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: A leg injury will delay Mario Lucia's debut at Notre Dame, but the big winger has the potential to make an instant impact when he rejoins the team mid-season. (courtesy of Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)
The Wild by design has its top prospects all scheduled to play professional hockey this season. Though obviously dependent on the quick resolution of labor strife at the NHL level, Mikael Granlund should be playing with the Wild while an excellent group of young players in Matt Hackett, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker, and Brett Bulmer are presumably going to be playing with the AHL's Houston Aeros. The AHL as a whole will be be fun to watch this year. For Wild fans it is a glimpse of a promising future.
Photo: Emerson Etem may only be a rookie pro in 2012-13, but his elite speed and nose for the net could see him skating soon for an Anaheim team that was starved for offense last season. (courtesy of Paul Hebert/Icon SMI)
Forward prospects Emerson Etem and Charlie Coyle settle into the middle section of the ranking, but not for lack of talent. Both players lit up the CHL last season, Etem breaking the 60-goal mark for Medicine Hat in the WHL and Coyle using his size and quick hands to fit right in with the high-octane Saint John offense in the QMJHL.
Mikael Granlund will make his North American debut in 2012-13 following another year of international success and a top-ten finish in the SM-liiga scoring race. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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.
Photo: Acquired in a 2011 Draft day trade, forward Charlie Coyle is one of the top prospects for the Minnesota Wild and a key part of their future. (Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)
The Minnesota Wild finished with a 35-36-11 record in 2011-12, well out of reach of the eighth and final playoff berth. Like in years past, the team struggled to produce goals at the NHL level and experienced various injuries to key players.