Minnesota Wild depth analysis, Fall 2010

By Peter Prohaska

The Wild continue to grow a little stronger and a little deeper with Chuck Fletcher leading the way, but the organization still lacks the kind of elite skill players other teams have in their pipelines. Though the Wild moved to address its weak pool along the wings, outside of Mikael Granlund, there is still a lack of blue-chip prospects at forward. The defensive pool is pretty good as far as shutdown guys, but could use more high-end offensive skill. The goaltending prospects are progressing pretty well, and represent the area of least concern. It’s no surprise that the same types of players can be found through the organization, but whether that represents the best chance for success remains a dubious proposition.

Left Wing

2007 first round pick Colton Gillies is still the top Wild prospect at this position (despite playing a bit of center this season) and he remains stuck in the same limbo where’s he’s been most of his career. Gillies has the offensive tools to contribute more, but has to make the most of his chances whether he’s with Houston or St. Paul. Petr Kalus and Matt Kassian continue to muck it up with the Aeros. Kalus is contributing some of the offense he proved quite capable of as a junior, and Kassian is a pretty decent fighter at least.

2010 second round pick Johan Larsson had a disappointing start to his season with the SEL’s Brynäs side, got demoted to the SuperElit and is dominating at that level. He seems to be a player who thrives in big roles, although he has been described as a defensive and faceoff specialist. Finnish sniper Jere Sallinen continues to come along slowly with the SM-Liiga Blues.

The WCHA is home to two more left wing prospects, and Minnesota’s Erik Haula hasn’t looked out of place at all in the early going. Jason Zucker has chipped in for the Denver Pioneers as well, and both freshmen will have a chance to contribute for their squads as the schedules get tougher.

2009 fourth-rounder Kris Foucault returned to the Calgary Hitmen for another season, and he’s off to a pretty good start. He has great size and exceptional hands, but needs to show an ability to dominate consistently in the WHL.


Center

First rounder Mikael Granlund continues to put up points for HIFK of the SM-Liiga, but some suggest he is struggling since being moved from wing to center. He’s good all over the ice, but with more teams keying on him this season, the points won’t come as easily.

The Aeros aren’t really strong down the middle with great two-way guys, but have a few players capable of fulfilling limited roles. Capitals castoff Joel Broda and collegiate standout Casey Wellman can be counted on to score. Wellman in particular will see NHL time this season. Cody Almond is a very promising checking line player. Chad Rau looks like a career AHLer at this point, but he is a solid contributor.

Anthony Hamburg has played in just one game as a freshman at Colgate University. He was a pretty effective playmaker at the USHL level, and it won’t be his good frame that limits his hockey potential.

Right Wing

The right side is still an area of concern depth-wise for the Wild. The team drafted Brett Bulmer in the second round of 2010, in a pick some felt was a bit of a reach. The lanky Bulmer has put up a few points for Kelowna, but everyone would like to see more physicality from him, as well as consistent mental engagement.

Carson McMillan was a late round pick in 2007 and worked his way to a contract with a solid first pro season. Somewhat in the mold of Clutterbuck, McMillan skates and hits pretty well, and scored at a terrific pace in his final junior season.

The Wild also signed Minnesota native Jarod Palmer out of Miami University. He was a prolific scorer in his senior season on a good hockey team, and could be another steal from the college free agent ranks.

2010 pick Dylen McKinlay also plays an effective ‘energy line’ role for the Chilliwack Bruins, but suffered an injury from a knee-to-knee hit and is out for a while.

Defense

Big Justin Falk earned a spot with the Wild with a good training camp. He doesn’t have much to show for it so far, with Coach Todd Richards leaning pretty heavily on his top four guys, but his play has been encouraging to date.

The entire Aeros blue line has struggled so far, though Maxim Noreau leads the offensively-challenged AHL club in shots. He, along with Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser, can put up points, and should improve as the club does throughout the season. Prosser didn’t score a ton during his career at Colorado College, but has ability.

Marco Scandella and Tyler Cuma are both 2008 draftees and are being developed on somewhat of a parallel track. First-rounder Cuma has a smoother game, and this year will be of obvious importance in seeing whether he can get back on track to his top-two potential. Scandella is the grittier player, and transitioned well in a brief stint with the Aeros last year.

Kyle Medvec hasn’t yet tallied a point to start his senior year at the University of Vermont, but was a contributor from the blue line last year. He has the size of a professional defender for certain.

Sean Lorenz was drafted by the Wild out of the U.S. National Team and is now in his third season with Notre Dame, playing as a shutdown player.

Bjorn Krupp was an abysmal -42 for the Belleville Bulls last year and looks to be on the way to equaling that mark. He has the size and the bloodlines of an NHLer, and the Bulls are no powerhouse, but the returns aren’t promising.

The Wild and signed two free agents this summer as well: Josh Caron and Colton Jobke. Caron is playing with Kamloops, but broke a clavicle and is out at least two months. Jobke, who plays with a vicious edge, is with the Kelowna Rockets, and wears the A.

Goaltending

The Wild spent a high draft pick on Matt Hackett (third round, 77th overall) in 2009 and he is progressing pretty well in his first professional season, despite not getting much goal support yet. Incumbent starter Anton Khudobin looked to be the backup for the Wild to start the season, before the club rescued Jose Theodore from free agency to provide occasional support for Nicklas Backstrom. Khudobin doesn’t always have the numbers to prove it, but has been a reliable goaltender at every level.

Fellow 2009 draftee Darcy Kuemper (6th round) went back to Red Deer where he is playing very well for the Rebels. Keeping Kuemper in the WHL provides armchair GMs with an excellent test case as to goaltender development strategy.

Finally, Swede Johan Gustafsson rounds out the goaltending prospects. He has good size and ability, and has put up great tournament numbers. Similar to Johan Larsson, Gustafsson’s performance at the World U-18s in 2010 seemed to grab the attention of the Wild’s European scouts. Gustafsson seems to struggle with promotion a bit, but his numbers are very good at the Allsvenskan level this year.