2011 NHL Draft: Minnesota Wild had good outing that might have been more

By Peter Prohaska
Jonas Brodin - Minnesota Wild

Photo: Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin had just seven points in the regular season but three in the playoffs, showing the skill level that has been too often muted in his young career  (courtesy of David Berding/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The 2011 NHL Draft was held in the Minnesota Wild’s own yard, which put a little bit of pressure on the scouts and managers not to fumble things. It remains to this day an open question whether Chuck Fletcher took that opportunity to put his mark on the Wild in a positive or negative way. His tenure as General Manager had already gotten off to a rocky start when he sent the Wild’s 2009 first-rounder Nick Leddy off to Chicago in exchange for Cam Barker, who put up five points in 52 games in the 2010-11 season for the Wild and was out of the NHL soon thereafter.

Fletcher was at it again this day in June, sending away 2016 Norris Trophy finalist and 90-point scorer Brent Burns along with a 2012 second round pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, and the 28th pick in the 2011 draft.

One notable positive about the Chuck Fletcher era has been a series of late-round picks that are trending toward being – or have in some cases become – productive pro players. Erik Haula stands out, of course, but the 2011 draft also has a couple of good possibilities. One has to contrast that with some disappointments, but every draft class has missed opportunities.

1st Round, 10th Overall: Jonas Brodin, Färjestad J20 (Sweden)
NHL Games: 263
Status: NHL Player

The Wild has gotten very good value out of Jonas Brodin. Although this class has not been deep in quality defensemen, Brodin only trails top-five pick Adam Larsson by a few games and a few points, and has proven a durable, intelligent and useful player in his young career.

The knock on him prior to the draft continues today, as he just does not seem like a player who can contribute to – much less drive – the offensive side of the game. Positionally sound, extremely mobile, and reasonably effective in terms of checking, Brodin’s safe approach often leaves observers wanting a bit more. Given leave to play with the puck on his stick, Brodin has shown offensive upside in the past. A potential pairing with an aggressive shooter like Matt Dumba, a bit more leeway to skate the puck past the blueline, and a more offensively-oriented team in general next season might see Brodin step up his reputation as one of the better young defensemen in the league.

1st Round, 28th Overall: Zack Phillips, C, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: Prospect (St. Louis Blues)

A prospect in name only, Zack Phillips was most recently traded to the St. Louis organization from Boston’s in exchange for future considerations. He provided some ECHL scoring for the Kalamazoo Wings after failing to record a point at the AHL level for the Chicago Wolves.

There were some reasonable arguments to be made for picking Phillips. Central Scouting ranked him 15th among North American skaters, while ISS also had him in their Top 30. A player with exceptional puck skills, Phillips racked up 95 points in his draft year, plus an additional 24 in the playoffs as the Sea Dogs clinched a Memorial Cup.

Beyond that pedigree were some warning signs that might have averted wasting this pick. The quality of a player’s junior teammates – in this case legitimate NHL talents like Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Jurco, Simon Despres, Nathan Beaulieu, and Stanislav Galiev – can overshadow deficiencies in a player. Phillips was a late birthday, and scouts had questioned his skating ability and strength even at the junior level. The QMJHL is also the weakest competition in the CHL, and gaudy offensive numbers on a powerful team have to be adjusted with that in mind. The Wild’s scouting staff did not.

Phillips was a decent performer in the AHL for Houston and Iowa, but with little improvement in the areas of concern, the organization decided to cut its losses early, receiving Boston’s Jared Knight (a second round bust from 2010) in exchange. Knight could not even stick on the worst team in the AHL, and is unlikely to have a future in the Wild’s system.

In retrospect, there were several players taken after Phillips that might have made a positive impact for the Wild this season. Seeing Brent Burns perform at an All-Star level makes this badly considered pick all the more painful for the Wild and its supporters. In an additional irony, the Nashville Predators eventually acquired Minnesota’s 2012 second round pick from the Sharks and selected a fine young player in Pontus Åberg.

2nd Round, 60th Overall: Mario Lucia, LW/RW, Wayzata High (MN-HS)
NHL Games: 0
Status: Prospect

With several good players emerging from this draft’s second round, one might also wonder whether giving up the 40th overall pick of this draft for Chuck Kobasew and the 30 points he gave the Wild was fair value. It was also an open question whether Mario Lucia deserved an entry-level contract after he made little progress as a college player, but he gets the chance to prove doubters wrong.

Hoping to make a splash, the Wild traded up for Lucia, a Minnesota high school star, by trading away its third and fourth round picks to the Vancouver Canucks. Although David Honzik never trended well for that team, some NHL players have emerged from the third round. The Canucks’ new fourth rounder was used on Holy Angels standout Joseph Labate, who made his own pro debut this season after a fine career at Wisconsin and was effective for the Utica Comets. Lucia will have to work to match him, although he adjusted quickly at the end of the 2015-16 season. With his size, skill and speed, Lucia could be a primary offensive force for Iowa next season. The NHL odds are a bit longer.

5th Round, 131st Overall: Nick Seeler, D, Eden Prairie High (MN-HS)
NHL Games: 0
Status: Prospect

At the time of this pick, one could have wondered whether Nick Seeler simply represented a chance for a mulligan on the Nick Leddy trade. An offensive-minded defenseman out of Eden Prairie, Seeler wasn’t quite the star Leddy was in high school. Nor does he have the same upside as the Islanders stalwart and Stanley Cup winner, but he has come along nicely despite a major bump in the road. Somewhat buried on a deep University of Nebraska-Omaha squad during his first years of college hockey, Seeler produced points but ultimately decided to move back to Minnesota.

The Gophers happily welcomed Seeler to the program. After a mandatory year off due to NCAA rules, Seeler made his debut in the 2015-16 season and was a solid presence. Strong, aggressive and poised with the puck, Seeler looked mature and pro-ready, so the Wild decided to sign him prior to his senior year. Adding some shooting skill to his portfolio could establish Seeler as a legit pro prospect. He should work his way up the depth chart in Iowa as the season progresses but, like Alex Gudbranson, Seeler might benefit from some ECHL time first.

6th Round, 161st Overall: Steve Michalek, G, Loomis Chaffee School (CT-HS)
NHL Games: 0
Status: Prospect

Like Seeler, Steve Michalek had a major speed bump in his career path, albeit one of his own making. Suspended from Harvard for academic impropriety during what would have been his sophomore season, Michalek struggled a bit at the USHL level. He returned to Cambridge a junior, having to earn playing time and trust, but managed to do so.

In 2014-15, Michalek had a breakout campaign for the Crimson, appearing in 37 games and posting a .924 save percentage. The suspension ended up costing Michalek a final year of eligibility, but the Wild took steps to ensure he landed safely. Signing some veteran depth for Iowa was the first step, and Michalek grew throughout the season by playing with the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL. Once Jeremy Smith was sent back to Providence, Michalek was given an opportunity to play at the AHL level. He faded a little bit under the burden of playing for a poor squad, but received some needed seasoning – including a (mostly formal) call-up to Minnesota.

To ensure more positive growth from Michalek, the Wild would do well to insulate the young man again, but he is looking like a potential AHL starter with the possibility of even more.

7th Round, 191st Overall: Tyler Graovac, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
NHL Games: 5
Status: Prospect

Tyler Graovac might well have graduated from prospect status this past season, but a groin injury set him back. An injury history also contributed to the way the Wild was able to pick Graovac at the late stage of this draft. Despite the setbacks, his final season in junior saw him finish above the point-per-game rate, including 22 points in 16 playoff games for the Belleville Bulls.

The 2014-15 season was a breakout year for Graovac as he led the Iowa Wild in scoring by a comfortable margin. He played in all situations and was lauded by head coach John Torchetti as being one of the leaders on an undermanned squad.

There is reason to believe that he will be the Minnesota Wild’s starting fourth-line center when the 2016-17 season begins. A big body with a pro shot, Graovac has developed a good possession game. At 23, Graovac will be in a position to arrive as a solid NHL option next season.

HF looks back at the 2011 NHL Draft of the Minnesota Wild via video, including draft footage of Jonas Brodin, Zack Phillips, and Mario Lucia.

Other Notes

The Wild continues to add depth to a relatively undistinguished group of prospects. In recent months, the team signed college free agent Sam Anas out of Quinnipiac University to an entry-level deal. Anas is a player who is small in stature, and who coincidentally would have been eligible for the 2011 draft. He brings a high level of skill and vision, and showed some toughness by playing through injury in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four.

During the course of the IIHF Men’s World Championship, where Matt Dumba took gold with Team Canada and Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund silver with Team Finland, the Wild took a chance on a relative unknown. After seeing a courageous performance from Team Hungary, a team which won its first game at this tournament in 77 years, the Wild signed goaltender Adam Vay. The 22-year-old has not played in a high-level league, having spent some time in the Slovakian junior ranks, the Russian MHL, the WSHL – where he won a championship with the El Paso Rhinos- and most recently the Hungarian domestic league, the MOL Liga. His .910 save percentage at the WC is a good sign, and he certainly boasts the kind of size that prevails in the NHL ranks these days. With some coaching, Vay may be able to help the situation in the minor leagues in the near future.

Chase Lang - Minnesota WildFinally, the most recent Wild draftee to receive an entry-level deal is 2014 sixth rounder Chase Lang. Lang was over the point-per-game mark after being traded to the Vancouver Giants last season, and did not seem out of place in an end-of-season tryout with Iowa after the WHL season ended for him. The 19-year-old played four seasons in the WHL, and brings a nice mixture of defensive ability and scoring skill. His good showing earned Lang the nod as the Wild’s Prospect of the Month.