Wild Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Peter Prohaska

Top 20 at a glance

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

1. (1) Tyler Cuma, D (7C)
1st Round, 23rd Overall, 2008

Having traded up one spot to draft him, the Wild received in Cuma a very solid defender who could one day anchor an NHL blueline. A devastating knee injury at the Canadian World Junior orientation camp kept him out of the 2009 lineup. When 2010 came around, again he was left off the team. Cuma does not put up big numbers because he’s truly a defense-first player. Playing with the Ottawa 67s, Cuma has 21 points in 50 games, good for fourth among team defensemen. For Cuma to make the jump directly to the NHL will require a lot of work this summer, but all reports suggest that he has the mindset to accomplish it. 

2. (4) Marco Scandella, D (7C)
2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2008

Scandella’s assets are shown in the team-best +11 he’s currently posting with Val d’Or, one of the weaker teams in the QMJHL. It’s not an easy situation to be in, and he seems to be handling the adversity pretty well. Scandella projects as a stay-at-homer, so his 31 points (9 goals) in 31 games are also a positive. With a good-sized frame (6’2", 208), he plays physically. An economical skating style, coupled with his size, allow him to be conservative in his zone. However, he was suspended for 15 games by the Q on February 4th for a brutal elbow to the head of an opponent. Despite a very good showing at the World Juniors, this incident puts him in limbo. He’ll need to learn to differentiate between the physical edge he will need to compete at the next level, and the reckless sort of play that endangers two careers at once.

3. (2) Colton Gillies, LW (6.5B)

1st Round, 16th Overall, 2007

The Wild moved up in the draft to take Gillies as well, surrendering in the process a valuable second-round pick. This puts a burden on Gillies, who is currently learning his craft with the AHL‘s Houston Aeros. But Gillies is behind the eight-ball after a half-season NHL audition last year that was more of a baptism by fire. He tallied just seven points, couldn’t bring the physical edge his game requires, and couldn’t really keep up with the positional demands of coach Jacques Lemaire’s system. Gillies’ point totals so far this season with the Aeros are in line with expectations (6 goals and 19 points in 60 games). He’s using his big frame and he’s contributing at a young age on a poor team. He also drew a brief suspension for a reckless hit this February. Draft pedigree may not be everything, Gillies may still be able to rise to a very considerable challenge and play a role in the Wild’s future. He’s probably never going to put up a lot of points though.

4. (5) Matt Hackett, G (7C)

3rd Round, 77th Overall, 2009

Hackett is a good bet to succeed. He was the top-ranked goaltender by NHL’s Central Scouting coming into the 2009 draft, and the Wild seem to have gotten good value from the pick in the third round. Hackett’s numbers have improved considerably every year in the OHL, and he sits near the top this year with a .925 save percentage and 2.63 GAA. He has been a big reason for the success of the Plymouth Whalers this season. Hackett recently turned 20 and can play pro next season. Next year should see him with the Aeros. He has the tools to succeed as a professional.

5. (7) Maxim Noreau, D (6.5C)

Free agent signee

The top scorer on the farm team is Noreau, a free-agent signee. Despite scoring at about a point per game his last two seasons in the Q, Noreau went undrafted, but got a minor-league deal with Houston in 2007. After a slow start, the 5’11", 192 lbs but quite sturdy Noreau has taken a big leadership role on the Aeros and leads the team with 17 goals and 47 points in 64 games. He is a plus player on a team where most of the top line is in double-digit minuses. He has outscored the next defenseman two to one. He has all the tools to contribute offensively: the vision, the puck skills, and the heavy shot. For Noreau to be posting the numbers he has speaks volumes about his ability. Signed through next year at a bargain price, the soon-to-be 23-year-old should get a chance to help out an offensively challenged blueline in St. Paul.

6. (6) Cody Almond, C (6.5C)
5th Round, 140th Overall, 2007

In an ideal world, Almond would be playing the role that Jamie Benn plays currently for the Dallas Stars. Alas, Almond has not made the jump from a very good career with the WHL‘s Kelowna Rockets. He tore up the Memorial Cup run his team went on last year, with 27 points over 22 games. Almond was a physical presence throughout that tournament as he was in his junior career: blocking shots, making hits and generally being effective all over the ice. His first year in the AHL has not been a disaster either, and his scoring totals are about in line with expectations at seven goals and 18 points over 40 games against men his size. He is clearly being groomed for a checking role down the road. He’s a solid prospect for a third-line center role a year or two down the line.

7. (12) Erik Haula, LW (7D)

7th Round, 182nd Overall, 2009

Haula is a very intriguing prospect who may just be getting started. He stands at 5’11" but is listed generally at a slight 170 pounds. Finnish-born, but drafted out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Haula is currently putting up eyebrow-raising numbers with the USHL‘s Omaha Lancers (24 goals and 39 assists in 46 games). He was named to the USHL All-Star Game and was impressive against the best in the league.

Next season will see Haula at the University of Minnesota. His strengths are passing, speed and intelligence. A strong freshman year that sees some muscle added will be quite telling. Haula is a bright spot in the system.

8. (11) Justin Falk, D (6.5C)
4th Round, 110th Overall, 2007

Falk is a defensive prospect with the obvious positive attribute of imposing size (6’5", 215 pounds). He showed willingness to pay the price by fighting Cam Janssen in the preseason, and has dropped his gloves on other occasions. He could improve in this area. Falk has chipped in a few points for the Aeros this season (2 goals, 7 points), but can also use his size and decent skating to do more. In all, Falk looks to be a decent prospect. The Wild love their big defensemen, and if he’s a better skater than a John Scott and less injury prone than a Brent Burns, he’ll get a shot with the big club.

9. (10) Kristopher Foucault, F (6.5C)

4th Round, 103rd Overall, 2009

The initial report on Kris Foucault was highly laudatory of his physical skills, including the tantalizing phrase "first-round hands," but scouts doubted his commitment. Foucault has decent size at 6’1", 202 pounds, but scored just 17 points in 26 games in his third year in the WHL before exploding in the playoffs to equal that point mark over 18 games (11 goals and 5 assists). That performance earned him a vote of confidence from the Wild scouting staff, but he hasn’t quite panned out as planned. Playing with the Calgary Hitmen, Foucault sits at 39 points currently (20 goals) in what is really his first full season in the WHL (65 games). He is somewhat lost in the shuffle behind Brandon Kozun and Tyler Fiddler on a very good Hitmen team. Foucault should find motivation again come playoff time, hit the weights over the summer, and show up for training camp prepared to compete fully. He got an unfortunate reputation of neglecting his conditioning early on, but certainly has the skillset to compete at the next level.

10. (8) Petr Kalus, F (6.5D)
2nd Round, 39th Overall, 2005 by the Boston Bruins

Kalus was a Bruins pick acquired by the Wild in the trade that sent Manny Fernandez the other way. After showing pretty well in the Bruins system, Kalus hit a real wall in his development, including a stint in the KHL where he amassed 106 penalty minutes in 17 games. Kalus has an ability to score at the professional level, but it remains to be seen whether his promise can materialize. Thus far with the Aeros, he has put up 11 goals and 15 points over 51 games, which hardly qualifies for optimism. On March 9, Kalus was recalled to the big club, ostensibly to contribute in the energy role played by Cal Clutterbuck. He logged about six and a half minutes of ice time, but nothing on special teams or the scoresheet, and went back to Houston. Kalus could easily see a few more games, especially as both the Wild and the Aeros fade from the playoff picture. 

11. (16) Anton Khudobin, G (6C)

7th Round, 206th Overall, 2004

Khudobin made brief appearances in the big leagues this year, one in relief, and one as starter, but both quite effective. Khudobin is on the small side as modern goaltenders go, but the Kazakh product has been training as a pro in North America since 2005 and may yet get his chance. He toiled for several years in the ECHL, but won the Brabham Cup for best regular season and put up a very good season in 2008-09 with the Florida Everblades. Given the team that’s in front of him this season in Houston, his numbers are perfectly adequate (2.41 GAA and .904 save percentage). He is entering the prime years for a goaltender, turning 24 in May, and though he might seize the starter’s job in Houston, he might also be asked to fill in as the backup for the Wild.

12. (13) Carson McMillan, F (6C)
7th Round, 200th Overall, 2007

McMillan was called up for service with the big club, but did not see ice time. In February he received a four-game suspension for dishing an elbow to the head of an opponent. He was also suspended in January for sucker-punching the Texas Stars’ Mathieu Tousignant. The Wild have in this player a tough kid, but a reckless one. He doesn’t really bring an offensive dimension, with only six points in 44 games for Houston on the season, despite a pretty productive junior career. He’s a big body (6’2" 215) and he’s a decent skater. He’s good energy guy, willing to intimidate, but not really a fighter people fear at this point.

13. (17) Harri Ilvonen, D (6.5D)

6th Round, 170th Overall, 2007

Ilvonen is a defender of serviceable size (6’2", 187 pounds) and possessing of a degree of offensive skill (5 goals and 17 points in 49 games in the SM-Liiga this season), but like so many of the prospects in Minnesota’s system, is not a high-end prospects. Nonetheless, a sixth rounder who develops into a dependable defenseman would be considered a big win for the Wild. Playing for Tappara Tampere, this seems to be exactly what he does. Given the interesting mix of veterans, NHL prospects and cosmopolitan journeymen who make up the SM-Liiga, Ilvonen seems to be coming along fine as a professional.

14. (15) Kyle Medvec, D (6C)
4th Round, 102nd Overall, 2006

A 6’6", 205-pound defender always begs questions about his mobility, but Medvec’s skating seems to be solid. His numbers have improved each year at the University of Vermont, and has currently tallied five goals and 15 points over 32 games, while leading his team in penalty minutes. He’s a little ways down the depth chart in the system, but is certainly one prospect who is coming along pretty nicely.

15. (NR) Jere Sallinen, LW (6.5D)

6th Round, 163rd Overall, 2009

Sallinen is a decent sized player (6’0, 183 lbs) who put up some average numbers in Finnish juniors and is now playing with the Blues of the SM-Liiga. He has scored only 11 points (5 goals) but has done it in 36 games, so his point per game is not all that far off the pace the older pros (such as Jarko Immonen) have put up. His plus/minus doesn’t look too bad either. He made some news during the 2010 World Juniors when he was knocked out of the tournament by Russia‘s Evgeny Timkin. Sallinen is back playing, but an earlier back injury raises a red flag for Sallinen. He is probably ready for a stint playing in North America.

16. (18) Darcy Kuemper, G (6.5D)

6th Round, 161st Overall, 2009

A 6’4", 193-pound goaltending prospect playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, Kuemper has put up some pretty respectable numbers as the starter. His 2.65 GAA and save percentage of .911 are reasonable. He has faced a ton of shots over 55 games and his team has been of limited help, with one of the worst offenses in the W. Kuemper has three shutouts, and hasn’t lost in overtme. This player has a definite chance to continue in the system.

17. (9) Morten Madsen, F (7F)

4th Round, 122nd Overall, 2005

The enigmatic Dane who put up astounding numbers in his North American début with Victoriaville of the QMJHL just never seemed fully on board with striving for the NHL. His first professional season with Houston wasn’t completely awful by the numbers (20 points), but he scored only three goals and got demoted, something which seemed to derail him personally. Madsen got back with the program the next season, but just didn’t improve enough (56 games and 22 points) to get a chance with the big club. After competing with the Wild at the Traverse City Tournament, he took a bigger paycheck and greater geographical familiarity and currently plays with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. There he seems to be quite comfortable. If Madsen ever comes back to North America, it will be as a member of another club, or, more likely, as part of Denmark‘s national team.

18. (NR) Eero Elo, LW (6D)
5th Round, 145th Overall, 2008

Elo is now coming to full fruition in the Lukko Rauma system. He has great size, if a little rangy (6’3", 189 pounds), but has begun this year to put up some numbers against good competition in the Finnish SM-Liiga. His seven goals and 10 points in 19 games put him in the top 10 for under-20s in the SM-Liiga, but he’s one of the oldest in that group. With the juniors, he put up 36 points in 19 games. In the WJC, he had three points in six games. If Elo can pack on a few more pounds of muscle, he would have the requisite size to compete on a regular basis in North America, but the skill might just not be there for this prospect. One interesting thing to note is that the top scorers on his team are from the United States and Canada, and their influence might have a beneficial effect on his further development.

19. (NR) Niko Hovinen, G (6D)

5th Round, 132nd Overall, 2006

Hovinen has enormous size (6’7", 200 pounds) and came up with Jokerit. He made steady progress, putting up a notable 2006-07 season with a 2.71 GAA and .917 save percentage in Junior A. The next year saw Hovinen bouncing between Junior A and the big club, but showing a very poor regression with his numbers (2.74 GAA and .905 save percentage in Junior A). Hovinen’s numbers in the Finland‘s top league have been nothing worthy of optimism, and he was traded to the Pelicans of Lahti the next season. There he labored as a backup and put up a 2.92 GAA and .896 save percentage over 21 games. He has rebounded a bit this year, posting a .911 save percentage in 16 games in the SM-Liiga and .912 in the second division. Hovinen is a player with the basic tools to have success, but it’s uncertain if that will take place in North America.

20. (14) Sean Lorenz, D (6D)

4th Round, 115th Overall, 2008

A solidly-built (6’1" 192 pounds) prospect out of Colorado who also played two years with the USNTDP, Lorenz is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame and played in 32 of the 36 games. He was leaned on more heavily due to massive injuries on the blue line. Lorenz was never pegged as an offensive defenseman, but chipped in only three points, equaling his total from his freshman season. The bright side of this is that both of his goals this year have been game winners. He has not taken many penalties, which sometimes looks like a lack of physical play, but could also be read as good discipline. Even a defenseman who is responsible in his own zone has to be more productive at the collegiate level. It’s hard to imagine Lorenz getting a chance with the Wild, barring an enormous improvement in his junior year.

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