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.
Photo: Drafted 28th overall, Zack Phillips came to Minnesota as part of the return in the Brent Burns trade. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)
Although Mikael Granlund remains the Wild's number one prospect, the depth for the Minnesota Wild continues to improve under Chuck Fletcher's watch. With the draft taking place on home turf, the Wild made a wise but somewhat surprising move to add another blue-chip defense prospect in Jonas Brodin. They then traded pending free agent Brent Burns for two prospects, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips, the latter selected with San Jose's first round pick. The addition of these players can only improve the long-term outlook of the franchise.
1. (1) Mikael Granlund, C, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 9th overall, 2010