Mikael Granlund top prospect for offensively thin Minnesota Wild

By Peter Prohaska
Photo: Finn Erik Haula has emerged this season as one of the Wild’s most promising young forward prospects. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Mikael Granlund remains at number one for the Wild despite sustaining a couple of injuries that have limited his appearances this season. College freshmen Jason Zucker and Erik Haula are the big risers, each off to a very impressive season for their respective WCHA squads. With yet another season-ending injury, the questions surrounding Tyler Cuma‘s career become terribly grim. A pair of goaltending prospects make their first appearances in the Top 20, as Darcy Kuemper makes an undeniably strong case for his role with the franchise and Anton Khudobin continues to perform under the radar in both Houston and St. Paul.

1 (1). Mikael Granlund, C, 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 9th overall in 2010

Granlund was off to a great start this season before a hard hit into the end boards caused him to miss 21 games with a concussion. Since returning he has shown the form that caused the Wild to use their first round pick in 2010 on the Finnish star.

At 24 points (six goals) in 28 games, Granlund is right at the point-scoring pace that attracted scouts last season. While one would hope that the soon-to-be 19-year-old could improve considerably on that, opposing teams have also begun focusing on Granlund a bit more this season.

Even if the Wild choose to have Granlund spend some time in Houston next season to get him ready for the North American game, Granlund should arrive in North America by next season.

2 (2). Marco Scandella, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 55th in overall 2008

Scandella bounced between Houston and St. Paul this fall before getting a chance to stick with the Wild just before Christmas. With eleven points in 26 games, an injury to Marek Zidlicky made Scandella the obvious call-up. Though some games revealed his youth, Scandella’s skating and puck skills were apparent and he seemed to be catching on pretty well. However, he has been on the shelf since January with a concussion. Though he registered just two points during his time in the NHL, Scandella seems to be making progress along the rough road to being a top-four defenseman in the NHL. One can only hope that the concussion issues don’t get in the way of a promising career.

3 (5). Matt Hackett, G, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall 2009

The nephew of former Canadians and Blackhawks goalie Jeff Hackett, Matt’s first professional season has gone well enough that he remains the top goaltending prospect in the Wild system. However, he hasn’t been consistent enough to usurp Anton Khudobin as the starter for the Aeros, nor can he afford to relax any with Darcy Kuemper having a superlative season in the WHL. Hackett has gotten just under half the starts for the Aeros, and his numbers are nearly identical to Khudobin’s. Both have a .915 save percentage, and Hackett sports a 2.42 goals against average vs. a 2.46 for Khudobin.

4 (15). Jason Zucker, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, 59th overall in 2010

Zucker has been one of the most dynamic players in college hockey in his freshman year and rises considerably on the list. In his first year with the Denver Pioneers of the WCHA, Zucker has scored 18 goals and 31 points and led the country in goal-scoring after a torrid start. With his speed and shooting ability, it’s not hard to see why Minnesota is high on Zucker. A vicious forearm to the head from Slovakia‘s Martin Marincin (EDM) effectively took Zucker out of this year’s World Juniors, but he appears to be recovered. Denver is still in decent position to be featured on the national stage this spring, and Zucker has been a big part of that success.

5 (3). Tyler Cuma, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall in 2008

Pedigree and potential keep Cuma in the top five, but injuries have likely diminished the upper range of this player’s capability. One more knee injury this past sunday has likely ended his season and puts his career in jeopardy. He had been making some progress adapting to the professional game, although the numbers were not terribly impressive. This latest injury may not be as serious as it appeared, but nonetheless casts another shadow on the fate of this talented young player.

6 (10). Erik Haula, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 182nd overall in 2009

Haula came over from Finland a few years ago to work on his hockey skills and has been impressive at every level. A dominant performance in the USHL (28 goals and 44 assists) has not dropped off too much in his freshman year with the Minnesota Golden Golphers of the WCHA. Haula is certainly a player who concentrates on playmaking, and could stand to test the occasionally shaky goaltending found around the NCAA. He recently had another multipoint weekend playing against Jason Zucker‘s Denver squad, and looks like one of the few bona fide offensively gifted players in the Wild system.

Erik Haula had seven points (three goals) in six games for a Team Finland that was missing its young star in Mikael Granlund, but brought a typically strong performance. Haula seemed to have good chemistry on a top line with Joonas Donskoi (FLA) and Teemu Pulkkinen (DET).

7 (4). Colton Gillies, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 1st round, 16th in 2007

The former first round pick has had a rough time of it so far, but continues to contribute for the Aeros. The swift-skating checker out of White Rock, BC was likely miscast as a scoring power forward, but his point totals this season show a player that is coming along, gradually recapturing confidence lost. With 17 points (eight goals) in 45 games with the Aeros, Gillies isn’t part of the offensive solution, but can be relied upon for his fair portion of hits.

8 (6). Cody Almond, C, 6.5B
Acquired: 5th round, 140th overall 2007

her defensive specialist in the Wild system, Almond nonetheless is a steady, if unspectacular player. Perhaps overrated from a Memorial Cup performance in which he shone, Almond has been tracking about as well as any of the Wild’s 2007 picks. With 26 points (twelve goals) in 50 games with the Aeros, Almond is in the top five for scoring and has risen to center the top line. He also trails only pugilist Matt Kassian in penalty minutes, with 88. Even if he does nothing more than play the role of Kyle Brodziak on a future iteration of the Wild, Almond has demonstrated the potential to be a big league contributor.

9 (14). Brett Bulmer, RW, 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 39th in overall 2010.

Bulmer was a bit of a reach for the second round, but he is tracking very well and justifying his position. With 47 points (18 goals) in 54 games with the WHL‘s Kelowna Rockets, Bulmer isn’t blowing the competition away. His second full season is however enough of an improvement for optimism. He is racking up a ton of penalty minutes with his hard-charging style, which was an area that some scouts felt needed improvement last year.

Bulmer’s defensive play is also something that could be improved. The Rockets are middle-of-the-pack, but certainly a more consistent effort from Bulmer would be a big part of improving the team’s standings.

10 (7). Johan Larsson, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th in overall 2010

Larsson dropped a little bit in our rankings, but he is still having a fine season, honing his game in Sweden. He started the season with Elitserien Brynäs and was returned to the Superelit U20 club after failing to gain much traction. He was featured in a checking role at the World Juniors and was unable to replicate the extraordinary tournament he had at the U18 World Juniors last year, where he dominated competition (14 points in five games).

Larsson is a tenacious checker, and an excellent faceoff man, going over seventy percent on the dot in SuperElit competition. His current role is pretty well-defined: a third-liner, who doesn’t take many draws. Since being called up to the Elitserien, Larsson has begun to chip in a goal here and there (three goals and six points), but he’s also seeing much more crucial ice-time. Perhaps third-liner is his ultimate upside, but he has already demonstrated a knack for elevation, and a visible maturity to go with a gradually developing skill-set.

11 (11). Maxim Noreau, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Free agent, 2008

Once again, Maxim Noreau sits near the top of the leaderboard for Aeros scoring with 33 points (eight goals) in 55 games played. A consistent point threat who also leads the team in shots on goal, Noreau just doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the Wild brass.

12 (8). Casey Wellman, C, 6.5C
Acquired: Free agent, 2010

Wellman’s confidence was likely at an all-time high after the Wild tendered him a contract last season. He was coming off a 45 point season at Massachusetts-Amherst, and suddenly found himself in a Wild jersey. So far this season, Wellman has been a contributor to the Aeros, notching 17 points (eight goals) in 26 games, but has not been able to replicate these results at the NHL level. He has just one assist in 12 NHL games and is now on the shelf with a shoulder injury. He does possess some good speed and a good shot, and could still be a key piece of the picture for the Aeros.

13 (13). Justin Falk, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 110th overall in 2007

Falk is yet another Wild prospect who saw NHL ice-time this season. Certainly the hulking (6’5, 215) blueliner from Snow Flake isn’t going to be intimidated by size, but like most any young player, adjusting to the speed and skill of the NHL doesn’t come easily. His future prospects would be helped if he could add a bit more shooting to his skill-set.

14 (16). Chad Rau, C, 7.0D
Acquired: Free agent, 2009

A former draft pick of the Maple Leafs, Rau is one of the more steady contributors for the Aeros over the last two seasons. He was limited by injury to start the year, but has since put up 19 points in 36 games. That said, it is telling that he has been push down the depth chart by the likes of Cody Almond.

15 (12). Nate Prosser, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Free agent, 2010

This season looks like a bit of a disappointment for the defenseman out of Elk River. After a solid collegiate career, the hope was that Prosser could contribute at a higher level. Though he has just 17 points (six goals) in 54 games, he is on the plus side of the ledger. Never an offensive-first defenseman, Prosser nevertheless remains an attractive option for call-up or trade, owing to his sound game and experience. The main criticism of Prosser would be that after four years of college, he should be doing a bit more at the AHL level, but he seems to be adjusting reasonably well to the more physical league.

16 (NR). Jared Spurgeon, D, 6.0D
Acquired: Free agent, 2010

A sixth round draft pick (156th overall) of the Islanders in 2008’s entry draft, Spurgeon has found himself the go-to guy as the Wild deal with injuries on the blue line. Listed at 5’9 and 168 pounds, Spurgeon has never let his size be an obstacle to his success. He hasn’t blown anyone away with numbers (three assists), but he has managed to spend a quarter of the season playing third-pairing for the Wild and he’s been a plus player doing it. With Marek Zidlicky set to return soon, Spurgeon likely returns to Houston to bolster its powerplay.

17 (NR). Darcy Kuemper, G, 6.5C
Acquired: 6th round, 161st overall in 2009

Kuemper is enjoying a spectacular season for the Red Deer Rebels. He has been among the top goaltenders in the WHL, leading the league in goals against average (1.87) and save percentage (.933) by a wide margin. He has twice as many shutouts (11) as the next player and sits with a 36-10-1-2 record. He has led his team to an early playoff berth. The only question mark surrounding him is where he sits in the Wild’s scheme.

18 (NR). Anton Khudobin, G, 6.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 206th overall in 2004

Khudobin has been the Wild’s preferred call-up this season. When both Nicklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore went down with injury, Khudobin came up and recorded a shutout against the powerhouse Vancouver Canucks. The small sampling of games at the NHL level shows Khudobin with a sparkling .940 save percentage this season. He also sits at .916 with the Aeros, so it’s not all luck. Despite these performances, his smallish stature an
d frenetic style don’t exactly inspire confidence from NHL coaches. That said, Khudobin is a veteran presence and continues to lead the way with strong play.

19 (17). Kristopher Foucault, LW, 6.5D
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall in 2009

Foucault continues to drop down the depth chart. His skills that caught the attention of scouts two and three years ago have not produced the kinds of numbers that he needs to stay relevant. 38 points (18 goals) in 50 games is certainly not completely unacceptable, but the Wild undoubtedly wished for a lot more from the overager. A late season run, followed by a summer of redoubled commitment, might be the only possible path for Foucault to be at training camp next fall.

20 (9). Joel Broda, C, 6.0D
Acquired: Free agent, 2010

The Wild took a reasonable flyer on the Washington Capitals‘ fifth round pick of 2008. Broda had been a pretty good scorer throughout his WHL career, with 74 points (39 goals) in 66 games as an overager with the Calgary Hitmen last season. After a decent start with the Aeros (five goals and seven points in 20 games), Broda was sent down to find his game with the new ECHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. There his defects have remained apparent. He needs much more work on skating and decision-making. His strong shot and nose for the net could get him back to Houston this season.