Photo: Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has missed most of the first half of the season with a broken collarbone, is one of the high-profile prospects making their debut in Houston this season. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Although many people in and around the world of hockey were negatively affected by the 2012 NHL lockout, the Minnesota Wild was no doubt one team that saw a silver lining. With a cluster of players around the same age needing a developmental year or three in the AHL, the lockout saved the team from hard personnel decisions while also giving these young players a great opportunity to learn to play the pro game together at a high level of competition.
Photo: Johan Larsson is one of the many top prospects spending the 2012-13 season with the AHL's Houston Aeros. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
The Wild is still in the midst of a controlled rebuilding process. While the team has added immediate help at the NHL level for some areas of deficiency, most notably an elite top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Suter, an underrated top-four defenseman in Tom Gilbert, and an all-star scoring winger in Zach Parise, a few barren years at the draft kept the team from contention recently. Very strong drafts in 2010 and 2011, punctuated by the trade for Charlie Coyle, have put the team in excellent shape to be contenders soon. The core might be able to take advantage of the NHL lockout to grow together at the AHL level. Part of the Minnesota mentality is knowing there is a long winter ahead to test for weaknesses. With luck, this group of prospects will emerge strong and battle-tested.
Photo: The first pick taken by the Wild in 2007, Colton Gillies never quite developed into the power forward he was projected to when taken 16th overall. (Photo courtesy of NHL)
The last remnants of the old empire haven't quite all been swept away, but with the waiving in Colton Gillies in January, the 2007 draft will be notable for the late round picks that seem to be tracking well. And while having yet another first round pick fail to stick with a team seems disastrous, the 2007 draft has provided some decent depth for the Wild organization.
In 2006-07 the Wild scored the fewest goals of any team in the league, yet grabbed the seventh playoff seed in the West based on the strengths of an excellent year from Nick Backstrom backstopping Jacques Lemaire's trademark team defense. The team however was quickly dispatched by the eventual champion Ducks. And although any playoff berth is generally a sign of a successful season, it was apparent that more high-end offensive skill was needed to supplement the core after such an anemic goal-scoring year.
Photo: Darcy Kuemper is one of two immensely talented young goaltenders currently playing in the Wild's minor-league system. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
Last year's Aeros team came up just short in the Calder Cup finals but has built off that deep playoff run to come out strong again. Despite losing a number of key pieces to the Wild or free agency, veteran head coach John Torchetti has the team contending from the get-go. An infusion of skill and continued growth from key prospects has provided that continuity so essential to establishing the franchise's foundation for years to come. That despite the fact almost every prospect has seen a call-up. This year has gradually turned into a revolving tryout for many of the team's talented prospects.
Cody Almond, C, 22