FRB Top 20 Prospects: #5...Erik Haula

Erik Haula, Center
Iowa Wild (AHL)
5'11", 192 lbs 3/23/1991 Pori, Finland
Seventh Round (182nd overall) 2009 NHL Draft

On Thursday, I attended Big Ten Media Day at the Xcel Energy Center. Players and coaches from all six Big Ten schools were there, including 2009 Minnesota Wild 7th round pick Erik Haula's team; the University of Minnesota. Haula was there Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center too.

Just not with the Gophers. Their loss is Minnesota's gain.

While college players were sitting at tables in the arena concourse, taking questions from journalists (and me), Haula was on the ice practicing. The 22 year-old from Pori, Finland signed a pro contract after his junior season ended with Minnesota's first round NCAA Tournament loss to eventual national champion Yale. He didn't get too much time with Houston - 4 points in 11 games evenly split between the regular season and playoffs - but it was enough time to acclimate to the pro game. (It was also enough time to end a season in Grand Rapids for the second time. Not bitter or anything.)

What Haula did last season with the Gophers, however, is the dream of all late rounders. I'm glad to have covered it. The 5'11" forward could have turned pro after his sophomore season, where he scored 49 points (20G-29A) and was the barometer of Minnesota's success. The Gophers were 21-6-1 when Haula scored a point.

There were moments in the beginning and end of the 2011-12 season where he took over the team, which advanced to its first Frozen Four since 2005. At the same time, one thing for Haula to work on was consistency. His junior season, where he scored 51 points (16G-35A) in 37 games, was as consistent as it comes for a player who can take over and go into "beast mode" at times. Haula's longest scoreless streak last year was two games. He failed to have a series without registering at least one point.

(By the way, the only Gophers to score 50+ points in the last decade? Thomas Vanek (twice), Troy Riddle, Phil Kessel and Ryan Potulny. Not bad company.)

But it wasn't just offense with Haula. The junior forward improved at all aspects of his game. Minnesota played Haula in all situations - as the team's second line center, on the point of the first PP unit, killing penalties - and he improved being defensively responsible. Same goes for his skating. While primarily a center, Haula spent a couple weeks on the wing when coming back early from (and playing with) an injured hand against North Dakota. Despite not being able to take face-offs for a few weeks, he still scored 3 points while the Gophers tied and swept its rival.

The Erik Haula last season was a much more complete player than the one two years ago.

It has reached the point where Wild GM Chuck Fletcher openly talked about Haula's chances to make the NHL team as the second-line center over Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle.

"I think Erik Haula shouldn't be completely dismissed," Fletcher told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on KFAN in July. "He's a little bit older. He doesn't have a lot of professional experience but he's a real smart player."

Haula likely will start the season in Iowa (Minnesota's new AHL affiliate).

Although anyone who stars as a late round pick becomes the stuff of legend, the vast majority do not pan out or are depth. Haula is somewhere between the two right now. I don't believe he is ready to be talked about in the top tier of Wild prospects. He's still projecting to be a complementary offensive player who is competitive and defensively responsible. He near the top of the next tier with his rise (Haula was #13 last year) and growth, though.

Most flyers don't pan out into anything. The seventh round is a place for long-term projects, the guys who show promise. It's a low-risk move with a chance for a high reward.

Right now Haula is looking to be more on the high-reward side. There's no bigger improvement in the Wild prospect pool. Given how competitive Haula is, this might not be enough.

He's certainly worthy of being on the Xcel Energy Center ice and fighting for an NHL spot.

Previous 2013 Minnesota Wild Top 20 Prospect Articles:
#6: Zack Phillips
#7: Mario Lucia
#8: Johan Gustafsson
#9: Raphael Bussieres
#10: Brett Bulmer
#11: Daniel Gunnarsson
#12: Tyler Graovac
#13: Gustav Olofsson
#14: John Draeger
#15: Adam Gilmour
#16: Nick Seeler
#17: Dylan Labbe
#18: Kyle Medvec
#19: Kris Foucault
#20: Avery Peterson

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Photo Credit: Minnesota Athletics

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