Although Mikael Granlund remains the Wild's number one prospect, the depth for the Minnesota Wild continues to improve under Chuck Fletcher's watch. With the draft taking place on home turf, the Wild made a wise but somewhat surprising move to add another blue-chip defense prospect in Jonas Brodin. They then traded pending free agent Brent Burns for two prospects, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips, the latter selected with San Jose's first round pick. The addition of these players can only improve the long-term outlook of the franchise.
1. (1) Mikael Granlund, C, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 9th overall, 2010
Granlund retains his top ranking in our Top 20. After an astonishing first professional season that led to the Wild taking him at number nine, Granlund stood the risk of an underwhelming sophomore campaign. This was in part the case; he was injured early with a concussion and missed a good chunk of games. However, he kept up his precocious scoring pace despite the increased attention from the opposition. He played a big role in the team's SM-Liiga Championship. For an encore, Granlund scored the goal of the year, helping Finland win a World Championship.
Granlund appears to be ready right now to take a regular shift in the NHL. His playmaking ability is extraordinary, and he has shown that some concerns about his skating are alleviated by his tenacity. While he doesn't appear large, Granlund has proven to be fearless and capable of winning board battles. His skating isn't gamebreaking, but appears at least adequate. However, the plan remains for him to remain in Finland for another year in order to fulfill his military obligations, his high school education, and perhaps to round out his frame a bit.
2. (NR) Charlie Coyle, RW, 8.0C
Acquired via trade with San Jose, June 2011
Coyle was considered the top prospect in the San Jose Sharks system, prior to the draft day trade that brought him to the Minnesota fold. He had a good year with Boston University, scoring seven goals and 26 points in 37 games, but also played a big role on the United States' bronze medal winning team at the U20 WJC.
The 19-year-old would also receive an invite to the 2012 US National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid where in six games he would manage a goal and five assists.
Coyle brings excellent speed for his size. For his sophomore season, expectations are very high for Coyle. Boston University is a good team that struggled to score, and will certainly look to the talented winger to use his size and speed to create opportunities.
3. (NR) Jonas Brodin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 1st Round, 10th overall, 2011
Brodin quietly rose through the draft ranks to be selected tenth by the Wild. Not flashy offensively, Brodin is described more often as calm. He has all the tools to be a top pairing defenseman. His skating, positioning, passing and reads have drawn much praise thus far. Although it's not really his game to be an offensive catalyst at this stage, he played significant minutes for Swedish Elite League champions Färjestad and handled himself well.
Whether an additional season in Sweden, where the play tends to be more structured and somewhat less physical than the AHL, is the best course, remains to be seen. Like all defenseman, Brodin will have to grow into his frame fully in order to be successful. Finding the ability to put up some points would answer many concerns about his ultimate upside. For now, his intellectual gifts seem to serve him well.
4. (2) Marco Scandella, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 55th overall, 2008
Scandella did not do much to impress last season, but he seems to be showing steady progress. It probably wasn't in the organization's plans to play Scandella in 20 NHL games, but injuries pressed him into service. He seemed much more poised at the AHL level, more capable of using his size. Hitting is one of the better parts of his game, and one would expect the timing and confidence to be better next season. Also he didn't get many chance to use his offense with the Wild, but could be closer to picking up power play minutes. At this point in his career, Scandella seems like a future top four option.
5. (3) Matt Hackett, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd Round, 77th overall, 2009
Hackett took over as starter for the Houston Aeros in just his first professional season, displacing Anton Khudobin (who was eventually sent to the Bruins). He put up solid numbers for Mike Yeo's AHL squad, especially a respectable .916 save percentage in the regular season. As the Aeros began the playoffs, Hackett's responsibilities increased quite a bit. The rookie goaltender backstopped the team all the way to game six of the Calder Cup finals. While his numbers do not speak to a dominant performance, Hackett played well enough to give his team a chance to win.
Still very young for a goalie prospect, Hackett faces the challenge of replicating his success on a somewhat diminished Aeros squad. He will also face the challenges to the starting role from veteran European goaltender Dennis Endras and a very similar hotshot rookie in Darcy Kuemper. One has to assume nonetheless that the spot is his to lose at this point after a very promising rookie campaign.
6. (4) Jason Zucker, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 59th overall, 2010
Zucker finished with 23 goals and 45 points in 40 games as a freshman. He was named the WCHA rookie of the year, but Zucker's ceiling seems to keep getting higher. He has speed and puck skills, but is also demonstrating a drive to elevate his game at the right moments, scoring for example a game-winning overtime goal to get Denver into the WCHA Final Five. He also finished third in his age group in NCAA hockey (behind Columbus prospect T.J. Tynan and Blues draft pick Jaden Schwartz). While he was victimized by a Martin Marincin (EDM) head shot during World Junior play and missed some contests, Zucker is expected to play on a third consecutive World Juniors squad for the United States, having won a gold and bronze medal in prior years.
While Zucker will certainly draw more attention from opposing coaches next season during the college hockey season, an equally impressive campaign is expected from the talented winger. Another challenge will be new league configurations throughout college hockey, which will lead to a slighter higher level of competition this upcoming season.
7. (NR) Zack Phillips, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st Round, 28th overall, 2011
Phillips had a dream season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, winning the Memorial Cup and dominating the QMJHL in convincing fashion. While the team boasted several stars, most notably top five pick Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA), Phillips played an integral role in setting up and finishing for his talented teammates. Sometimes taking faceoffs and shifting to wing, he is a very versatile player with excellent abilities at passing, shooting, and stick-handling.
The major criticism of his game is his skating. For this reason, he is likely to return to Saint John for an overage season. While he has little to prove at the CHL level, Phillips may have the opportunity to show again that he deserves to be mentioned among his talented teammates.
8. (7) Johan Larsson, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd Round, 56th overall, 2010
Larsson did not really seem to take a significant step forward in 2011. It was his first professional season and he understandably started slowly. Brynäs was also a middling team this year, but Larsson mostly played third line minutes. Shifted to wing for the most part, his faceoff totals struggled despite dominance earlier in his career. Placed back in his peer group, Larsson played significant roles for Sweden's Juniors squad again. He is certainly a leader among his own age group, and comparisons to players like Anton Lander and Gabriel Landeskog are not far-fetched. Larsson may project as a third-liner, used primarily in checking assignments, but bursts of offense at the international level certainly suggest there is more there. He will return to Sweden this season, and some progress in his responsibilities and numbers is certainly expected.
9. (5) Tyler Cuma, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st Round, 23rd Overall 2008
Cuma has had some hard luck with injuries that last few years, and it's starting to feel like a pattern. He only got into 31 games for the Aeros, almost too small a sample size to truly assess his professional ability. Obviously the Wild scouting staff was once convinced of tremendous upside, trading up to draft him in 2008. Indeed Cuma does have the skill set of a top pairing defender, but durability is a major issue, especially with the reoccurring knee injuries he experienced. Indications are that he will be ready to start the season. If so, he will likely have the opportunity to play top pairing minutes. Just getting through the season healthy will be a success for the defenseman.
10. (12) Justin Falk, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 110th overall, 2007
Justin Falk got a nice opportunity to earn some NHL money last season, but never looked totally comfortable in the big league. For a man his size, he demonstrates some smoothness moving the puck and skating, but also fails to intimidate. Mining his mean streak is a good idea for the man from Snowflake, Mantioba. That said, Falk was certainly an adequate top four option in Houston.
Another year of development for him to round out his two-way game and physical play should greatly benefit the towering blueliner.
11. (7) Colton Gillies, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 1st Round, 16th overall, 2007
It seems strange Gillies has already played 52 NHL games though he was still finding his game in the AHL this year. The big forward did make improvements this year, scoring a bit better, but also is held back by the occasional ill-advised penalty or giveaway. He skates well, has size, and some offense, so it is not totally unrealistic to imagine him in a third or fourth line role in St. Paul next season. In his case perhaps more than any other prospect, Gillies should benefit from familiarity with Head Coach Yeo, who seemed to finally get a measure of consistency from the forward.
12. (8) Cody Almond, C, 6.5B
Drafted 5th Round, 140th overall, 2007
One of the crucial components for the Aeros last season, Almond showed that he understands his role and is growing into a very capable practitioner. His ultimate upside is limited, he has played in 15 NHL games over two years and registered only one point. However, as a third line checker, Almond has defensive awareness, toughness and faceoff skills. His injury late in the playoffs was a major part of the Aeros coming up short against Binghamton. This season is a crucial one for Almond. He would have to demonstrate a bit more offense to take Kyle Brodziak's job, but could conceivably win a job on the fourth line.
13. (11) Casey Wellman, RW, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, March 2010
Wellman was a proven scorer at the college level, and hasn't looked too out of place so far in the AHL in that role. He is a bit one-dimensional as far as that goes, but his shot and scoring sense give him an opportunity to play in the top six. He is still rather slight of frame and struggles a bit with physicality, but can certainly be effective given the right situation.
Wellman saw 15 games of NHL action last season, managing only a goal and an assist. With the Wild already making radical changes to their group of forwards this off-season the clock is ticking for the 23-year-old to prove he can carve out a niche at the NHL level.
14. (6) Erik Haula, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 7th Round, 182nd overall, 2009
Haula had a nice freshman year, managing 24 points in 34 games and generally being one of few bright spots in an uncharacteristically weak season for the Minnesota Gophers. The team saw several departures and graduations this past off-season, so Haula will be counted on to provide a greater amount of offense for 2011-12, particularly on the powerplay.
15. (9) Brett Bulmer, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 39th overall, 2010
Bulmer looked like a bit of a project when he was drafted, and another season with Kelowna did not dispel that impression. He scored at a reasonable clip, but was a double-digit minus on a plus-39 team. Add to that a penalty minute total not really inflated by a fighter's role, and Bulmer doesn't seem to have the defensive conscience one expects of a Wild prospect. He can skate, has size, and with another season in the WHL probably gets ample opportunity to use these natural tools to rack up more impressive totals. His playoff call-up to the Aeros did not have much going for it all, and ended in yet another injury.
Bulmer has looked much better in the WHL playoffs than in the regular season, and with a little luck, can cap his junior career by growing into his potential.
16. (16) Darcy Kuemper, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th Round, 161st overall, 2009
One rarely expects much of a sixth rounder, but the Wild's knack for discovering goaltending talent was on display again this past season. Kuemper had a marvelous third season between the pipes for Red Deer. He took home numerous honors for his performance, including CHL goaltender of the year, and WHL player of the year, beating out teammate and first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM).
Kuemper ran into a string of brutal starts in the playoffs, including a freak injury when he stumbled during warm-ups. It's always good to temper expectations for goalie prospects, and his playoff performance did that effectively. In the larger picture, Kuemper put together steadily improving seasons. He looks ready to make the jump to the AHL, where the Aeros currently have the luxury of several good options between the pipes.
17. (15) Jared Spurgeon, D, 6.0B
Signed as Free Agent, September 2010
A former Islanders prospect, the Edmonton native surprised many with his strong play as a bottom pair option for the Wild. Spurgeon is a steady presence on the blue line with decent offensive instincts. He showed well on the power play at both the NHL and AHL levels last season. The Wild's defense corps is in no better shape this year, so Spurgeon looks to have a roster spot. He is not a large man, so he will on occasions be physically overmatched by the larger forwards in the Western conference. Spurgeon's hockey sense and positioning are pretty sound however, and he notably took only a single minor penalty in 53 NHL games.
18. (14) Nate Prosser, D, 6.0C
Signed as free agent, March 2010
Prosser is a solid, if unspectacular defenseman. He has the benefit of four years at Colorado College, and could see a call-up this season. He provides a steady game and has just enough offense to consider it a strength. At 25, his ceiling may just be that of an AHL regular, but his important role in steadying the Aeros, and his good sense of the game might get him additional opportunities.
19. (17) Kristopher Foucault, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th Round, 103rd Overall 2009
Foucault is a very talented player who hasn't quite made the jump. He obviously struggled quite a bit to find his offense this season on a Calgary team that badly missed the contributions of Brandon Kozun (LAK). It wasn't so much a precipitous decline, as another middling season. That said, the skills are obviously there. It seems likely Foucault can produce at the pro level and Houston could certainly use his contributions.
20. (NR) Mikko Lehtonen, RW, 7.0F
Acquired via trade, February 2011
Lehtonen was acquired in a swap with the Bruins in which yeoman goaltender Anton Khudobin was sent away for some more scoring skill. Lehtonen has always been a bit of an enigma, putting up great numbers while with Providence of the AHL but ultimately growing frustrated with the organization and heading back to Europe. This past season he demonstrated his skills again with Skellefteå of the Swedish Elite League, leading the league in goals. Rather than try the North American game again, Lehtonen signed a contract with Cherepovets of the KHL, which will have him abroad for another season. It is unlikely that his Russian season will have him working on the elements he needs to improve, namely using his big frame to create chances. Lehtonen is an undeniable talent, but at this point he may never return to crack an NHL roster.