal

In their third and final round-robin game in the Memorial Cup, Saint John - who feature Minnesota Wild prospects Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips - defeated QMJHL rivals Shawinigan 4-1 Wednesday night. Unlike Monday's 5-2 win over Edmonton, neither forward scored as Jonathan Huberdeau continued to reign supreme with two goals.

Coyle picked up his fourth assist of the Memorial Cup on a beautiful backdoor pass to Huberdeau early in the game for the Sea Dogs' first goal. Phillips, meanwhile, was held scoreless for the second time in three games. Despite that, the 2011 first round pick was part of the game's best line - once again Thomas Jurco saw action with Phillips while Coyle was with Huberdeau.

With the win, Saint John finished second with a 2-1 record and they have to be happy that the team seems to play better every game. Wednesday's win could have been a larger margin but a goal that replays showed was good ended up being disallowed (on a side tangent, watching off-ice officials make a bad replay call with no context makes for some embarrassing television) and Shawinigan goalie Gabriel Girard made a couple good saves; including one on Charlie Coyle.

With the round-robin series done, here are the final standings and their corresponding result. For someone used to single-elimination, it's a little confusing but the end result is that more games get played.
Round-robin results:
1st: London (advance directly to Final on Sunday, watch everyone else play)
2nd: Saint John (advance to semi-final Friday, do not pass go, do not collect $200)
T-3rd: Shawinigan, Edmonton (play a tiebreaker game Thursday, winner plays Saint John and the winner of that plays London)
Regardless of tonight's result, the Sea Dogs would have faced one of the two teams they beat Friday night. However, they get a chance to take down Shawinigan again after the Cataractes routed Edmonton 6-1. It should be an interesting game because there was some bad blood towards the end of Wednesday's game that could spill over. Also, Shawinigan will be playing their third game in 3 nights in front of a home crowd so we'll have to see whether or not they run on fumes or get a boost.

Best of all, the NHL Network will be showing it LIVE at 6 p.m. CT.

Granlund Watch Day 4: Signed, Sealed, Delivered He's Ours

Editor's Note: Granlund Watch is an ongoing feature chronicling the ongoing saga of waiting for 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund to sign an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild after competing in the 2012 World Championships for Finland. It will run daily until June 1, when he must be signed before the Wild lose his rights, or if he signs a deal, whichever comes first.

It is with a sad, heavy heart that we have to bring Granlund Watch to a close. Unfortunately Mikael Granlund signed his entry-level contract today and will be in the State of Hockey next season so there is nothing more to be speculated. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who stayed up night and day this past year and 11 months to push him to stay in Finland and speculate on Mikael's future.

Wait, what I am saying? STANLEY CUP HOMEBOY!



Seriously though, if you missed our post from this morning - the one two down from this - Granlund signed a 3 year, $2.7 million contract with incentives that pushes his cap hit to $2.1 million per season. Signing the Finnish forward doesn't make Minnesota an elite team overnight but they're much better than 24 hours ago. Small steps everyone.



Covering the coverage and Mikael's "Day" after the jump...

Cal Clutterbuck's You Can Play Project Video

The You Can Play Project, founded by Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman in honor of the late Brendan Burke, is a campaign to end homophobia in sports with the support of many NHL players. Their mission statement:
You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.

You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.
Many NHL players throughout the league have been filming videos/Public Service Announcements in support and today's is Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck. The video is below.



For more on the You Can Play Project, visit their website.

Mikael Granlund Signs Contract With Minnesota Wild

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mikael Granlund to the Minnesota Wild.


The 9th overall pick in 2010  has finally signed his entry-level contract with the team. According to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Granlund signed a standard 3-year, $2.7 million ELC contract although performance bonuses push the cap hit to $2.1 million per season.

Granlund Watch Day 3: Too Many Rappers, Not Enough Mikael

Editor's Note: Granlund Watch is an ongoing feature chronicling the ongoing saga of waiting for 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund to sign an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild after competing in the 2012 World Championships for Finland. It will run daily until June 1, when he must be signed before the Wild lose his rights, or if he signs a deal, whichever comes first.

Lets see, there's not much to talk about in today's Granlund Watch, which is now in its third day of action. Something did happen with a Granlund being signed and loaned today but it was Swede Mattias Granlund rather than the 9th overall pick in 2010 and #1 Minnesota Wild prospect.

However, Finnish tabloid Iltalehti did report that a contract between the Wild and Granlund is close and only requires his signature. While the article is in Finnish (and as we know Google Translate leaves us with gems like "Rumors of North America to tell us that Granlund for a place to bedded lions captain Mikko Koivu alongside. Granlund was playing in the World Cup match while the bronze birch chain.), the most important thing to take away from it is that they confirmed the news with Mikael's agent.
Under the terms are clear, and this week everything is ready, Granlund's agent Ilkka Larva confirmed Iltalehti.
So while there's not much news today and nothing hockey-related - I miss those Team Finland updates already - things look like they will be picking up tomorrow or Thursday. At least one way or another. For now, here's a picture to mark Day 3 and remember there's still time.



God help us, there's still time.

Previous Granlund Watch Posts:

Zack Phillips Scores Twice, Charlie Coyle Gets 2 Assists In 5-2 Saint John Win (VIDEO)

After losing their opening round-robin Memorial Cup game to London 5-3, the Saint John Sea Dogs were facing the challenge of needing to win while becoming the first QMJHL team to beat a WHL team in the Memorial Cup since 2007. Consider it passed.

Zack Phillips' Beard Following A 5-2 Win
Both Minnesota Wild prospects shined Monday night as the Sea Dogs defeated the WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings 5-2 to bring their Memorial Cup record to 1-1; all four teams are tied with 1-1 records for the first time in the history of the round-robin format. Zack Phillips scored two goals while Charlie Coyle had two assists setting up Jonathan Huberdeau and Danick Gauthier.

"It was a turning point for us, hopefully for the tournament," said Phillips during an interview with Sportsnet.

Granlund Watch Day 2: Got 29 Contracts But Number 64 Ain't 1

Editor's Note: Granlund Watch is an ongoing feature chronicling the ongoing saga of waiting for 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund to sign an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild after competing in the 2012 World Championships for Finland. It will run daily until June 1, when he must be signed before the Wild lose his rights, or if he signs a deal, whichever comes first.


F Mikael Granlund (photo from AP)

Everyone survived Day 1 of Granlund Watch? Good, because Day 2 was just as eventful as Day 1 outside of the whole "Mikael Granlund signing a contract" deal. On a positive note, more and more people are buying into Granlund Watch like the Twin Cities media and Finnish press.
This thing's gone global...or already was. It's at the point where t-shirts may start popping up if this continues past the next dew days.

More on the news of the non-news after the jump.

A Tale Of Two Jerseys

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...well not entirely. With all apologies to Mr. Dickens, there's no debtor prison in 2012.

Anyways that small tangent aside, this weekend saw a pair of Wild-related jerseys show up which elicited very different reactions. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the fun of things but there is always a time to be serious.

First is former Twins and current New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana, who this past weekend wore a personalized Wild jersey on the team's trip to Toronto. Every Met donned one in what seems to be a new Major League tradition when teams face the Blue Jays although the Rangers and Devils still being alive can't hurt either.


The only question is how Santana got a personalized jersey. There are probably many explanations but the simple answer, doing "Lets Play Hockey" before a Minnesota game, never happened according to Wild PR. I'd selfishly like to think he went into the Hockey Lodge and specifically ordered it but that's just me. It's cool to see Santana along with the rest of Mets (especially Canadian Jason Bay rocking the old school Hartford Whalers jersey) wearing hockey jerseys and for the former Twin to remember his roots; even if we can't remember who he was traded for.



The second jersey isn't even a Minnesota Wild jersey but brings tears to our eyes nonetheless. After finishing the World Championships with a silver medal, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara wore the late Pavol Demitra's Slovakian jersey in his honor. Demitra, who played for the Wild between 2006 and 2008, was killed in a plane crash along with 43 other Lokomotiv players and personnel last September. Before that he was a major presence on the Slovakian team and they were playing for him.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic


It's unfortunate that they couldn't beat Russia (Slovakia lost 6-2) but the effort and feeling, good or bad, to not forget is what matters most. We need never be ashamed of our tears.

(h/t Tommy and Sean Leahy)

Granlund Watch Day 1: Some Good, Some Bad, No Mikael


Who needs a playoff run? The passion of cheering for a team, your team, as they get closer and closer to the greatest prize in professional hockey, Lord Stanley's Cup. Not I.

Especially when for the Minnesota Wild there is Granlund Watch.

For most of the past two years, one of the few saving graces for a Wild team that hasn't reached the postseason since 2008 has been the play of 2010 9th overall pick Mikael Granlund. Putting up over a PPG in SM-Liiga (Finland's highest league) as a 20 year-old is no easy feat - by comparison Mikko Koivu put up 20 points (7G-13A) as a 20 year-old - and in the back of every Minnesota fan's mind is the small fear he won't sign with the Wild. It's not that there isn't faith in Minnesota to get the job done or that the Finnish forward doesn't want to play in the American version of his homeland but hundreds upon hundreds of "will Mikael Granlund sign" questions always come up. Plus being a sports fan in this state teaches to not count one's chickens before they hatch.

So for now we watch. From today until either Granlund signs his entry-level contract or June 1, when the Wild lose his rights and he goes back into the draft, we will chronicle the good, bad and non-news of  this situation.

Saint John Falls Saturday To London 5-3 In Memorial Cup Opener; Coyle Gets An Assist

The Saint John Sea Dogs spent the majority of their QMJHL postseason running through opponents, having won 16 of 17 games en route to their second consecutive Memorial Cup. If Saturday night was any indication, they aren't going to be afforded the same opportunities.

F Charlie Coyle (photo from T.J Colello/Cape Breton Post)

Saint John matched their postseason loss total in their opening Memorial Cup game as the Sea Dogs were beaten by the OHL champion London Knights 5-3. Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay) scored twice for London and Michael Hauser made 22 saves in victory as Saint John looked sluggish and had their composure thrown off.

Charles-Oliver Roussel (Nashville Predators), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) and Ryan Tesink scored for Saint John while Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle had an assist.

REMINDER: Zack Phillips & Charlie Coyle On NHL Network Tonight


One of the pitfalls of trying to follow drafted prospects from a NHL team is that unlike the NFL or NBA where prospects are in US colleges, hockey is an international game. Outside of the World Junior Championships every December-January, there isn't a chance to have all the top 18, 19 and 20 year-old hockey players in the world in one place. Unless a prospect plays nearby, more junior, collegiate and European teams have online streams or you have enough money to budget a NHL scouting staff, the chances of watching every Minnesota Wild prospect are few and far in between.

After all, Minnesota's top 10 prospects include players in Finland, Sweden, the WCHA, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, the BCHL and the AHL.

Luckily, the NHL Network is broadcasting the Memorial Cup in the United States (and in HD too! I probably shouldn't be surprised but after seeing so many grainy prospect videos that look like they were shot by the high school AV Club, it's good to see a first world problem solved) which means fans in the State of Hockey can watch Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips.

That's right, live (at least for tonight) and without having to watch it online. Saint John kick off their chance to repeat as Memorial Cup champions tonight (Saturday May 19th) at 6 p.m. CT against the OHL champion London Knights on NHL Network.

The Final Countdown For Mikael Granlund Has Arrived

It took what seemed to be forever but the end of days is finally here.


No, not the rapture (although if I remember correctly that was supposed to happen this weekend last year) or even time to sign Zach Parise/Ryan Suter. Instead after two years the countdown of Mikael Granlund finally signing with the Minnesota Wild...or not finally heats up. With Finland's 6-2 loss to Russia in the World Championship semifinals Saturday morning, their chances of a repeat are dashed but the clock for signing the 20 year-old Wild's consensus #1 prospect begins as soon as tomorrow's Bronze game ends.

#FRBDraft2012 Opening Up My Scouting Notebook, Part Deux

In the previous post I covered the closer to home stuff; High School hockey more specifically. So with this one, I'll talk about some of the players I saw during my travels outside of my region.

Top 5 Players I saw this year:

1. Jacob Trouba, D USNTDP
2. Nic Kerdiles, F USNTDP
3. Jake McCabe, D University of Wisconsin
4. Zemgus Girgensens, W Dubuque
5. Jordan Schmaltz, D Green Bay

- I think McCabe has been criminally underrated this year, and may have gotten more attention had he spent this year playing for a USHL club. One of the youngest players in the NCAA, and a TRUE freshman (a rarity these days), he's got a wonderful skill set- he's smart, poised, incredibly mobile, has some puck skills...I think by and large he played on the cautious side this year while adjusting to the pace of the collegiate level, but started to show things like this toward the end of the year:


One of the points I've made in terms of describing McCabe is his developmental environment- Wisconsin. Look at the D that have played in that system in the last few years- Brendan Smith, Justin Schultz, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Suter, Davis Drewiske, etc. He should take on a bigger offensive role next year with Schultz' impending departure (I talked to Badger Insider Chuck Schwartz this last weekend and he said we should know more when Finals are done at Wisco) but still saw #1 PP unit time in a trigger man role. I'd be absolutely tickled if he was there at #46 with Minnesota's pick, but honestly wouldn't be shocked if someone took him late in the first. I think that highly of the kid.
- What sold me on Nic Kerdiles' potential was how he played against Minnesota State-Mankato when the USNTDP (minus Trouba and Seth Jones) around New Year's. That's a big step even for the elite group of 17 and 18 year old Americans, playing against older (19-25 year olds) and stronger competition at a faster pace. Kerdiles didn't disappoint, and was arguably one of the best players on the ice for either team that night. A month or so later I saw him in Dubuque and he was quite as good, but is a dangerous player in the sense that he can be stifled or ineffective all night then make one play that decides the outcome- he made a beautiful play in OT to spring Ryan Hartman in for the game-winning goal...
- ...Then there is Brady Skjei. Now, as we know first impressions are hard to shake, and Skjei wasn't very good against Mankato. Puzzling decision-making, weak on the puck, a constant desire to want to rush the puck end to end- now I understand that he may have been straining to dazzle in front of a hometownish crowd, but he wasn't very good. Later in Dubuque he was doing the same stuff, except he was able to get away with it because of the difference in the age of his competition. Ultimately, I think he's a jeans model player of sorts- big kid, skates extremely well- but the lack of hockey sense is worrisome to me.
- I made a big road trip where I caught 4 USHL games in 6 nights, including a (business) trip to Dubuque. The problem was that Mike Matheson and Zemgus Girgensens were battling nagging injuries, so they only played once apiece (on different nights) out of a possible three viewings (both bowed out of the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.) I think the extended workload really wore Girgensens down this year, as he was battling a hip pointer when I was in town- but he was pretty good when he did play. He wasn't as predatory a physical presence as I thought he would be (and what he'll need to be at the next level) but has a great shot and some nice hands. However, I think we're looking at a third liner, and I don't see the same offensive upside as Kerdiles.
- Matheson is an interesting player; lanky as hell, but has some height to him. Good skater, moves the puck well, but you can make him panic with the puck. Even with time and space on the PP. One scout I talked to was adamant about Matheson lacking hockey sense. He'll likely go higher than he should because of the way the depth of the Draft is shaking out.
- Here's my report on Jacob Trouba from the aforementioned Dubuque/USNTDP game:

          Jacob Trouba, D 6'2" 184 Pounds 2/26/1994
Plain and simple, the best player I've seen all year. Great size, great skater, great poise, great hockey sense. Has excellent feet; footwork is impeccable, and he's very strong on his skates- took the puck out of his end and saw he had space and basically fought through two interference penalties before hitting the post with a wrist shot. Reads the play very well; takes care of his zone first but will join the rush when he sees fit. Anticipates well, gets into lanes to break up passes, block shots, or step into players. Very good acceleration. Willing physical participant. Makes a good first pass, even hit a teammate tape to tape with a long home run pass during the game. I think Trouba is a guy you could pencil into a top pairing for 10-15 years.
I see Brent Seabrook in Trouba; a #1 guy on weak to mediocre teams but ideally he's a really high end #2, a horse quality top pairing guy you can play in any situation. The offense will be the question mark, but he makes good passes and has a great shot- he'll get his points.
- Liked what I saw of Riley Barber too- I think he fits the mold of a Flahr selection in the middle rounds- gritty, fast, skilled.
- Also, if we end up with Jaccob Slavin from the Chicago Steel, we should be really happy about it. Really flies under the radar in Chicago (as weird as that sounds), but does it all. Works really hard and is coachable, turned a weakness of his at the beginning of the season (stick checking) and now it is his best weapon.
- Jordan Schmaltz is similar to Brady Skjei in that there is a contant desire to immediately move the puck north, for better or for worse. We're talking some big time offensive possibilities though- jump ups in the play, and really can QB a PP- is it worth the possibilities of having odd-man rushes going the other on a frequent basis though?

Per usual, if you got any questions, comments, rip jobs, whatever, you can find me on Twitter at @ShraderD

5/16 Wild News & Notes Around The Internet (Excluding LaPanta)

Editor's Note: There are always a lot of Minnesota Wild-related articles from around the internet. Some are touched upon while others get lost by the wayside. These are some of the best not including Anthony LaPanta-gate, since that will be be further discussed later.

It's been a month since we've done a link post but with the Wild sitting on the outside there hasn't been too much news (well up until this weekend). Because of that, a few of these are a couple weeks old but they are still good reads nonetheless.

Minnesota Wild
-Giles over at Team of 18,001 discusses the pros and cons of trading for Jordan Staal, whose price sounds similar to what Minnesota fetched for Brent Burns last year.

-Clayton Stoner avoided free agency and signed a 2 year, $2.1 million deal. More on this whenever things die down.

-Hockey Wilderness graded Stoner and almost every Wild player this season, which is quite the achievement. Although they aren't in one place, search them out on HW in the "features" section.

-State of Hockey News had a roundtable about Minnesota's season and one of the participants is our own Jarick. It's in two separate parts here and here.

Prospects
-Hockey's Future ranked 3 Minnesota Wild prospects in their top 50. Mikael Granlund was 9th between St. Louis forward prospect Jaden Schwartz and Florida Panthers goalie prospect Jakob Markstrom, Charlie Coyle is 18th and Jonas Brodin is 30th and below half the defenseman drafted after him last summer. It's not a surprise given Hockey's Future tends to rate Wild prospects on the low side (the organization was only 17th this past fall) compared to a site like Hockey Prospectus which has Granlund as the #1 prospect outside the NHL. Take that for what it's worth but all 3 did move up in HF's rankings.

-Speaking of Hockey's Future, they also interviewed Jonas Brodin. Speaking of Brodin, everyone loves him in the World Championships.


Free Agency
-Judd Zulgad over at 1500ESPN touches on what Pierre McGuire said in an interview on his radio show about Minnesota's chances of getting Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.


Other
-Puck Daddy had an interview with Dewayne Hankins, who runs the now-infamous Los Angeles Kings twitter feed. One of the gems from it is that Hankins created @clutterstache for Minnesota before moving onto the Kings.

-Minnesota and Houston now have an ECHL affiliate in Orlando. Possibly more on this later.

-Mike Yeo and other members of the Wild organization are running a 12 mile "Tough Mudder" this weekend to raise money for injured service members. The whole thing is both admirable and hardcore. You can donate here.

#FRB2012 Opening Up My Scouting Notebook, Part I



It was roughly a year ago I was approached by Dan Stewart, Chief Scout for Future Considerations, to be apart of his scouting staff. What an experience- already a self-professed Draft/prospect junkie (as you can tell with the niche that FRB fills), I took in a lot of hockey over the course of the season, including many different levels: Bantams, Midgets, High School, NAHL, USHL, NCAA- watching players (and learning on the fly) almost nightly and sending in reports for FC's product; a digital magazine devoted to the NHL Entry Draft and Prospects.
I was there to watch Lakeville South's gargantuan upset over Duluth East, the Inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Muskegon, and at Mariucci when the Gophers clinched the WCHA regular season title. No stranger to U of M games, I can flat out tell you I have never heard that place louder than that night (ask Nate about it.)

So with that being said, I'm going to open up my notebook and share some thoughts and observations on players I've seen during the course of the year.

But first, in the name of self-promotion, I'd like all the readers of FRB to at least entertain the thought of purchasing our NHL Entry Draft Guide, if not more products from us. I got their Guide last year (before my affiliation with them) and it was awesome. All of the staff is extremely proud of the work we've put into the year, and we hope it will show in the end product.

Please make sure to give it a look, or at least visit FC's site daily. Preferably a couple times a day.

Ok, so- here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do two posts, one that is more relevant to my region (Upper Midwest) and another which I'll talk about other players I've seen during my travels.

Here is my Regional Top 10:

1. Jake McCabe, D, University of Wisconsin
2. Samuel (Hunter) Fejes, W Shattuck-St. Mary's
3. Zach Stepan, C Shattuck-St. Mary's
4. Jared Thomas, C Hermantown HS
5. Jake Montgomery, W Shattuck-St. Mary's
6. Matt Pohlkamp, W Brainerd HS (re-entry)
7. Teddy Bleuger, C Shattuck-St. Mary's
8. Ian Janco, D Bloomington Jefferson HS
9. Jake Bischoff, D Grand Rapids HS
10. Dominic Nitti, D Cretin-Derham Hall

Obviously the group at SSM is carrying the Minnesota crop this year, and defenseman John Draeger just misses out on the Top 10. In many ways Minnesota/Upper Midwest is a microcosm for what is being described as a weak Draft in terms of depth, because there very well may be a chance that very few players on my list get drafted- or conversely, in what is essentially a crap shoot after the top 60 or so players, teams may opt to take someone out of this region because hell, they stand just as good a chance to pan out as anyone else around the world.

- I'll talk about McCabe in part II.
- What sold me on Fejes was that he produced without having the same ice time opportunities that Stepan, Montgomery, and Bleuger had; he basically played 3rd line minutes, but led the team in goals (38). He reminds me some of Nick Johnson, who had 26 points in 77 games this year in a Wild sweater. Works extremely hard, great size and skating ability, and I think he's got untapped offensive potential. Heard from a couple people he's a great kid too.
- Re: Stepan...I (and I'm not the only one) just don't see where the offense will come from going forward to the next level(s). Kind of a "what you see is what you get" type of player. Was told that he will now head to Waterloo this Fall, instead of Penticton.
- After the State Tournament, folks were atwitter about Justin Kloos and Grant Besse. To be honest, I'd be surprised if either get Drafted, but I'd lean more toward Besse than Kloos. With Besse, his game has two sides to it. In the Fall Elite League, he was proactively physical (I think I said "whoa" out loud when he put 6'6" Jay Dickman on his ass on one hit), fought for every inch, tried to make an impact every shift...then I catch him in a BSM sweater and its like he just tried to outskill everyone. Now, you can get away with that in HS hockey, but it was disappointing to see. Another added dimension was his decision to return to BSM for his senior year- don't get me wrong, I think its noble, loyal, and shows some perspective in terms of realizing you're only a HS senior once (for the most part) but he has literally NOTHING left to prove at this level- a case could be made that he should have been in the USHL this last season.
It's a nice story, but NHL teams will look at it from the stance that he doesn't want to be challenged, and based off what I heard this last weekend, perhaps a shot for the USNTDP.
As for Kloos, his game works well at the HS level because he's hard to contain; he does a good job of keeping his feet moving. However, he doesn't have a particular asset that stands out- shot, hockey sense, skating, etc. Some people I talked to mentioned Kyle Rau, and how he'd literally die to get that goal, the space around the net, whatever it is, and you just don't see that in Kloos, who is similar in size.
- One of the problems I encountered was that there is a dropoff from The Elite League, which is the best of the best, to the HS level. So players I thought should have dominated because of their play in the EL failed to do so once the HS season started. A few did though- Thomas, Pohlkamp, Judd Peterson to name a few.
 - Coldest rink I was in all year was Shattuck's new rink. Go figure that one out.
- Also, I saw every single one of the important Minnesota Wild scouting types at a SSM game this year. Brent Flahr, Craig Channell, Paul Charles, Guy Lapointe, Shep Harder, Ernie Vargas...


I'm open to questions here, or you can always ask me on the Twit: my handle is @ShraderD. Make sure to check out Future Considerations too. A couple times a day.



Charlie Coyle Interviewed On The Pipeline Show Last Saturday

As Charlie Coyle looks ahead to playing in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild next season, his focus remains  on the task at hand: winning a Memorial Cup.

"I think personally I'm pretty good at focusing at the path at hand and not worrying about that," said Coyle in an appearance on Edmonton's The Pipeline Show last Saturday. "When that time [playing in the NHL] comes it will be the time to focus on it but for now I'm just focused on my team, enjoying my time here and winning a Memorial Cup."

A Preview of Things To Come

The Saint John forward and Minnesota prospect was the third in the past month to join the show (following teammate Zack Phillips and Mario Lucia) after being named the Playoff MVP of the QMJHL en route to leading the Sea Dogs to the Presidents Cup. He had 34 points (15 G-19 A) in 17 games which were tied with teammate Stanislav Galiev for the most in the Q.

Coyle is the first American since Pat LaFontaine in 1982-1983 to receive that honor.

Anthony LaPanta Will Be Named Wild Play-By-Play Voice As Minnesota Has One Big Sell Job On Their Hands

Barring a change of mind tonight, it looks like for better or worse Anthony LaPanta will become the fourth television play-by-play announcer in Minnesota Wild history. This is according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and comes despite almost universal outrage from those in the State of Hockey.

If you missed the outrage and vitriol from Sunday, catch up with this article here as it explains the rationale (note, there have been a few positive tweets & posts since then). The fact that Minnesota has decided to continue with LaPanta, who spent the past few seasons as the play-by-play announcer for the University of Minnesota men's hockey team on Fox Sports North, is disheartening to many who saw their attempts to voice their opinion ignored. In fact, these two sentences from Russo's blog don't help.
An announcement was supposed to come Monday, but things got sidetracked when the Wild and FSN were taken aback by the backlash regarding the LaPanta hire on this blog, Twitter and other message boards... 
...But they were always going to stick with the original decision of hiring the longtime Wild, Twins and Wolves studio host and Gophers' hockey play-by-play voice, though.
More after the jump...

Mario Lucia Wins RBC Cup With Penticton

Sadly this is the last "Mario Lucia wins a title" post this season but it's not like there haven't been enough between the BCHL regular season, playoffs, Doyle Cup and now the RBC Cup.

F Mario Lucia (photo from Fraser Rodgers/BCHL.ca)

Lucia, the 60th overall pick by Minnesota in the 2011 NHL Draft, helped lead the Penticton Vees to a 4-3 win over the Woodstock Slammers and claim the 2012 RBC Cup as the national champions of Canadian Junior "A" hockey. He had an assist on the Vees' first goal of the game while fellow Minnesotan Joey Benik scored the game-winning goal with 51.3 seconds remaining. 

While Penticton has had their way with teams between a 42 game winning streak and four games in four round prior to the RBC Cup, they began the five-team round robin play with a pair of losses before battling back. 

#FRB2012Draft Recapping The 2011 Draft Class

Before we get ahead of ourselves looking at 2012, I think we should take a look back at the 2011 Draft Class, which was selected right before our very eyes, as the Draft was in St. Paul. In a way, that version of Minnesota's Draft will be remember for the blockbuster deal Chuck Fletcher and Doug Wilson consummated in the 1st Round, sending Brent Burns and a 2012 2nd Round Pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, San Jose's 1st Round Pick (28th overall), and uber-prospect Charlie Coyle.

However, that being said, the six players selected have made progress (in some cases huge strides) in the roughly calender year since then.


Jonas Brodin, Defense - 1st Round, 10th Overall

A story I've recanted ad nauseum; Wild fans filing up the Xcel Energy staircases shortly after the 10th overall pick going "Who the hell is Joe-nis Bro-dinn?!?" Well, since then, Brodin has signed his entry-level deal during the Prospect Development Camp, starred at the World Junior Championships, and is now patrolling the blueline in more international play for the World Championships. He's basically established himself as one of the better blueline prospects in the World- lauded for his fluid skating and high-end hockey sense, the question isn't "Who is Jonas Brodin" anymore- its more along the lines of "How good can Brodin be?"


Zack Phillips, Center/Wing - 1st Round, 28th Overall

Taken with the 1st Rounder acquired in the Brent Burns deal with San Jose (which was being sought after but kept in case one of the "high end guys" was available) Phillips spent the majority of the Summer in the Twin Cities working on his skating, which was a perceived knock on his game in his Draft year. As you can see, that's Phillips and Charlie Coyle hoisting the QMJHL Championship Trophy, which Saint John won last week. As you know, Coyle started with the season with Boston University- Phillips may or may not have had a hand in getting him to Harbor Station after Christmas.



Mario Lucia, Wing - 2nd Round, 60th Overall

The son of University of Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia eschewed his final year at Wayzata for beautiful Penticton, British Columbia to suit up for the Vees of the BCHL. To say things have worked out well would be an understatement; The Vees won the BCHL Championship, and are in the Championship Game of the Doyle Cup, which pits all of the Tier II junior leagues in Canada against each other. Check out this Q and A that FRB did with "The Voice of the Vees" Fraser Rodgers.


Nick Seeler, Defense - 5th Round, 131st Overall

Not rated by Central Scouting (remember, the CSS lists are meant to be guidelines) but rated highly by Minnesota, The Eden Prairie native spent the year in the USHL, split between Muskegon and Des Moines. FRB knew next to nothing about him on his Draft day, but was able to see him in action in Fargo this Spring. While he's heading to Nebraska-Omaha this Fall, Seeler may be a shrewd pick from The Wild's own backyard. In my opinion, I think Seeler projects to be a poor man's Dennis Seidenberg.


Stephen Michalek, Goaltender - 6th Round, 161st Overall

Michalek saw alot of rubber in his Draft Year- he did make over a 1000 saves for Loomis Chaffee, but also made a number of saves at the U-18's as well. Then he started 24 of Harvard's 40 games this Fall, and participated in the US National Team Evaluation Camp as well, where he narrowly missed out being on the 2011 edition of the US World Junior Team. He should be considered one of the leading goaltending candidates this Winter.



Tyler Graovac, Center - 7th Round, 191st Overall 

Having had some tough luck the last two years- a broken jaw his rookie year, then a broken arm last season, the 6'4" Graovac was able to stay healthy enough not only to finish out the season, but be a key cog in the 67's playoff run. He played in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in a checking role, and ideally that would be where he would slot in at the professional level.


Overall, its a positive sign when newly drafted players take steps and begin forward momentum in their development- the 2011 Class is rather beefy and gritty, with Zack Phillips being the shortest player at 6'1", but also skilled- definitely worth being excited for.






Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.org, Fraser Rodgers, USHL.com, ECACHockey.com, and Yahoo Sports Canada.

Anthony LaPanta Unites Wild Fans Like Voltron

I had a post that we were going to run Monday morning about different replacements for Dan Terhaar, the former Minnesota Wild play-by-play guy who was let go last month (and who was the impetus for "FSN Bingo" here at First Round Bust). It was pretty in-depth and discussed various play-by-play guys like Clay Matvick, Gord Miller, Jason Shaver, Dave Strader and what the team should look into for their next hire. With the news though - broken by Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and confirmed by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune - that the team is going to hire present Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey announcer Anthony LaPanta instead, there's no reason to speculate.

Anthony LaPanta

There is, however, plenty of opportunity to dissect and analyze Minnesota's decision to hire the status quo choice and someone who fans have rallied against.

More on Anthony LaPanta after the jump...

Because It's About 12 Spots... (UPDATED)

There are few things better in sports than Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs and seeing players give it their all with their season on the line. The passion, the sacrifice, the desire sees that Game 7 is to the playoffs what the playoffs are to the regular season. And in less than 90 minutes, that's what will happen between New York and Washington.

A hockey Game 7 does not have any negatives although it's safe to say in a league whose fans are tribal the excitement and heart levels go up when they involve your team. The game is still great but the heartache and joy are not there the way they would be as if the Wild were playing. It's like the difference between watching a game live and on TV - the action seems faster, you're surrounded with 18,000 of your closest friends and there's no need for an insanely obvious and boring play-by-play guy.

However, Washington's 3-1 win Wednesday did guarantee something would be on the line for Minnesota fans. It's not the same as the Wild playing but the difference between the Captials winning and losing is at least 11 spots.

VIDEO: Zack Phillips Scores In Game 4 Against Rimouski

There aren't any NHL Playoff games tonight but that doesn't mean there hockey is taking the night off. The Saint John Sea Dogs and Minnesota Wild prospects Zack Phillips and Charlie Coyle are looking to advance to the Memorial Cup as the QMJHL champions Thursday night against Rimouski. The Sea Dogs currently lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 and are dominating Game 4 5-0 after twenty minutes. One reason for that is Phillips, who scored his ninth goal of the postseason midway through the first period. The 2011 first round pick (28th overall) found himself alone in front of the net after fancy stickhandling drew both defenders away. Video of the goal is below (thanks to Felix Levasque).



As for Coyle, who leads the QMJHL postseason in points with 33, he currently is pointless.

We'll have a full Wild prospect update of what's been going on with Saint John and Penticton (Mario Lucia) later tonight or tomorrow morning. For now, enjoy the goal.

PHOTOS: Jason Zucker "Takes On" Dan Hardy

Hockey and MMA go hand in hand lately as guys use the skills in MMA to improve their cardio on the ice and boxing for fights (which was something the late Derek Boogaard did every summer). Even a couple retired NHL players have fought professionally; Donald Brashear comes to mind.

But it's still a shock to see Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy versus Jason "The Rook" Zucker. From the Wild rookie's Twitter:


Minnesota Gets New Jersey's 2013 Third Round Pick From The Marek Zidlicky Trade

It's somewhat fitting that the day we introduce our 2012 Draft coverage, Minnesota can add another draft pick to the board.



With New Jersey's 3-1 win over Philadelphia in Game 5, the Devils advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with a four games to one series win over the Flyers. That means Minnesota picks up New Jersey's 2013 third round pick that was conditional as part of the Marek Zidlicky trade back in February. The two conditions were that Zidlicky, who has been a boon on the blue line for the Devils, play in 75% of the first two rounds and that they advance to the ECF.

Obviously they did both even though Zidlicky was hurt and left Game 5 twice - once with 8 minutes left in the second period that he returned from and again later that the former Wild defenseman didn't - but is picking up an additional third round pick really worth it?

#FRB2012Draft Its The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...



That's right kids, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Fans, NHL Entry Draft Junkies, and Armchair Scouts really ratchet up the focus to sometimes absurd levels as we cast our gaze toward the future, trying to figure out just which 17 or 18 year old will be slipping their favorite team's sweater on a June weekend in Pittsburgh, PA.


The Entry Draft marks the beginning of a part of the offseason where renewed optimism springs eternal; The NHL clubs restock their cupboards with a good handful of young players meticulously scouted, poked, prodded, interrogated, and branded worthy of selection. Every year there is a few kids who make the jump from their respective leagues to the NHL, with varying degrees of success. Despite how much or how little the player actually contributes is sometimes besides the point; it creates excitement and buzz amongst the fanbase.

Yes, in a way these kids are shiny new toys. As much as we love (or hate) the end results, I think we can all agree that we love the process much moreso- the evaluation, the deductions, the investigation, the speculation, and the conclusion.

And us Minnesota fans know that the process...well...sucked for a couple of years. It shows the importance of the whole thing, because the end result was that the organization is still feeling the effects of having a shoddy record in the Draft.

(Also the impetus for this blog.)

 For me, Nate, and the cast of thousands who contribute to First Round Bust, we're excited as hell to kick off 2012 NHL Entry Draft coverage starting today. We got some really good stuff up our sleeves.

Mikko Koivu Is The Highest Paid Finnish Athlete

For all the acclaims Mikko Koivu gets or doesn't (or gets for the wrong reasons), "highest paid Finnish athlete" is one I wouldn't have thought about.

Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu (photo from Zimbio)

As part of ESPN the Magazine's "money issue" which comes with Floyd "Money" Mayweather's May 5th fight against Miguel Cotto, the Worldwide Leader listed the highest paid athlete in more than 200 countries. The Wild forward tops Finland with $7.2M in 2011-2012 as part of his 7 year, $47.25M contract signed in 2010.

It's a paltry figure compared to Mayweather's American high of $40 million for a pair of fights - hell, Koivu wasn't even the highest-paid player on his line this season - but he is up there for a reason.

Minnesota's captain is one of six hockey players to lead their country in money made with Thomas Vanek (Austria), Craig Adams (Brunei), Nik Antropov (Kazakhstan), Ilya Bryzgalov (Russia) and Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) being the others. Despite being a hockey hotbed, Canada's highest paid athlete is Jason Bay of the New York Mets, who took home $18.125M last season.

(s/t Ben Goessling)

Johan Larsson Scores But Sweden Falls To USA 3-2

Being one of many players fighting for a Team Sweden roster spot, Johan Larsson needed to find a way to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Scoring a goal is one way.

Johan Larsson (photo from Wild.com)

Larsson, the 56th pick in 2010 by Minnesota, continued an acclaimed season by scoring in Sweden's 3-2 World Championships exhibition loss to the United States Tuesday morning. The goal came towards the end of the second period when he received a cross-ice pass from Brynas IF teammate Jakob Silfverberg on the power play and put it past United States goalie Richard Bachman. It put Sweden down by one entering the final twenty minutes and a chance to complete a three-goal comeback but despite their best efforts, the Americans stood tall.

More on Larsson and fellow Swede Jonas Brodin's play after the jump...