Shortly after the 2012 NHL Draft, the Minnesota Wild greatly accelerated their rebuild by adding prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, filling two major organizational holes. With a crop of good prospects ready to compete for important jobs this year and next, the Wild took the long view with their 2012 draft class.
Most of the 2012 draft class won't turn pro for three years minimum, allowing for the current group of top prospects to prove themselves as professionals. This staggering should generate the kind of organizational stability every team needs, but only elite teams really have.
Matt Dumba is a player with an unusual and very intriguing skill set. One of the better skaters in the draft class, Dumba brings quite a bit of offensive ability from the back end, something the Wild have missed dearly in past years. He has good reads on the rush, he can shoot hard and accurately or dish from the point, and creates opportunities constantly with an aggressive approach and good scoring instincts. Dumba's ability to disrupt with powerful checks has also garnered a lot of praise. He is a well-spoken and enthusiastic young man, who captained Team Canada at the U-18s.
The knock on him has been described as a tendency to do too much at times, sacrificing defense for offensive zone opportunity. Faulty positional play is a common and remediable deficiency in all young defenseman though and he'll likely grow calmer. One other major concern with Dumba is whether the physical side of his game will hold up against full-grown men. He isn't a thickly built player, but he'll be able to add muscle. His defensive game will have to improve overall.
More than likely, the Wild will return Dumba to Red Deer next season, allowing him to continue to bulk up and hone his game. He will have ample opportunity to show why some observers had him at the very top of a gifted draft class for defensemen.
Raphaël Bussières, LW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
2nd round, 46th overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 194 lbs
Bussières was a somewhat unexpected pick, but he is a player type the Wild apparently like having in the system. He plays a gritty, agitating game, but also has some decent offensive instincts. Having played on a Baie-Comeau squad that was near the bottom of the league the last couple of seasons, Bussières has not had the benefit of highly gifted teammates to bolster his numbers. Wild scouts may have grown intrigued by Bussières's potential during the QMJHL playoffs. As a 13 seed, Baie-Comeau swept Victoriaville in the opening round, only to earn the displeasure of being swept themselves by the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs and Wild prospects Zack Phillips and Charlie Coyle. Bussières himself played a big part in the first round upset with an effective blend of scoring and defensive play, but was suspended three playoff games for a hit in the Victoriaville series.
Baie-Comeau should be a better squad next season, and one can expect growth in Bussières's scoring numbers and peripheral stats. While he'll need to continue to play with an edge to be effective, recognizing the acceptable line is a big part of his maturation process.
John Draeger, D, Shattuck St. Mary's (Minn Prep)
3rd round, 68th overall
Height: 6'2" Weight: 185
Draeger put together a nice campaign in the 2012 season to finish as the top scoring blueliner for Shattuck. Though he characterizes himself as a shutdown, physical defender, he has a good skill set with and without the puck. Draeger was asked to do a lot for his team, and delivered as an on and off-ice leader. Quality of character is certainly something the Wild look for in all its draft picks, and Draeger seems to possess that quality.
A late 1993 birthday, plus his already good size and frame, should see him start with the Michigan State Spartans this coming fall. Michigan State has certainly turned out its share of quality NHL defenders over the years, but moreover the NCAA's realignment could also prove advantageous for the quality of competition for players in the Big Ten. The adjustment from high school hockey to top tier college hockey is a major one for defensemen, but Draeger seems poised to meet the challenge.
Adam Gilmour, RW, Noble & Greenough School (Mass Prep)
4th round, 98th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 194 lbs
As this pick was announced, it was clear that the Wild had a plan to follow. Another prep school standout, Gilmour put up two points a game for his Nobles squad. While he plays in a New England circuit that's maybe a notch below Minnesota's, the Wild have been scouting there actively as well, selecting Steve Michalek out of Loomis Chaffee at the 2011 draft.
Gilmour has a good frame and size. He possesses good offensive instincts, and doesn't seem to have a major deficiency. Though characterized as a two-way center, he has shown some offensive flair too. With all these high school picks, projections are a little difficult, but it's worth noting that he was a high pick at the USHL draft (second overall) and has already committed to the nation's top collegiate program at Boston College.
Again, his timeframe is three years down the road, but Gilmour has several positive indicators and could put up impressive scoring numbers next season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL.
Daniel Gunnarsson, D, Luleå HF (SEL)
5th round, 128th overall
Height: 6'4 Weight: 207 lbs
Gunnarson is a 1992 birthday and consequentially in the older range of this draft class. Most likely the Wild noticed him as he played for Johan Gustafsson's Luleå squad last season. Gunnarson is not a spectacular prospect by the numbers, but he has played quite a bit for Sweden internationally, and has been a steady professional defender so far in his young career. Gunnarsson may not have the skating ability to play at the NHL level, but it doesn't appear to be terrible either.
A right-handed shot who is capable of physical play and good positionally, Gunnarsson represents a good bet for the future. He only played around twelve minutes a game last season for his club, with minimal power play time. One can expect those numbers and his role overall to increase. Drafting out of Europe can be an advantage, since the Wild can easily keep tabs on him in Luleå, and get him to Houston for seasoning as needed down the road. With another year on his contract in Sweden, Gunnarsson isn't likely to go anywhere in 2012-13, but certainly it will be interesting to get a closer look at this player going forward.
Christoph Bertschy, C/RW, Bern (NLA)
6th round, 158th overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 170 lbs
An intriguing pick, Bertschy is a smallish forward praised for his on-ice intelligence and has become one of Switzerland's top prospects. He played professional hockey this season as a teenager with Bern, and though the NLA is still just a step below the pro leagues in Sweden and Finland, the quality of competition seems to improve every year. With teammates including ex-NHLers Byron Ritchie and J.P. Dumont among other seasoned European pros, Bertschy finished in his team's top ten in scoring over a shortened 31 game season.
He is a good, not great skater, who is strong for his size. Bertschy's best asset is probably is playmaking, but he can score goals as well. Scouting reports have criticized his dedication to physical fitness, which speaks to his talent level if true.
Bertschy has a long track record of international competition going back to U-16. Although he has been reasonably productive in tournament play he hasn't clearly differentiated himself as elite. In all, there are several positive arrows, and if he can show improvement in the NLA next year, he does have the natural instincts that could translate to North American pro hockey.
Louis Nanne, LW, Edina Hornets (Minn HS)
7th round, 188th overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 175 lbs
Nanne is a legacy pick, the son of Wild scout Marty Nanne and grandson of former North Stars GM and state tournament broadcaster (and Twin Cities homer) Lou Nanne. A fan could wonder if the team picked the best possible young man based on these family connections, but picks based on bloodlines and personal knowledge of a player's character can represent better bets. From a marketing perspective this is a logical and natural selection to make and the team seemed confident that Nanne was the right choice.
Nanne was a standout player and state champion at Edina, one of Minnesota's most storied high school programs. Edina head coach Curt Giles is a true legend of Minnesota hockey and has had good success with his program. Nanne was a point-per-game player roughly in his career, but it is the intangible factor that led the Wild to this selection.
The natural comparison here is with 2011 draftee Mario Lucia, as Nanne also plans to go play a year in Penticton (BCHL) before starting a collegiate career. Lucia was clearly too good for the BCHL, but he is also a bigger and faster player. Nanne has plenty of drive as well and has committed to the University of Minnesota for the 2013-14 season.