The Wild moved decisively to address the glaring lack of prospects on the wings and added a very exciting player in the first round.
GM Chuck Fletcher and his team went with good bets, and though they dumped a couple of picks, overall they have to feel good about this year’s group of prospects. The Wild added players who showed they can play with the best of their age group and excel.
A stout playmaker who can play either center or wing, he has been tirelessly compared with Saku Koivu. There’s certainly no shame in that comparison, but Granlund well outpaced Koivu as an 18-year-old, scoring 13 goals and 27 assists in 43 SM-Liiga games compared to Koivu’s 10 points in 46 games at the same age.
Granlund clearly stood out as an 18-year-old in a men’s league. His point-per-game rate was one of the best in the league, and one can expect similar production from him once he makes the transition to North American pro hockey. He possesses superlative on-ice recognition and great hands that often draw comparisons to Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk. Like any player his age, he can improve in all areas, particularly with north-south speed and shot release. He’s not huge at 5’10, 180, but his frame has never been a concern.
He is under contract with HIFK Helsinki for one more year so expect him to cross the pond for the 2011-12 season.
The Wild went somewhat off the board to pick up Prince George native Brett Bulmer. Central Scouting had him at 65th among North American skaters, but Bulmer has been a late-bloomer since his midget days. He came on very strong in his first junior season and finished with 13 goals and 40 points in 65 regular season games, as well as five points (three goals) in 12 playoff games. At 6’2 and176 pounds, he has room to fill in, but was able to shield and retrieve the puck effectively.
Already a strong skater and possessing solid character, Bulmer will play another year in Kelowna to prove that his trajectory doesn’t taper off.
Drafted with the pick acquired from Washington in the Eric Belanger trade, Larsson fell from 22nd among European skaters to 34th in Central Scouting’s view. He was a star at the World U-18s, posting six goals and eight assists in five games. He has brought his leadership skills and strong two-way game to every team he has been on, with great results. In 2009-10, the 18-year-old managed 15 goals and 19 assists through 40 games.
Wild management praised Larsson’s combination of speed and grit. Larsson is excellent in the faceoff circle as well. He’ll likely spend another year with Brynas. When he does choose to cross the pond however, his game should transition well.
There was quite a run on players from the US World Junior gold medal teams, so the Wild moved up to grab Jason Zucker before he was gone by sending their 69th and 99th picks to Florida.
Born in California, Zucker played his midget hockey in Detroit, and got noticed by the National Team Development program. He improved steadily, and this year he posted a solid 29 goals and 53 points in 60 games. Zucker was one of the top performers on the U-18 squad, with seven points in seven games on the Gold medal team. He added two more international goals with the Gold-winning U-20 squad.
The 18-year-old is off to the University of Denver this summer. The Pioneers lost quite a bit of talent after last year’s disappointing NCAA Tournament, and Zucker ought to have a chance to earn a lot of ice time.
The Wild added to their stable of good goaltending prospects by taking Gustafsson in the sixth round. With Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper, and newly signed German Dennis Endras, the team is well-stocked.
Gustafsson has good size and a fine international tournament to his credit, but looked overwhelmed in three games with the top club at Färjestad. In those three games, he allowed nine goals, posted a 3.96 goals against average, and a .868 save percentage. However, in a lower tier league, playing with Skåre BK, Gustafsson posted respectable numbers including a 2.86 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.
The 18-year-old will have plenty of time to continue to develop his game next season, playing at the Allsvenkan level with Våsteräs. One would think he has a good chance to be Team Sweden‘s starting netminder at next year’s World Juniors. Wild fans will have several reasons to follow along.
McKinlay is another riser whose late season efforts made him worthy of a late pick. He jumped thirty spots from his mid-term Central Scouting rank, from 156 to 126 among North American skaters. McKinlay is a scrappy player and another player of high character. At 5’11, 170 he projects as a role player, but has some offensive tools as well, posting 20 goals and 23 assists in 72 games. As he gets bigger, he can play more of a power game. Though the Chilliwack Bruins were not a very talented team this year, McKinlay helped them into the playoffs.
The 18-year-old could be another late round steal for the Wild if he continues to improve as projected, and should benefit from a good coach in Marc Habscheid.