Wild Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Shane Goudie

Defenseman Tyler Cuma retains the top spot in our fall 2009 edition of Minnesota’s Top 20 prospects. Six previously unranked players join the list, all of whom were taken in the 2009 draft.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Tyler Cuma, D (7.5C)
2. (2) Colton Gillies, F (7B)
3. (NR) Nick Leddy, D (7.5D)
4. (4) Marco Scandella, D (7C)
5. (3) Benoit Pouliot, F (7.5D)
6. (NR) Matt Hackett, G (7C)
7. (6) Cody Almond, F (6.5C)
8. (5) Maxim Noreau, D (6.5C)
9. (7) Petr Kalus, F (7D)
10. (9) Morten Madsen, F (6.5C)
11. (NR) Kristopher Foucault, F (6.5C)
12. (NR) Alexander Fallstrom, F (6.5C)
13. (10) Justin Falk, D (6.5C)
14. (NR) Erik Haula, F (7D)
15. (20) Carson McMillan, F (6C)
16. (11) Sean Lorenz, D (6.5C)
17. (17) Kyle Medvec, D (6C)
18. (18) Anton Khudobin, G (6D)
19. (14) Harri Ilvonen, D (6.5D)
20. (NR) Darcy Kuemper, G (6D)

1. Tyler Cuma, D, 19
Acquired: 23rd overall, 2008

Cuma’s 2008-09 season was just 21 games long due to a left knee injury sustained during a scrimmage at Canada’s national junior team camp. After extensively rehabbing his MCL, the Toronto native has fully recovered.

Cuma retains his top prospect status due mainly to outstanding work ethic, on-ice reliability two-way play and tremendous offensive upside. Despite being loaded with quality young defensemen with their organization, not one of them is as close to a “sure thing” as Cuma is.

Cuma will head into this season’s Wild training camp with only an outside chance of winning a roster spot. Realistically, Cuma will return to the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL and continue his development where he left off before his injury. No doubt Cuma will be on Hockey Canada’s radar when they assemble their squad for the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships.

2. Colton Gillies, F, 20
Acquired: 16th overall, 2007

Last season, Gillies played a total of 45 games for the Wild as a rookie. Despite contributing only seven points, the young forward used his limited ice time well and didn’t look too out of place on NHL ice.

The former Saskatoon Blade is a hard-nosed forward who does not shy away from the corners or from in front of the net. His style of play is very similar to that of his cousin, New York Islanders legend Clark Gillies.

Gillies isn’t a lock to make the Wild out of training camp this season since a new regime in Minnesota may bring a different plan for his development. If he is to stay with the big club, he will have to continue to show off his stellar work ethic and his desire to succeed.

3. Nick Leddy, D, 18

Acquired: 16th overall, 2009

GM Chuck Fletcher surprised a few when he selected Minnesota native Leddy 16th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Leddy has huge upside. His best attributes are his skating and his ability to quarterback a power play. His offensive upside is actually higher than that of Cuma, although Leddy lacks the defensive reliability of Cuma and the versatility to excel in many different situations. Leddy will now face larger and stronger opponents in the NCAA. He will probably need to gain weight to effectively defend players at this, and higher, levels.

4. Marco Scandella, D, 19

Acquired: 55th overall, 2008

The nephew of former Montreal Canadien draftee Sergio Momesso, Scandella enjoyed his first taste of pro hockey during Houston’s playoff run last season.

Of the Minnesota’s top five prospects on the blue line, Scandella is the only true stay-at -home, shut-down defenseman. He plays a very calm, simple and well-calculated game. He doesn’t take risks and is a solid positional player. It should be noted, however, that Scandella is not a great puckhandler. Obviously, this will need to improve. Scandella has the potential to be a second or third-pairing defenseman and a regular on the Wild penalty kill. 

5. Benoit Pouliot, F, 22
Acquired: 4th overall, 2005

Pouliot is loaded with talent, but can’t seem to play up to his potential. Minnesota drafted Pouliot fourth overall in 2005 based on his huge offensive upside. His lack of motivation and poor attitude was something that needed to be overcome. Unfortunately, Pouliot’s drive and focus have not improved and the offensive prowess that made him such a high draft pick just hasn’t been enough to keep him in the NHL. To say that this upcoming season is a crucial one for him would be an understatement. Poiliot turns 23 in September.

6. Matt Hackett, G, 19
Acquired: 77th overall, 2009

Hackett battled hard to claim the role of No. 1 goaltender on his junior team last season. Hackett didn’t simply take over the starting role, however, he backstopped the OHL Plymouth Whalers to a playoff berth and was their best player during the post-season.

Hackett has seen his reputation as one of the better young netminders in the game steadily rise. This summer, Hackett was invited Team Canada’s junior evaluation camp. Given Hackett’s solid performance in the playoffs last season, it is not far fetched to think that Minnesota’s top goaltending prospect could end up representing Canada in the tournament. Drafted at age 19, he’ll probably play just one more year of junior.

7. Cody Almond, F, 20
Acquired: 140th overall, 2007

Almond is another one of those gritty two-way forwards that have been mainstays in the Wild pipeline for so many years. Almond is tenacious and not afraid to work hard and get his nose dirty. In what was his final season in the WHL, Almond scored 33 goals and 33 assists in 70 games. Almond further stepped up his game in the WHL playoffs and was a major factor in the Rockets championship win.

Almond will begin his professional career this season in the AHL. He has the size and drive to make the jump to the NHL. The main question regarding Almond is whether or not he can still score at the pro level among better players.

8. Maxim Noreau, D, 22
Acquired: Free agent, 2008

Noreau is proving to be an extremely good find for the Wild. After going undrafted, he signed as a free agent based on the quality offensive skills he showed with Victoriaville of the QMJHL. So far in two seasons in the AHL, Noreau has proven that he is able put up points at the pro level. Despite a lack of size, Noreau has also been able to handle the physical game of the AHL. As a strong puck-moving defenseman, it is entirely possible that Noreau will get a taste of the NHL this season.   

9. Petr Kalus, F, 22
Acquired: From Boston, 2007

After a productive nine-game stint in the NHL during the 2006-07 season, Kalus has failed to keep his career going in the right direction. Acquired from Boston in the Manny Fernandez trade, Kalus began his career in the Wild organization by turned in a lackluster 2007-08 season in the AHL with the Houston Aeros. Upset with being left off of Minnesota’s roster to start the 2008-09 season, Kalus bolted to Russia to play in the KHL. In only 17 games in the KHL, he managed a paltry two assists and 106 penalty minutes.

Kalus has all the tools necessary to become an effective power forward in the NHL. His speed, toughness and scoring touch are at an NHL level. To date, Kalus has not shown the drive and motivation needed to make the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis. He will get a fresh start with the Wild this season with a new coaching staff. 

10. Morten Madsen, F, 22
Acquired: 122nd overall, 2005

Despite a very impressive North American debut during the 2006-07 season, Madsen has since failed to adapt to the pro game in the AHL. Making the jump from the QMJHL, where he once accumulated 100 points with Victoriaville, to the AHL is proving to be a harder task than most anticipated for Madsen. He has a good skill set and great hockey sense but struggles against bigger and stronger opponents. The more defensive style of play in the AHL compared to the QMJHL is also proving to be a stumbling block for him.

It is clear that Madsen does have significant talent. Perhaps more seasoning with the Aeros will help him find his game. 

11. Kristopher Foucault, F, 18
Acquired: 103rd overall, 2009

Landing Foucault with the 103rd pick could be the best late-round pick by the Wild this summer.

Foucault’s coming-out party happened during last season’s WHL playoffs. With the Calgary Hitmen, the young winger put the team’s offense on his shoulders and did not underwhelm, posting 11 goals and five assists in 18 games. With good size and the ability to play at both ends of the ice, Foucault has the potential to be a power forward in the NHL.    

12. Alexander Fallstrom, F, 18
Acquired: 116th overall, 2009

The third 2009 draftee on this list, Fallstrom enjoyed a huge campaign with Shattuck-St. Mary’s last season. The Swede contributed 87 points in just 57 games for the club. This was a full 20 points higher than his 2007-08 totals. 

Fallstrom is a good all-around player, although his skating ability will need to improve if he is to keep up with the harder and faster game in the NCAA. He will also need to fill out his frame a little more if he is to win battles for the puck against stronger opponents.  Fallstrom will attend Harvard next season. He turns 19 in September.

13. Justin Falk, D, 19
Acquired: 110th overall, 2007

At 6’5, 225 pounds, Falk is one of the largest and strongest defenders in the Minnesota organization. He made a name for himself during the 2007-08 season with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He was a both a leader in the dressing room and a rock on the blue line for the Memorial Cup champions that season.

Last season, Falk made a relatively successful jump to the pro level with Houston. Despite not producing offensively, Falk managed to find enough ice time to continue his development. He excelled during the team’s strong run in the playoffs. If Falk can improve his puck-handling skills and become more confident when pressured, he no doubt will get a crack at a Minnesota roster spot before too long.  

14. Erik Haula, F, 18
Acquired: 182nd overall, 2009

The Finn is one of the most skilled players on this list and would be very near the top if offensive talent was the only consideration. Along with his former roommate Fallstrom, Haula filled the net last season with Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Finding the scorer in the seventh round was a bonus for Minnesota as they lack this type player in their system.

As part of his development, Haula will need to add a lot of muscle to his skinny 6’0 frame. He slid so far down the draft because he is a very small player who tends to play on the periphery. He will make the jump to the USHL Omaha Lancers next season before joining the University of Minnesota for the 2010-11 season.

15. Carson McMillan, F, 20
Acquired: 200th overall 2007

McMillan’s game seems like it was tailor made for the Wild. McMillan is a reliable forward who is defensively responsible, uses his size well, and is a solid skater. He is also known for having a great work ethic and being very coachable. Over the past two seasons, McMillan has made serious improvement in regards to his offensive game.

Last season with the Hitmen, McMillan nearly doubled his offensive output from the previous campaign. In 68 games, McMillan potted 31 goals and chipped in 41 assists. The rugged winger also added 93 penalty minutes. No doubt McMillan benefited from being on a very strong Calgary team which boasted Brett Sonne and Brandon Kozum. If properly surrounded and if his skills continue to develop, McMillan could blossom into an NHL-caliber power forward. He will turn 21 in September.

16. Sean Lorenz, D, 19

Acquired: 115th overall, 2008

Last season, Lorenz had a successful rookie season with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, playing in a total of 40 games, posting three points. The 6’1, 193-pounder plays a strong, stay-at-home physical game. He is also said to be good in the locker room and well liked by his teammates. Lorenz will continue to develop in the NCAA for the next couple of seasons at least. 

17. Kyle Medvec, D, 21
Acquired: 102nd overall, 2006

Hulking defender Medvec’s sophomore season with Vermont of the NCAA was a definite step in the right direction. Without seeing any power-play ice time, Medvec improved his point totalover the previous season by scoring two goals and adding 10 assists in 39 games. More importantly, Medvec took his plus/minus from a -6 in his freshman season to a respectable +9 last year.

At 6’6 and over 200 lbs, Medvec has great size for the pro game. His long reach makes him an effective penalty killer. Look for him to step up and take on more challenges this season with the Catamounts.

18. Anton Khudobin, G, 23

Acquired: 206th overall, 2004

After winning the ECHL Goaltender of the Year award for the 2007-08 season, the native of Kazakhstan didn’t have as good a year with the ECHL Florida Everblades, splitting time with David Leggio. But he did have a good run with the Aeros late in the year. Khudobin became the go-to guy for the Aeros and helped them to a Western Conference final appearance.

But there still are several question marks as to how far he can go. At 5’10, he is a small goaltender who doesn’t cover a lot of net. He is also a very inconsistent performer. Khudobin will get a shot this season at sticking in the AHL for the full campaign. Provided he can perform up to his talent level on a regular basis, he can keep his NHL dream alive. He is in the last year of his contract.

19. Harri Ilvonen, D, 20
Acquired: 170th overall, 2007

Last season was a disappointing one for the young Finn. In just 23 games with Tappara Tampere, Ilvonen managed one assist. Ilvonen found only spot duty on the blue line in Finland’s top league but managed a more regular role with Leki Lempaala in the Mestis league. In 21 games, he contributed four goals and three assists.

Next season is a critical one for Ilvonen. He must stake a claim to a regular roster spot and play a full season in order to continue his development. The two-way defender will benefit immensely if he is able to find ice time in all situations.

20. Darcy Kuemper, G, 19

Acquired: 161st overall, 2009

A Saskatoon native, Kuemper is another 2009 late-round draft choice. Last season, Kuemper managed to win the starting job with the Red Deer Rebels as a rookie away from Morgan Clark (VAN). Kuemper played very well despite having a poor defense in front of him and a lack of offensive support. Tall at 6’4 but quick, he is still a very raw talent. The 19-year-old returns to Red Deer this season.