It is not much exaggeration to say that the 2010 NHL Draft is the most important event in the brief history of the Minnesota Wild thus far. Not just the players drafted, but also those subsequently acquired, have transformed the Wild into a Stanley Cup contender. The young franchise risked stagnation, a victim of middling finishes and some notable draft misses.
The 2009-10 Wild had finished 13th overall in the Western Conference. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its existence, the team unveiled a third jersey, a new head coach (Todd Richards) and a new General Manager, Chuck Fletcher. It was also the first season that Mikko Koivu assumed the captaincy. Koivu, now assistant head coach Andrew Brunette, and Martin Havlat were the top scorers. After them, there was little help, and the prospect pool was running dry.
An excellent class posed a tremendous opportunity for the team. After some dealing, the Wild possessed three second-round picks and the scouts did fairly well in extracting value. Since then, the Wild has added the fifth overall pick, Nino Niederreiter, the 28th overall pick, Charlie Coyle, and the 32nd overall pick, Jared Knight. This group still represents the future for this organization though, as always, the temptations of hindsight offer troubling visions of what might have been.
First Round, Ninth Overall: Mikael Granlund, C, HIFK (Liiga)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 158
The top-rated European skater in the draft was an obvious pick for the Wild, so desperate for an infusion of elite skill. Granlund at the time looked like the best Finnish prospect since Teemu Selanne. His draft season was his rookie year with HIFK in the Liiga and the teenager was a point-per-game in a men’s league that season, in addition to putting up seven points in six games at the World Juniors. He was on the radar as a special international talent, but that talent would be largely confined to the European sphere for the next two seasons. Granlund finished his career in Finland with 151 points in 154 games, most of that accomplished as a teen.
His arrival in St. Paul seemed to be long-delayed, but the entry-level deal was consummated in May 2012. His debut, therefore, was further impacted by the 2012-13 NHL Lockout, which ended up forcing Granlund to the AHL, where he was again just under a point-per-game with the Houston Aeros before coming full-time to the NHL.
The question of just what Granlund is as an NHL player remains to be resolved. He has suffered concussions, as well as other problematic injuries, but still plays a physical style for a young man of his stature. He has incredible skill at possessing the puck but so often looks to pass when he could shoot, a tendency that no amount of coaching seems to have fixed. With his ability to pass and to stick-handle into the offensive zone, one simply feels he should put up more points than he does. Together with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, Granlund’s line was one of the best in the league this past season at outshooting the opposition. Granlund seems like he should be more than a 40-point player, but all in all, it will be the value of his next contract that determines the course of his career. The Finnish phenom helped bring some elite skill to the team when it needed it, but he is a complementary talent who lacks a elite right winger at this time.
Another restricted free agent, Brett Bulmer may not be a part of the Wild organization much longer, but there was a time not long ago when he looked like a big part of the future. A powerful winger with modest junior scoring, Bulmer was a huge riser in the Central Scouting rankings. Yet the Wild was still guilty of a reach when the selection was made. Perhaps his post-draft season ought to have been taken more seriously as a negative indicator, as he made only a modest uptick in his scoring totals, going from 40 points to 49. Bulmer still had the physical gifts that attracted the Wild’s scouts, but little in the way to suggest a top-six talent at the professional level.
In 2011-12, Bulmer was a surprising selection to stay with the Wild after camp. He managed nine games, three assists, and showed an unintimidated presence made capable by his strong skating. He ended up back in Kelowna however, and that season he did show some offensive flair, tallying 34 goals in 53 games as he manhandled teens around the WHL.
Since then Bulmer has experienced the tribulations of concussions, knee and shoulder injuries. These have made him far less effective, and he seems to have plateaued into an AHL depth role. He last appeared in the NHL on January 4th, 2014 against the Washington Capitals, going -2 in just over six minutes of play. Though he has some intriguing skills still, with his contract status uncertain, Bulmer’s future role with the Wild is doubtful.
The Wild selected Johan Larsson with this pick acquired from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Eric Belanger, who would bounce around the league for a few more seasons before retiring. Larsson was a highly-decorated junior player in Sweden, having most recently and notably captained the Swedish U-18 squad to a silver medal with a tremendous performance of 14 points in five games (Mikael Granlund had 13 in six at that tournament). The notion of building up the middle with a sturdy two-way presence like Larsson and a highly-skilled player like Granlund suggests a cogent template the Wild used for this all-important draft outing.
Larsson of course was one aspect of the trade Chuck Fletcher made for Jason Pominville. While Larsson has not yet fully arrived as a player with Buffalo, his career already includes an SHL Championship with Brynas and a World Junior gold medal, and he played key roles on both teams. Larsson has put up 120 points in 162 AHL games, and plays a well-rounded game that certainly suggests a useful NHL player throughout the course of his career.
Buffalo’s recent organizational struggles need no elaboration here, but Larsson has slowly grown into a role as a middle-six wing who can take face-offs and play special teams, and do it positively. Now a young piece on an NHL team that can only get better, Larsson was a prospect who might have been somewhat redundant for the Wild at that time, but whose real value might have been under-appreciated by the team that drafted him.
Though the cost of this selection was very high at not just a second, but third and fourth round picks as well, Zucker has emerged as a legitimate talent. At the time of the draft, Zucker was a bit of a novelty, having grown up in California and Las Vegas, mostly playing roller-hockey. He transitioned to the ice in seamless fashion however, joining Compuware (where eventual Wild prospect Jared Knight would be a teammate) as an under-16 and making the US National Development Program roster the next season. Post-draft, Zucker went to the University of Denver Pioneers and scored better than a point-per-game during his college career.
Jason Zucker has been a very successful player with the Wild so far in his career. He is one of the fastest skaters in the league, and increasingly opportunistic: a skill which is just an innate gift. Zucker has been one of the better goal-scorers for the Wild over the past two seasons, but has also been limited by injury. This problem has plagued him since he took a cheap shot to the head from Martin Marincin, then of Team Slovakia at the World Juniors.
Zucker plays an aggressive style: hitting, blocking shots and pursuing the puck with abandon. Couple this approach with a small frame and concerns about his durability are all too well-founded. Nonetheless, when he plays, he is an electrifying talent best served in a limited role.
Watch this 2010 NHL Draft Look Back video featuring the Minnesota Wild second round pick, Jason Zucker.
Sixth Round, 159th Overall: Johan Gustafsson, G, Farjestads BK (SEL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Gustafsson’s stock as a prospect has completely crumbled after his 2014-15 campaign, and there is plenty of reason to assume that his time with the organization is at a close.
Although he was fine in the limited viewings that Wild scouts undoubtedly saw, namely the 2010 U-18s, Gustafsson really never had amateur numbers to suggest an elite athlete. He backstopped Team Sweden to its first gold medal in a generation at the 2012 World Juniors but, in fairness, the team relied mostly on its incredible wealth of talent at every other position. Anton Forsberg (CBJ) put up better numbers at that level then, and has continued the trend now.
Post-draft, Gustafsson had two excellent seasons in a row for Luleå of the SHL, with save percentages of around .933. Coming to North America he was tasked with doing the same, and with very poor teams in front of him in Des Moines, he just was not up to the challenge. Putting up an .893 save percentage this season as the putative starter did not cut it at all, not when John Curry’s numbers of a 2.66 goals against average and .917 save percentage were markedly superior. A stint in the ECHL did not help Gustafsson recover his form or his confidence.
Gustafsson’s time in North America looks to be at a close, at least for the next two seasons, as he signed a deal with Frolunda of the SHL in May. It should also be said, goalies often have these types of down seasons only to reappear on the radar years later.
Seventh Round, 189th Overall: Dylen McKinlay, RW, Chilliwack Bruins (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Just one year after drafting Dylen McKinlay out of Chilliwack, the Wild relinquished rights to him. The team never issued a press statement regarding its decision and maintains its silence to this day.
Post-draft, McKinlay bounced around the British Columbia-based WHL teams, having stints in Kelowna and Kootenay as well. He was productive for each of them, especially in 2012-13 with Kelowna, putting up 68 points in 72 games. McKinlay, after taking some time off from hockey, has continued his career in the role of a scholar-athlete for the University of Regina hockey program where he led the squad in scoring this past season.