The 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal could prove to be one of the more important ones in the Minnesota Wild’s history. All eyes will be on rookie GM Chuck Fletcher as he will attempt to put his stamp on the franchise. The Wild need to bolster a thnned-out prospect pool along the way.
The Wild have a good crew of forwards returning next year at the NHL level. With only Marian Gaborik and Stephane Veilleux potentially testing unrestricted free agency, Minnesota can concentrate on adding much-needed primary and secondary scoring at the forward position. It remains to be seen whether or not the new Wild will continue the defensive system employed by former coach Jacques Lemaire or if they morph into a more exciting hockey team. Regardless of the team’s new direction, they will need more scoring on the top two lines.
Minnesota will see arguably the team’s top four defensemen return. The only regulars potentially not returning are Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin Skoula, and Kurtis Foster. At least one of Tyler Cuma or Justin Falk may win a spot in training camp, leaving only a couple holes on the blueline to be filled. Ideally, Fletcher would like to acquire a mobile puck-moving defenseman to complement what Marek Zidlicky already gives to the team. Of course, the problem is 26 other teams in the league want the same thing and it will be a seller’s market.
With the 12th pick in the upcoming draft, it is unlikely that any of the above needs will be satisfied with that draft choice. It is certainly possible that the pick be traded for some NHL-ready talent, however the pick alone may be too late in the round to land the big talent the team needs. The best asset Fletcher has to work with on draft day is goaltender Josh Harding. With starter Nicklas Backstrom in the fold long term, it is a strong possibility that restricted free agent Harding be moved for help in other areas.
The Wild have done a very good job drafting defensemen over the past couple of years and are deepest at that position. Already knocking at the door are Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma and Justin Falk. Of the three, Cuma is seen as the team’s only blue-chip prospect. The Wild have also done a good job bringing their young talent up to the big club. James Sheppard, Colton Gillies and Cal Clutterbuck have all successfully made the jump to the NHL level.
It is no surprise that the glaring weakness of the Wild prospect pool is the distinct lack of offensive punch. Once a blue-chip prospect, Benoit Pouliot took a huge step backwards last season. Being a restricted free agent, he is not a lock to be back with the organization. Winger Roman Voloshenko seems happy in his self-appointed exile to the KHL and is no longer on the team’s radar. And it remains to be seen if prospect Petr Kalus will return from the KHL or not. Kalus quit the team’s AHL affiliate in October of last season.
The Wild have drafted offensive spark plugs such as Marian Gaborik and Benoit Pouliot at the same rate as defensive minded players such as Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns in the higher rounds. Perhaps a product of the team’s defense first system, Minnesota did a solid job of finding tough, two-way players such as Cal Clutterbuck in the later rounds. The Wild drafts a lot of college-bound players, with fewer out of the CHL. But with a new GM, all bets are off.
Fletcher and his team of scouts have their work cut out for them. Never shying away from doing what it takes to improve his team, previous Wild GM Doug Risebrough dealt away both the team’s second and third round picks. The 42nd overall pick along with Ryan Jones went to Nashville in exchange for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. The team’s third round pick, 73rd overall, is now in the hands of the New Jersey Devils as a result of last year’s entry draft swap which saw Minnesota move up one spot to draft defenseman Tyler Cuma. Without a second and third round pick, finding value in the later rounds is a must for the Wild this year.
No. 12 Minnesota’s own 1st round selection
No. 99 Acquired from Dallas via Tampa Bay
No. 103 Minnesota’s own 4th round selection
No. 116 Acquired from Boston
No. 132 Minnesota’s own 5th round selection
No. 162 Minnesota’s own 6th round selection
No. 192 Minnesota’s own 7th round selection
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selection: Jordan Schroeder, C