Minnesota Wild prospects at every level gained valuable experience in playoffs

By Peter Prohaska

Charlie Coyle - Minnesota Wild

Photo: One of several Wild prospects to see significant ice time in the postseason, Charlie Coyle skated on the Wild’s top line and earned powerplay time in the playoffs (courtesy of Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

Most of the Wild's prospect group saw at least some postseason action this year. While the pro teams, the Minnesota Wild and Houston Aeros, did not have much success, a handful of prospects experienced deep playoff runs that should help prepare them as players to compete for hockey's ultimate prize.

NHL

The season certainly had great expectations set in July when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter agreed to join the Wild. While the two players upgraded positions of need, the team's one dimensional approach found moderate success only during the season. With another bold move to add a veteran scorer, Chuck Fletcher sent two excellent prospects (along with some very valuable picks) in Matt Hackett and Johan Larsson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Jason Pominville. Pominville was limited in the postseason after a cheap shot from Dustin Brown, Dany Heatley's season ended early, Nicklas Backstrom finally burned out from overuse in the pregame warmup, and the Wild was collectively outclassed and quickly sent home for the summer by the Blackhawks, but some important young players got great and needed experience in the five game series.

Jonas Brodin played the tough minutes just as he did throughout the season, but finished pointless. Brodin finished just behind Ryan Suter in ice-time for the series. The teenager made a few mistakes against an opportunistic opponent, but still emerged a solid top-pairing option this year, who can still get better. Charlie Coyle picked up a couple of assists, finally saw a little bit of powerplay time, and played an energetic game. The Wild's top line got crushed in this series, but Coyle managed to tread water for the most part. Jason Zucker scored the overtime game-winner in game three, and formed part of Matt Cullen's line that had some limited success. Zucker may have solidified his top-six role this season, but a lot remains to be seen from him in terms of his overall game. All three of these rookies, as well as Mikael Granlund, should benefit from increased powerplay time at some point.

AHL

The Aeros got a tough draw for their opening round series in the Calder Cup Playoffs, having to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins. The team was off to a very strong start, with a shutout from Darcy Kuemper and two goals from regular season leading scorer Justin Fontaine. Unfortunately, Kuemper was needed immediately in Minnesota when Backstrom and then Josh Harding were injured in the course of the Wild's postseason series against Chicago. Kuemper could not pull out a miracle against a Chicago team that was superior in every facet of the game, but got some seasoning that should be a net positive for the young keeper.

Mikael Granlund got a chance to make up for a disappointing season that included a two point playoff performance when he joined Team Finland at the World Ice Hockey Championships. He had a strong performance in the short time frame. He was especially effective in the bronze medal match, posting two impressive assists and generally being the most dangerous player on the ice, despite missing on his shootout attempt.

After leading the team in scoring during the regular season with 56 points in 64 games, Justin Fontaine had eight points (three goals) in the five game series with Grand Rapids to lead the team again.

Zack Phillips concluded his underwhelming season with a single assist and a minus-4 rating in the playoffs. The skill set is there for this player, but he'll need some good effort over the summer to re-establish his place in the depth chart.

CHL

Raphael Bussieres and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar made a vast improvement this season to arrive at the QMJHL finals. The team ran into Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, but Bussieres again showed that he has a good skill set for the grind of playoff hockey, going for 16 points in the 19 game run. He did slow down as the postseason went on, but Bussieres was drafted to check rather than score, and seems to have been generally effective in that capacity.

Tyler Graovac, having been traded near the deadline from struggling Ottawa to Belleville, got a great opportunity for a deep playoff run. He continued a breakout season for him personally by putting up 22 points in 15 playoff games. That run gave him 32 points in his last 33 playoff contests. Graovac was a bit of a late bloomer, due in part to injuries. But a more optimistic reading might be that he has finally grown into his frame and learned to use it and his good shot to be one of the more dangerous scorers in the OHL this year. Signed by the Wild in early April, Graovac will have the chance to test his game against the pros next season.

Mathew Dumba and the Red Deer Rebels swept Prince Albert and then had a tough five game series against Calgary, dropping two overtime decisions at home. Dumba had just four points in the postseason, and many observers would have liked to see more from him. He did focus on playing better in his own end this year, but his offense is such an important part of his game that when it goes missing, he is just not very effective. He did get into some games for the Aeros at the end of the season, including the five playoff matches, but did not register a point. The Wild has high hopes for this player and he will get plenty of opportunities to play a big role in the future.

NCAA

Erik Haula and his MInnesota Golden Gophers had another disappointing postseason, losing to Yale in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Haula was his usual consistent self, setting up two goals to force overtime against the eventual champions, but it was not enough for the highly-touted Gophers. Haula turned pro shortly thereafter, and scored a goal and an assist for the Aeros over the five game series.

Nick Seeler was not much of a factor in the WCHA playoffs for Nebraska-Omaha, as his team fell in a three-game series to Minnesota State-Mankato. Seeler is a player who should show some improvement next season, although the quality of competition also increases.

Mario Lucia played a role in helping Notre Dame to the last-ever CCHA Championship, registering an assist in the final against Michigan. The team got thrashed by St. Cloud State in the NCAA Tournament, but Lucia can build off his freshman season.

Europe

Christoph Bertschy was the lone Wild prospect to take home a championship this season, but he does not get credit for it with only three points in 20 games. Overall Bertschy struggled with lack of ice time this season, partially due to minutes given to established NHL superstars like John Tavares during the lockout, partially due to the quality of his play. In the course of celebrating the NLA championship, Bertschy was caught setting fire to an HC Fribourg Gotteron scarf and fined for it. The young man who has represented his country well in the past has presumably learned a lesson in sportsmanship.

Johan Gustafsson followed up a very strong regular season for Lulea of the Swedish Elite League with an excellent playoff run that fell just short of a league title. Posting a 2.03 goals against average and a save percentage of .925, he was a major reason for the team's success. Teammate Daniel Gunnarsson also played a role, scoring five points over the 15 games of postseason engagement, but also registering a team worst minus-7. This may speak to taking on some tougher assignments but is not the most encouraging metric for a defenseman.

Junior 'A'

Adam Gilmour had a pretty decent regular season for the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks, putting up 47 points in 64 games. He did not find the same success in the postseason as the Lumberjacks were swept by the eventual Clark Cup champions, Dubuque. Gilmour did get on the score sheet with a goal and ten penalty minutes. He now turns his focus to making the jump to collegiate hockey at Boston College this fall.

Louis Nanne had 12 points (six goals) in 15 games for Penticton to finish in the top 10 of scorers for the BCHL playoffs. It was a solid development year for Nanne up in British Columbia, although he watched his high school teammates win a state championship without him.