The 2007-08 season had its positives for a franchise finally finding its legs, including a first divisional banner, but the subsequent crash and burn against the Avalanche in the playoffs is emblematic of the end of an era. The Minnesota Wild headed to Ottawa in June with its confidence shattered and certainly no closer to a coherent vision of how to build a winner. With picks jettisoned for ineffective role players, the team recklessly punted on what was to be the final draft of the Doug Risebrough era.
The Wild possessed only four picks in the 2008 draft. The third round pick was sent to Anaheim for Marc-Andre Bergeron, the sixth round pick went to the Islanders for Chris Simon, and the seventh round pick went to the Devils for Aaron Voros. The third round pick that the Wild traded to New Jersey in order to move up became Alexander Urbom, who has now played more NHL games than Tyler Cuma. With any retrospective draft analysis, there is a poignant twinge of regret as one picks out the players that a team could have had. Every team has its regrettable misses and passes, but for the Wild there is the question of just what was gained in giving up so many selections over the years in favor of temporary solutions and bad bets.
There was good to come of this draft, but its lack of depth options, its shaky first round strategy, and its head-scratching lack of concern for stockpiling prospects were all too typical of a franchise that clearly and wrongly thought it had assets to compete for the Cup immediately. A narrative of the Jacques Lemaire era is that he was too proficient a coach, that the allure of winning close games masked systematic deficiencies that deluded upper management into false bravado. Ultimately, a team in the modern NHL, where games are won on the marginal advantages provided by elite talent, has to find some of its strengths in the reasonable costs of its young talent.
Tyler Cuma, D, Ottawa 67s (OHL) – 1st Round, 23rd Overall
NHL Games Played: 1
It was not just Wild scouts who were high on Tyler Cuma. The talented kid from Bowmanville, Ontario was Ottawa's first round selection in the OHL Priority draft and rose quickly as a prospect of interest. Much of this stemmed from an effective 2007-08 U-18 Tournament, where Team Canada took gold. NHL Central Scouting had him at 15th among North American skaters in its final rankings which were pretty accurately constructed in hindsight. Looking back now, it is apparent what a strong draft class that was, and Cuma was right in the mix, with good signs all around as a junior. Scouts widely praised his skating and decision-making, he had a strong physical game, and garnered praise from the cognoscenti, including Team Canada's brass.
Cuma had a good draft year by the numbers, playing with Logan Couture (SJS) and Jamie McGinn (COL) on the Ottawa 67s, and scored 32 points (four goals). However, what should have been a tremendous break for Cuma turned into a tragedy. Called upon for a chance to make Team Canada in place of an injured Patrick Wiercioch (OTT), Cuma sustained a knee injury in an inter-squad game that limited him to just 21 OHL games in that 2008-09 season. With his timetable for development now delayed, Cuma returned for 2009-10 season with Ottawa, and wore a letter for his team. However, there was some mobility, and perhaps some confidence, lost and he delivered an underwhelming campaign.
He turned pro nonetheless, with a good chance to work his way up a thinly-populated Wild/Aeros depth chart. In February 2011, in an AHL game against Peoria, Cuma hurt his knee yet again. He was limited to just 31 contests that season. It is to his immense credit that he rebounded yet again from a season-ending knee injury to play a 73 game season with the Aeros in 2011-12, as well as make his uneventful NHL debut.
Cuma obviously possesses the great character and perseverance common to many professional hockey players. What has not come along so well, from the Wild's perspective, is the player the team traded assets to select and develop. Cuma's offense has been mild, his defense merely adequate. He has a great chance to step up this season and demonstrate that he is a true top-pairing defenseman at the AHL level. He must now also earn a second contract from the Wild. With his pedigree and his ability to think the game, Cuma is by no means a bust at this stage. From an historical perspective, he is the final gamble for Doug Risebrough and company that has failed to pay off as anticipated.
Scandella is the bright spot in this weak draft for the Wild. He was yet another Wild pick with a former NHL player in his family, in this case Sergio Momesso. Scandella was only the 82nd ranked skater by Central Scouting, so the Wild reached again. When it works, of course, everyone looks like a genius, and Scandella is covering the bet so far.
Like Cuma, Scandella was also on Team Canada's radar as a youth and played on the same star-stacked U-18 entry. Scandella also showed a very strong game as a shutdown player for the silver medal winners at the 2010 World Juniors. Scandella was not much of a scorer his draft year; his second round positioning came more from his physical attributes. Since his draft year though, he has shown a good shot and some two-way ability at the AHL and NHL levels. He has missed valuable time from suspension as a junior, and also experienced various ailments already as a pro. Scandella sustained a concussion from an errant puck, and has had arm and groin injuries as well. He does play a fairly aggressive style, despite having an above-average reach, and can presumably avoid a fragile reputation as he bulks up and improves his technique.
Scandella trails several of the excellent young defensemen taken in the first round of this deep draft, which can be expected. He also trails some players like his former Team Canada defense partner Travis Hamonic (NYI), who was a fellow second round pick, but overall Scandella is tracking just fine. He projects ultimately to be a decent top four defenseman, especially as the Wild is currently configured. Having been at the top of the Wild's depth chart for so long, there may have been some unrealistic expectations for Scandella. He probably will not be as defensively sound as Jonas Brodin, or as offensively dynamic as Mathew Dumba, but he looks like he is on his way to being a competent NHL defenseman in all zones, which is not a common skill-set. Finding a player like Scandella in the second round was good work by the Wild staff.
Sean Lorenz, D, U.S. National Team Development Program – 4th Round, 115th Overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Colorado product Sean Lorenz was a bit of reach by the Wild. He had been ranked 203rd by Central Scouting, but the Wild liked his USNTDP pedigree. Lorenz was also a Notre Dame commit, and had the opportunity to be a big part of that up-and-coming squad. Not a very big player, and one who certainly had not yet showed much flair for offense, Lorenz did seem a fairly safe bet to become a competent stay-at-home defenseman at some level and that has panned out as expected. Low expectations rarely disappoint though.
Lorenz had a very solid college career, playing four low-event years on the blue line for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and serving as team captain in his senior season. In 2010-11 he won the CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman Award. Other winners include Mike Komisarek (TOR), Andy Greene (NJD), and Alec Martinez (LAK) so it has some merit to it. Lorenz certainly was a defensively-oriented player, one whose best season in college saw him tally only fifteen points. Though he got a look with the Houston Aeros at the end of the 2011-12 season, Lorenz is no longer considered a prospect by the Wild. He is on a pro contract with the affiliated Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL. Though he is currently out with injury, he has shown some decent skill for that level, scoring nine points in 22 contests.
Through no real fault of his own, he was lapped on the depth chart by a sixth round pick of the New York Islanders in this same draft, Jared Spurgeon, whom the Wild signed as a free agent in the fall of 2010.
One pick after Joel Broda went to the Washington Capitals, the Wild called the name of Eero Elo, raising eyebrows everywhere. A good-sized lad who was a fine scorer in Finnish juniors, Elo was still a stretch for the fifth round, and it seems quite fitting that he would be the last confounding pick Risebrough and company would make.
The twentieth ranked Finnish skater by Central Scouting, Elo had some bloodlines working for him, as his grandfather was Finnish Olympian Seppo Vainio. Able to use his size and skill effectively, Elo put up decent totals at every level for the Lukko development program without ever really breaking to the next level. For comparison, he was 55th in scoring at the U20 level in Finland his draft year. Elo in 2008-09 put up much more favorable numbers to finish in the top ten of U20 scoring, while scoring well ahead of him to finish in the top five was a young phenom named Mikael Granlund. If it is the case that keeping a close eye on Finnish juniors led the Wild to Granlund, perhaps the Elo selection deserves a more treasured place in Wild history.
At any rate, the Wild never showed much interest in Elo once Risebrough was out of the picture. He was never tendered a contract. Elo bounced around between the major and minors as a depth player for Lukko in the SM-Liiga. He was traded from the only club he had ever known to Assat this season, where he has scored five goals and an assist in 19 games.