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
Photo: Since returning from his first NHL training camp, Zack Phillips has been brilliant for the Saint John Sea Dogs, managing 16 goals and 32 assists in only 27 games. (Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)
The Wild's group of prospects come from a wide range of North American junior programs, and though the team can and does focus on plenty of Minnesota prospects, the development of the young draftees is taking place all over the hockey map. They organization currently has one player in the QMJHL and OHL, three in the WHL, and three playing at the Junior A level.
Zack Phillips, C, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 1st round (28th overall) in 2011
Photo: Mario Lucia is a dominant winger at the Jr-A level. He will be joining Notre Dame for the 2012-13 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
The Minnesota Wild are close to shaking their reputation as a desert of prospect development. The last drafts have produced a number of prospects of interest, and an assortment of trades and free agent signings have generated respectable depth. The Aeros' winning the Western Conference last season demonstrates not only a positive institutional strategy for procurement and development, but also a return to a patient policy with its players shared by winning franchises.
Photo: After a strong training camp, Zack Phillips returns to the QMJHL for the 2011-12 season where he and the rest of the Saint John Seadogs will try to win another Memorial Cup. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
Although the team fell short of its goal, losing in game six of the Calder Cup finals to the Binghamton Senators, the Aeros overachieved past most expectations in 2010-11. Personnel changes in the AHL are inevitable, however, and success often means changes as thorough-going as any rebuilding franchise experiences. Case in point: Mike Yeo's work in Houston won him the opportunity to take over the Wild. However, the core players have the playoff experience now, and will look to build on their improbable run to within two wins of the league's highest prize.