Minnesota Wild 2011 draft preview

By Peter Prohaska

 

Photo: One of the top ranked European players for the 2011 draft, Joel Armia's natural goal-scoring ability would be a nice fit for a Minnesota Wild team that has struggled offensively. (Photo courtesy of Holly GunningHF)

 

Top 10 prospects

 

1. Mikael Granlund, C
2. Marco Scandella, D
3. Matt Hackett, G
4. Jason Zucker, LW
5. Tyler Cuma, D
6. Erik Haula, LW
7. Colton Gillies, LW
8. Cody Almond, C
9. Brett Bulmer, RW
10. Johan Larsson, LW

Team Needs

The Wild since its inception has had the reputation of a sound defensive club. While there appears to be an ongoing transition to a more offensively dynamic outlook, the offense was something of a sore spot. Only the woeful Oilers had a worse goals output in the West. The defensive side was a little better relative to the pack, but the team sported a very ugly minus-27 goal differential. The team's leading scorer, Martin Havlat, had just 22 goals. He and captain Mikko Koivu led with 62 points.

That in mind, there are finally some offensively gifted prospects on the way, led by Finnish national hero Mikael Granlund, whose brilliant goal at the World Championships brought him philatelic immortality and a gold medal. That success is enhanced by the surprising run to the AHL Calder Cup Finals enjoyed by the Houston Aeros. Prospects who haven't had much to celebrate in the past years now get to enjoy the thrill of victories.

Organizational Strengths

The Wild have a good goaltender in Nicklas Backstrom signed through 2013, so the team can afford some patience with Matt Hackett, Dennis Endras, and Darcy Kuemper. Johan Gustafsson, the sixth round pick of 2010, is also highly thought of, and is on a solid development track over in Sweden.

After several years of slim pickings on the wings, that problem seems adequately addressed, with skill players like Brett Bulmer, Erik Haula, and Jason Zucker taking positive strides this past year. The Wild also have a number of good complementary players.

Organizational Weaknesses

The organization is short on gamebreakers, but there is finally some hope at least. Increasingly, the more pressing need seems to be in the area of defense. The Wild has gone out and signed some free agents (Chay Genoway, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser) to try and bolster the depth, but could use players with more upside. Another issue is redundancy: a lot of players with similar skill-sets, most of which are best classified as third-liners. There are modesty useful players, and then there are players of all-too-limited utility.

Draft Tendencies

The Wild has a rotten track record at the draft table. There have been misses, odd trades, and some bad luck. For most watchers, the last two years show wonderful improvement in both analysis and strategy. New head coach Mike Yeo has a history with GM Chuck Fletcher from their time with the Pittsburgh Penguins so the head coaching change will not affect how the organization drafts. With the draft taking place at home, the Wild have additional pressure to make the most of their picks. Unfortunately, the team is missing its second rounder, sent to Boston for the disappointing Chuck Kobasew. No two observers agree on much outside the top five or six prospects likely to be off the board when the Wild picks.

Hockey's Future staff mock draft result:

No. 10: Joel Armia C/W

A 6'3 sniper currently playing in the SM-Liiga, Armia saw a slight decline in his draft stock from the beginning of the season but is still considered one of the better pure goal-scorers in the draft. He seems to have the uncanny ability to find open scoring lanes, something that should greatly benefit a lackluster Wild powerplay.