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: Drafted ninth overall in 2010, Finnish Center Mikael Granlund has made his AHL debut this season. Granlund was widely considered one of the best hockey players not playing in North America. (Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Below is the top-10 section of Hockey's Future's NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by the staff of Hockey's Future. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year.
Photo: Red Deer defenseman Mathew Dumba, the seventh overall pick in 2012, is one of six Minnesota Wild prospects playing at the junior level in 2012-13. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The Wild has moved into a developmental phase that features a solid cluster of prospects playing together on the AHL's Houston Aeros. This leaves a smaller group of young men still playing at the junior level.
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.