The Wild's system was bolstered again at the 2012 NHL Draft, with Red Deer defenseman Matt Dumba immediately jumping into the top five. While the team did not graduate many players last season, the team willingly parted ways with a few prospects that did not look to be part of the program going forward. None of the 2012 draftees are very close to cracking an NHL roster, but several have enough upside to be included here.
Overall, the Wild's drafting and development has improved dramatically since the early days of the expansion franchise, and though the true test of these players' mettle is still on the horizon, the system looks as good as it ever has.
1. (1) Mikael Granlund, C, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 9th overall, 2010
Granlund is likely to be a regular with the Wild next season. The acquisition of free agent Zach Parise helps to take pressure and attention off Granlund and should allow him to face more favorable match-ups. He will have the same learning curve as all rookies but should be able to adjust his game.
The Finnish center has shown incredible creativity and vision so far as a pro. Able to handle the puck in close quarters and find seams just as they open, he should thrive with even more skilled linemates to finish his passes. Granlund has had to step up physically, as well as add a shooting mentality to his game to adjust to the defensive schemes other teams prepared for him. He will never be a Pavel Bure-type skater, but he has tremendous strength and good overall mobility. Granlund should immediately slot into the Wild's top six next season, and could be one of the league's top power-play producers as well.
2. (4) Jonas Brodin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 1st Round, 10th overall, 2011
Jonas Brodin has been on the fast track for a couple of seasons now, playing top four minutes with his pro club, Farjestad. He played a featured role for Sweden at the World Juniors as expected, taking home a gold medal. His role at the IIHF World Championship was also impressive for the trust his coaches showed, which manifested in Brodin taking ice time away from some NHL players.
The Swedish Elite League does not produce high offensive numbers for many players, so Brodin's lack of offense is not a huge concern in this context yet. While he is capable of making good passes and skating with the puck, his offensive instincts will tell the tale of his ultimate upside. Wild observers will want to focus on his game away from the puck and the fact he is an incredible skater with an innate sense of position. His shot could use work, and he would be limited at the NHL level if he cannot get the puck to the net with regularity. Brodin will also needs more muscle to be effective at the NHL level, but his cerebral play has him marked as a potentially special player.
3. (5) Charlie Coyle, C/RW, 8.0C
Trade with Sharks, June 24th, 2011
Charlie Coyle left Boston University around the Christmas break and joined the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. He proceeded to run wild over the competition, scoring 38 points in 23 regular season games and adding a team record 34 more in 17 playoff games. Though the team fell short of winning a second straight Memorial Cup, it thoroughly dominated the competition.
Having shown his ability to stand out in two different leagues, as well as on the international stage, Coyle now has the burden of equaling his successes to show progress. Although the speed and size of college hockey, where he still managed 26 points in 37 games as a freshman, proved a decent test of his ability, Coyle's size advantage and superior linemates in Saint John have raised expectations sky high.
Coyle could use more speed and does not always show the best hands as a shooter. He was able to knock players around in Saint John, and though still putting on mass, he will have to find new ways to be effective in pro hockey. That said, he has a good toolkit, and a year in the AHL would allow him to learn the pro game without too much pressure.
4. (NR) Matt Dumba, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st Round, 7th overall, 2012
A highly-gifted and dynamic prospect, Dumba represents an exciting opportunity for the Wild. A player who has elite offensive instincts to go with excellent skating and shooting, he just has to come along with the intellectual side of the game to be a top threat. A player who can hit and join the rush, the maturation process with Dumba will go a long way towards determining his ability to have success at the next level.
Dumba has shown he can score, but even his impressive totals of 20 goals, 57 points in 69 games last season do not quite tell the whole story about the lack of supporting cast. Dumba has been accused of an over-emotional game, and although that can be seen as a sign of true competitive nature, there will have to find a necessary balance over the course of his career. Another year of bulking up, improving his defensive zone coverage, and competing in international play will be of great help to this player who represents such an important part of the Wild's puzzle just down the road.
5. (7) Johan Larsson, C/RW, 7.0B
Drafted 2nd Round, 56th overall, 2010
Johan Larsson continues to pad his resume at such a phenomenal rate that he inspires considerable confidence. The 2011-12 season saw him play an integral role in a SEL championship with Brynas, where he quadrupled his output from the previous season with12 goals and 36 points in a 49-game campaign. He picked up nine more points in 16 playoff games while playing a checking role. He won the SEL Rookie of the Year award, was captain of Sweden's gold medal winning team at the World Juniors, and even skated in a limited role for Team Sweden at the World Championships.
Critics will complain about a lack of obvious offensive gifts, but he has a knack for creating opportunities through strength and positioning. His defensive acumen is quite solid for his experience level, and he brings skill on the faceoff circle and special teams as well. Larsson will most likely be in Houston next season, but he is tracking as well as any prospect in the Wild system.
6. (3) Matt Hackett, G, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 77th overall, 2009
Hackett nearly replicated his stats from 2010-11 with the Houston Aeros by earning a .917 save percentage in 44 games last season, and he also played a memorable stint filling in for the Wild. Hackett's .922 save percentage over twelve NHL games gives hope that he could be the starter once there is a vacancy at that position. That will not be this year, unless Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom ends up on IR again next season.
Hackett is a sound goaltender who is bucking the trend of putting giant bodies in the pipes. He moves well and has the battler's mentality. While he may get beat on the glove more than he should, he has moved quickly up the ranks and made the necessary saves. In the chaotic world of projecting goaltending, it is hard to argue with the style when he has shown such a tremendous will to keep games close and shine when needed.
7. (8) Zack Phillips, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 28th overall, 2011
Zack Phillips is a great talent who is held back from being an elite talent by a lack of size and truly dynamic skating ability. That caveat out of the way, he is still just 19 years old and has shown improvement in his skating as he has emerged as a top player in the QMJHL in recent seasons. Though he played for a strong and deep Saint John squad, Phillips was also a big part of making that machine work. He saw his point total drop from 95 to 80 in 60 games last season, but responded with a strong playoff performance of nine goals and 32 points in 17 games.
At the close of the year, out of all the talented players on the Saint John team, Phillips was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. He was a consistent and productive force in his final year. While he needs to work on some aspects of his game, a similarly-dominant performance on the score sheet is certainly within his reach as an Aero next season. He seems to have the talent and character to make the necessary improvements.
8. (6) Jason Zucker, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd Round, 59th overall, 2010
Zucker fell in the top 20 rankings, but he had a great sophomore season with Denver with 22 goals and 46 points in 38 games and signed a pro contract with the Wild. Although he missed some time, he showed a lot of grit in bouncing back from a couple of nasty high hits over the last two seasons. While Zucker does not immediately stand out for his puck skills, he has good strength, makes good reads, and has speed that is a cut above his peer group.
In a six-game showcase with the Wild, he showed that his speed will be an asset at the pro level as well. Though he will likely be with Houston next season, it will be an opportunity to refine his offensive abilities. Zucker is sometimes thought of as having a grinder's upside, but he has the vision to translate some measure of his collegiate and international offense to the pros.
9. (14) Brett Bulmer, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd Round, 39th overall, 2010
Bulmer returned to the Kelowna Rockets after a pretty impressive nine-game stint with the Wild, showing a new level of offensive ability by scoring 34 goals and 62 points in 53 WHL games. Against smaller and younger players, he was able to use his strength effectively to create space. He will not necessarily be called on to do that as a pro, but the results of this past season were highly encouraging.
Bulmer has a real chance to make the Wild this season. He is a good skater who shows a fearless streak when seeking to make a hit. He has the size to be effective at this role, and should improve as he continues adding muscle. His ability to think the game on special teams, as well as contribute a decent amount of offense, will go a long way toward determining the success of the Wild in the future.
10. (NR) Mario Lucia, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 60th overall, 2011
Mario Lucia played last season on a dominant Penticton Vees team in the BCHL, scoring 42 goals and 93 points in 56 games. He added another 16 points in 15 BCHL playoff games for the league champs, tied for first with eight points in five Doyle Cup games, and helped the team to the top prize in Junior A, the Royal Bank Cup. That league is not the best measure of this player's ability, so next season will be the acid test for the talented winger.
Lucia was very impressive at Team USA's junior evaluation camp in August, even after missing prospect camp for some school duties. He will be part of a good hockey tradition at the University of Notre Dame, where his father, University of Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia, played his college hockey. In a quite unfortunate turn of events, Lucia recently suffered a severe leg injury (broken fibula) during training, which puts a damper on things. He should rejoin his team around the Christmas break or perhaps sooner.
11. (13) Erik Haula, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 7th Round, 182nd overall, 2009
Haula had a very strong sophomore season for Minnesota, scoring 20 goals and 49 points over 43 games to finish top ten in NCAA scoring. That excellent performance has raised expectations for the sometimes overlooked Finnish player. This season Haula often got to play somewhat softer minutes as opposing teams focused on Florida Panthers prospects Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad, but he was consistently effective with and without them.
Haula also was used a little more as a center and he managed to show an improved measure of defensive ability. Although he is a better playmaker than scorer, he has the puck skills to create goals on occasion. Another year in college hockey will not impede his development, as he has improved his ability to battle despite average size for the NCAA. The Gophers will look to build on their bounceback 2011-12 season, and Haula should play a major role in their success.
12. (NR) Johan Gustafsson, G, 7.0C
Drafted 6th Round, 159th overall, 2010
Gustafsson had a fine season with Lulea of the Swedish Elite League, taking over as full-time starter. He put up a .932 save percentage, which ranked fifth among goaltenders in the SEL. While that number is partly an indication of the defensive style of play that prevails, it remains an encouraging sign from a goalie whose numbers have not always been a good indicator of his potential.
Team Sweden saw something in the young netminder and Gustafsson kept a clean sheet in the most important game of his career, shutting out Russia with 17 saves in the gold medal match of the 2012 World Junior Championships. While his overall numbers do not scream top-end potential, Gustafsson is coming along nicely. The faith of Team Sweden's management, the Wild scouting staff, and his club team all lead to an upgraded ranking and his first appearance in the Wild’s top 20 rankings.
13. (16) Darcy Kuemper, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th Round, 161st overall, 2009
It is perhaps a little unfair to rank Kuemper behind Gustafsson, as they are tracking very closely. If anything, the older player might get the nod here, and they could easily switch places in the next iteration of this list. Kuemper surprised a lot of people with his superlative final year of junior hockey, and he is tracking well now as a pro. His time in the ECHL was not really a demotion, but instead a sign that the Wild are pretty deep at goaltender and needed to get Kuemper more playing time. He earned a strong .941 save percentage in eight ECHL games, and he also spent time with the Aeros and maintained a respectable .923 save percentage in 19 AHL appearances.
Kuemper's occasional injuries may be cause for concern, but his performance gives plenty of reason for confidence overall. He will be relegated to the back-up role again this season behind Hackett, and if that turns out to be his eventual upside, he has shown decent ability at it.
14. (10) Tyler Cuma, D, 7.0D
Drafted 1st Round, 23rd overall, 2008
The good news for Cuma was a healthy season in 2011-12, but he did not manage to do much offensively despite playing a good amount of minutes for the Aeros. He got his first call-up to the NHL, and should be able to build on the season and make up for lost time.
Cuma was highly praised as a junior out of the Ottawa 67’s for his hockey sense and intelligence, and though he has been robbed of some mobility, another year of AHL work could seem him develop into a valuable depth option for the organization. He is a well-rounded player who provides some calm on the ice. The arrival of Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert, although good additions for the Wild, pushed players like Cuma and Marco Scandella down the depth chart. To say this year is pivotal for the former first-round pick is an understatement, but with good offensive help arriving in Houston, he should get the opportunity to shine.
15. (11) Cody Almond, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th Round, 140th overall, 2007
Almond has not shown a ton of offensive ability in his career thus far, but his 34 points in 65 AHL games in 2010-11 was a reasonable example of what he brings as a player. A defensively responsible center with strong physical play and a token degree of offense, he is the type of player that is part of successful teams.
Almond took a small step back in 2011-12, managing just 15 points in 46 games. What perhaps worried the brass was that he again seemed overwhelmed in the NHL. Given the opportunity, Almond signed with Geneve-Servette of the Swiss League A. An increasing number of NHL players are showing up in Switzerland to find their game, such as Gilbert Brule, or close out a career, as in the case of J-P Dumont. Almond may be able to rediscover some confidence abroad at a slightly lower level of competition.
16. (NR) Jarod Palmer, C, 7.0D
Signed as free agent, April 24th, 2010
Palmer makes his first appearance on the top 20 rankings despite reaching the end of his time as a prospect. He has been a reasonably effective player for the Aeros, although the offense he demonstrated as a senior in the NCAA has not materialized to any appreciable degree at the AHL level. He has a decent shot and plays the game with some intelligence, but is limited by his skating. Palmer also suffered a concussion during his NHL call-up and missed some time with that injury. As a player whose scoring will not be his calling card, Palmer plays sound checking hockey, using his size and instincts to be effective in a bottom-six role.
17. (NR) Justin Fontaine, RW, 6.5D
Signed as free agent, April 19th, 2011
Fontaine was a top collegiate scorer with Minnesota-Duluth and has not missed a beat as a pro. He proved why he was one of the most coveted college free agents in 2011 by finishing second in scoring on the Aeros in his debut season, with 16 goals and 55 points in 73 games. A little undersized for the NHL, Fontaine is nonetheless a high-level thinker on the ice. Always a bit more of the playmaker than the finisher, Fontaine's best strength is probably his ability to read plays in the offensive zone. He should be a good depth option for the Aeros this season and has the tools to carve out a solid pro career.
18. (NR) Raphael Bussieres, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th overall, 2012
Bussieres is a player with a discernible skill set on the ice, but the Wild seemed more inclined to call his name at the 2012 draft based on the combination of skill and character he showed during the QMJHL playoffs. He seemed to will his team to victories and proved to be extremely tough to play against in the five games he played before being suspended for a dangerous late hit.
Bussieres improved as a player, and while he will need another junior season to put it together, he has shown some level of offensive ability. He had 21 goals and 44 points on a team that was not expected to do much. While he does not quite have the size of Brett Bulmer, the Wild seem intent on developing several such players. Bussieres projects as more of a checking-line player, but he could provide the type of upside a good team gets from its bottom-six.
19. (NR) Christoph Bertschy, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 158th overall, 2012
Bertschy has high-level skill and could surprise despite his draft position. In his first year of pro hockey with Bern of the Swiss League, he put up eight goals and 16 points in 31 games. He has been part of the Swiss national program since his under-16 season and served as the team’s captain at the most recent U-18 tournament. There is a lot to like about his skill and offensive acumen.
Some have questioned his commitment to overall fitness, but he is in a favorable position with his club team with several ex-NHL players in the mix who can provide some guidance. He does need to get bigger in order to have a reasonable chance at success in North American pro hockey, but there is every reason to think he is on a decent track for development.
20. (NR) Steven Kampfer, D, 6.0B
Trade with Boston Bruins, February 27th, 2012
Steven Kampfer is a mobile, offensively-minded defenseman who plays with an aggressive streak as well. He is somewhat undersized for an NHL defenseman, but holds his own. Originally drafted by the Ducks in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, his rights were traded to the Bruins for a fourth round pick in 2010 following his senior season at the University of Michigan. He played well enough with the 2010-11 Providence Bruins to earn a 38 game call-up with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Bruins, putting up five goals and 10 points in that span.
Kampfer played for four teams in 2011-12, and was productive with each. After being traded for veteran shutdown man Greg Zanon at the deadline, Kampfer represents a new offensive approach from the Wild. He has good upside as a lower-pairing defenseman who can contribute on the power play without giving up too much in his own zone. He should graduate from the list shortly after the start of the season.