The 2009 NHL Draft was the first for Chuck Fletcher as the Wild's second General Manager. From our vantage point today, Wild's team performed admirably in commencing the tough work of resetting a franchise whose fortunes had been dimmed early on by a combination of myopia and bad luck at the draft board.
Although the Minnesota Wild had sent its own second round pick to Nashville on July 1, 2008 (along with Ryan Jones) in exchange for Marek Zidlicky, the Wild made eight selections altogether. Wheeling and dealing on draft day has become a bit of a signature for Chuck Fletcher since taking the job, and he was effective that day in Montreal. Taking advantage of Garth Snow for the first time, the Wild dealt down from 12th overall to 16th overall, getting a better player it appears now, and receiving extra picks in the third and seventh rounds (77th and 182nd overall) both of whom turned out to be legitimate prospects as well. Fletcher also acquired Kyle Brodziak and the Edmonton Oilers' sixth round pick (160th overall -used to select Darcy Kuemper) in exchange for the Wild's fourth and fifth round selections. Kyle Brodziak alone has become a steady and valuable third-line presence for the Wild, while Kyle Bigos (SJS) and Olivier Roy (CGY) have yet to really show much as prospects. Although obviously the draft produces busts and tantalizing missed opportunities for all teams, 2009 was a very solid draft for the Wild as it entered chapter two of its history.
Nick Leddy, D, Eden Prairie High School (MN HS) – 1st round, 16th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 230
Trading Nick Leddy away was an early misstep in Chuck Fletcher's tenure, but it was the kind of mistake that looked justifiable at the time and proved great learning experience for a new GM. Nick Leddy had been almost too obvious a first-round pick for the Wild: a talented offensive-minded defenseman out of an excellent Minnesota prep hockey program in Eden Prairie. The 2009 Mr. Hockey award winner then took the expected step of playing for the University of Minnesota, where he sustained a broken jaw and subsequently had a somewhat low-event freshman season.
The deal made on February 12, 2010 saw the Wild send its then-unsigned first-round pick Nick Leddy to the Chicago Blackhawks, along with a well-compensated blue line stalwart in Kim Johnsson, in exchange for Cam Barker. Barker was the third overall pick in 2004's draft, a big bodied defenseman with some excellent offensive tools. He had shone in the 2009 playoffs and was of course further along in his development. What was unclear to the Wild's pro scouts and management team were his significant defects as a defenseman, somehow masked on a good Chicago team. The Barker experience had a short shelf-life in St. Paul, but other teams were equally guilty of hoping to rehabilitate his overall game enough to make the flashes of offense worthwhile.
Leddy has now emerged as a full-time NHL defenseman and has a Stanley Cup championship on his resume. A significant portion of his emergence of course is the excellent team he plays on, boasting a deep defensive corps that allows him easier assignments and a more gradual learning curve. Nonetheless, he is a power play contributor and a young player with a bright future as his overall game improves. Leddy is not without his faults, but he compares favorably with his peers from the 2009 class.
Being the nephew of Jeff Hackett had already made Matt Hackett a well-known prospect. He was the top ranked North American goalie by Central Scouting and came out of a solid feeder in London's midget AAA program. Wild management always spoke highly of Hackett and for quite some time, it was clear he was the top goaltender in the system. To his credit, Hackett did lead the Aeros to within two wins of the 2011 Calder Cup, but there were signs that his overall game had flaws.
Despite the success, goalie wins are even less indicative of a player's quality than pitching wins in baseball. The core statistic of save percentage failed to resolve itself in Hackett's favor. Darcy Kuemper was right there competing with him and just outplayed him over two seasons. When the time came for the Wild to make a bold move for immediate help, Hackett was traded to Buffalo as part of a rich package for the services of Jason Pominville. His numbers with the Rochester Amerks of the AHL this season, where he does get the bulk of the starts, are still quite pedestrian. None of this is to say that Hackett is, or will be, a bust. He has put together a resume that reflects a certain level of competence, and all these combined starts certainly add up to the essential experience any goaltender needs to make it as a pro.
Foucault was also a decent bet at the time it was made. He was a good enough player, with size and puck skills, though some scouts doubted his energy level. Foucault had bounced all over western Canada in his young junior career, and perhaps his lack of consistency was attributed to the frequent changes in coaches and systems. His junior career finally inspired a very little amount of confidence, as he never hit the fifty-point mark and really never showed a great defensive game. Foucault nonetheless has good skills with the puck, and enough size and physicality to play at the AHL level. At this point, it seems doubtful that Foucault will ever be more than a depth scorer at the AHL level, but he has been reasonably good in that particular role.
Alexander Fällström, RW, Shattuck-St. Mary's (MN HS) – 4th round, 116th overall
Status: Prospect (BOS)
NHL Games Played: 0
The extra fourth round pick used on Fallstrom was a bonus from the Manny Fernandez trade (Petr Kalus was the other asset in that transaction). The Wild staff would have had ample opportunity to scout Fallstrom while he was at Shattuck-St. Mary's and the scouts were probably quite impressed with the big Swede. Fallstrom ended up taking the collegiate route, playing four years for Harvard University. Though he was not quite a prolific scorer, he managed 70 points in a 113 game career with the Crimson.
Fallstrom ended up in the Bruins system anyhow, when his rights were traded to Boston along with a 2011 second round pick and Craig Weller in exchange for Chuck Kobasew. The Bruins tend to bring prospects along slowly, but Fallstrom seems a good fit for their system: defensively sound, strong, opportunistic and effective offensively. He is a depth player for Providence, but a key component.
Darcy Kuemper, G, Red Deer Rebels (WHL) – 6th round, 161st overall
NHL Games Played: 16
The Wild's scouts can take a lot of credit for this pick, especially if Darcy Kuemper stays on his current track. It is a little less fair to evaluate goaltending prospects this soon after their draft years, but already a few goaltenders from the 2009 class are beginning to look like potential NHL players, and Kuemper is one of them. A lanky lad out of Saskatoon, Kuemper was predictably woeful in his first full year as a WHL starter in Red Deer. He then improved in a major way in the 2010-11 season, taking home honors as WHL Player of the Year and CHL Goaltender of the Year. He split starts with Matt Hackett once he turned pro with the Houston Aeros, performing well in a limited role. Kuemper handled assignment to the ECHL well too, dominating in his conditioning stints with the ECHL's Ontario and Orlando teams. All in all Kuemper just made more saves when asked and the numbers settled the argument.
Kuemper is still young though, and his record as an NHL goaltender has reflected that inexperience. Kuemper has recorded his first shutout when filling in for the ailing Josh Harding, but also looked jittery at moments. As goaltenders gain in NHL experience, they learn not only how to track shots, battle traffic, and judge angles, but how and when to stay in the crease and trust one's teammates. Kuemper is still undergoing the growing pains, and on a Wild team riddled with some key injuries, it will be tough at times. The bottom line is that he looks right now like a player who can be a positive difference-maker in net, and there is a tremendous advantage to finding such a player late in the amateur draft.
Jere Sallinen, LW, Espoo Blues (SM-Liiga Jr. A) – 6th round, 163rd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
A longshot pick out of Finland, Sallinen just never developed as expected. Whether the scouts believed he would put on more weight and muscle, or that he had another unseen gear, the late round picks on Finnish juniors generally had a very low success rate for the Wild. Never tendered, and clearly never part of incoming GM Chuck Fletcher's plans, Sallinen has nonetheless continued his professional hockey career in Finland. He is a physical winger with HPK, who was top 15 in SM-Liiga scoring last season before falling back to earth a bit in this current campaign.
Erik Haula, LW/C, Shattuck-St. Mary's (MN HS) – 7th round, 182nd overall
NHL Games Played: 20
Amazingly, the Kuemper pick may not have been the best one of the draft for the Wild. Erik Haula was certainly a bit of an afterthought whom scouts thought a bit slight, if they thought of him at all. He had nonetheless proven his high level of skill as a prep player and on the international tournament stage with Team Finland. It was coming to Shattuck-St.Mary's from Finland to pursue a course in hockey that should have garnered him more consideration. Though his teammate Alexander Fallstrom was a superior goal-scorer in those days and James Mullin (TBL) put up some impressive points, Haula's vision and passing were surely a big part of that proficiency. This playmaking ability was no less apparent in the USHL, where Haula again pushed for league-leading numbers with the Omaha Lancers. It is a credit to Don Lucia and his staff that Haula ended up at the University of Minnesota. His collegiate career at the University of Minnesota ended without a national championship, but individually Haula was extremely effective at better than a point-per-game over three seasons, and moving from a finesse winger to a center capable of three-zone play. He has proven himself a capable professional player, still in the top five on the Iowa Wild in scoring despite a long-term call-up.
Currently with the Wild, Haula has mostly played a fourth line role and acquitted himself fairly well in limited minutes and assignments. There is a talented player here, though his points will remain limited under these circumstances.
Anthony Hamburg, RW, Dallas Jr. Stars (Midget AAA) – 7th round, 193rd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
It seems finally safe to assume that Anthony Hamburg will not be suiting up for an NHL team. Even in a draft as deep as 2009 now looks to be, the seventh round picks are unlikely to make it. Texas native Hamburg was supposed to join Colgate after his USHL days, but ultimately decided to return to Omaha to focus on hockey. After a 13-goal, 37-point campaign, he finally went back to school, joining the hockey team at the Rochester Institute of Technology as that program's first-ever NHL draft pick. Hamburg's rocky development path was not helpful for him as a prospect, but he continues as a scholar-athlete with some degree of success, making the AHA All-Academic Team in 2012-13 and preparing for life beyond the rigors of collegiate hockey.