The 2008 NHL Entry Draft came as advertised and featured 12 defensemen taken in the first round. For the Wild, this was just what the doctor ordered, as stocking the prospect pipeline on the blue line is needed. In addition to taking Tyler Cuma in the first round, the Wild added another couple of picks at the position with Marco Scandella in the second round and Sean Lorenz in the fourth. The Wild only had four picks coming in and with their last pick, a fifth-round selection, they took a shot with Eero Elo, an obscure Finnish wing.
The Wild worked perhaps a bit out of the box, taking players ranked lower than their selections in the later rounds, and made a trade that saw them move up a single spot in the first round, but for those familiar with the team’s building philosophy, it isn’t that unusual. They envision the team being built with various roles to fill, and look for specific players who can fill those roles with certain attributes, not least among them being strong skating. When a player they like is available, they take him. Some years have been more successful than others, but recent years have been a bit lean. So with only four picks in 2008, there may have been a bit more pressure to deliver with fewer chances to do so.
Tyler Cuma, D
First round, 23rd overall – Ottawa (OHL)
6’2, 180 pounds
From all indications, the Wild brain trust felt a bit lucky that a guy they really wanted fell as far as he did, but also felt they needed to guarantee that luck would hold at the last minute. The Wild thought so highly of Cuma, and were so sure that New Jersey was going to take him at 23, that they gave up their third-round pick in 2009, a significant price, to move up just one spot to ensure that they landed Cuma. While prior to the draft, the Wild was signalling that they likely weren’t going to be trying to move up like they did in 2007, they did just that. It was only one spot to 23, but the move was indeed similar to last year’s move up in the first round to grab Colton Gillies.
Cuma had 4 goals and 28 assists in 59 games for the Ottawa 67’s this past season and was a +4. He was also a member of Team Canada, gold medal winners at the Under-18 World Championships as well as on the Canadian squad for the Canada-Russia Challenge. Legendary coach Brian Kilrea gives Cuma high marks for his dedication and skating ability, which could be big clues as to why the Wild started licking their chops as the day progressed and they found him within reach. Talking with the media after the first round, Wild Assistant GM Tommy Thompson mentioned how Team Canada coach Pat Quinn praised Cuma’s poise and also noticed the big minutes Quinn gave him at the Under-18 Championships.
He’s a converted center, who plays a two-way game, but his first priority is taking care of his own zone. Talking after his selection about his game, he said, "I’m more of a shut-down guy, but I can play two-way and jump into the rush. I can play power play, penalty kill, any scenario the coach puts me in I can play. I think I’m really reliable that way." He added, "I’m a physical player and I get more involved in the game when I’m playing more physical. Primarily, I like to play the other team’s top lines and shut them down, just give them nothing to work with."
Central Scouting has him pegged as more of an offensive player, and he was a regular on the 67’s power-play unit, however he doesn’t seem to have, or hasn’t quite developed a great goal-scoring touch or vision. Right now, his offensive strength is more in effectively breaking the puck out of his team’s zone, either by making a good first pass or by skating the puck clear. When asked who he models his game after, he named Wild nemesis Dion Phaneuf. However, there’s a lot about his game that will also remind one of maybe a slightly larger, and perhaps feistier, Nick Shultz, which is definitely a good thing.
While Cuma is already talking about wanting to make the Wild right away, he will need to pack some more muscle onto his frame before we can expect to see him patrolling the Wild blue line. And while he may not grow to be the size of a Phaneuf, Niklas Kronwall demonstrated in the playoffs that delivering a big hit is more about timing and desire than just being big. Still, the Wild are almost sure to let him take another year to develop and put on some weight. At 6’2, he should be NHL ready at about 200 pounds or so.
Marco Scandella, D
Second round, 55th overall – Val d’Or (QMJHL)
6’2, 205 pounds
The Wild went with more defense in the second round selecting Marco Scandella, the nephew of former NHL player Sergio Momesso. The Montreal native Scandella not only speaks French and English, but Italian as well. Perhaps what impressed the Wild more than his linguistic reach was his reach with a hockey stick. Scandella has good size at 6’2 and 205 pounds, but has an 80-inch wingspan which is comparable to Tyler Myers, who is 6’7. Ranked as the 82nd North American skater, he was a bit surprised to be taken as high as he was, but also very happy.
"To go so high in the draft was unexpected, but so exciting and amazing. I’m so happy! When my name was called, it was the best feeling ever," Scandella said.
Scandella was a teammate of Cuma on the Canadian Under-18 World Championship team, and, coincidentally, was usually paired with Tyler Myers (that’s over 13 feet of wingspan between the two of them). He had a very good tournament finishing with a +7 in his plus/minus column. In some ways he and Cuma are similar. Both are good skaters who are primarily shut-down defenders who can chip in a bit of offense. He also described his game in terms similar to Cuma, "[I’m] a defenseman that’s really hard to play against. Try to stop and get into the faces of the better forwards on the other team."
Scandella tallied 4 goals and added 10 assists in 65 games which led Val d’Or rookie defensemen. He was also named the QMJHL Prospect of the Month in December 2007.
Sean Lorenz, D
Fourth round, 115th overall – U.S. National Under-18 Team
6’1, 198 pounds
Again in the fourth round, the Wild went looking for blue line help in Sean Lorenz, ranked 203rd among North American skaters. Lorenz spent the past two seasons with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, and was a member of the bronze medal winning U.S. team at the Under-18 World Championships. Next season he will be playing in the NCAA for Notre Dame and coach Jeff Jackson, who drew high praise from Thompson for running a top program. Perhaps this admiration for Jackson’s abilities to develop talent influenced the selection. Jackson himself made comparisons with Ian Cole (current Notre Dame defenseman and 18th overall pick by St. Louis in 2007) when Lorenz made his commitment to the Irish.
The Cole comparison is perhaps a bit generous at this stage, and certainly the Wild would be thrilled if Lorenz came out of Notre Dame with the comparisons to Cole continuing. A player in the "solid, if not spectacular" mold, the hope with Lorenz is that he will develop over the course of his college career, and then begin his pro journey at about the age of 22, a similar path that a former fourth-round pick, prospect Ryan Jones, has followed.
Eero Elo, LW
Fifth round, 145th overall – Lukko Rauma (Finnish Jr)
6’3, 189 pounds
This pick could be described as the Wild’s shot in the dark at finding the Finnish Tomas Holmstrom. The Wild spotted the unranked (by Central Scouting) Elo while scouting goaltender Harri Sateri, who ended up going to San Jose. In their scouting video, Elo kept showing up going hard to the net. He’s pretty big at 6’3 and 200 pounds, and had 12 and 15 assists in 42 games for Lukko Rauma in the Finnish Jr. A league.