Glut of European prospects in Minnesota Wild talent pool

By Peter Prohaska
Photo: Unlike most of the Wild’s European prospects, Erik Haula has opted to take the NCAA route of development. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

A couple of college freshmen give the Wild’s faithful hope for the future, but the European contingent offers ample promise as well. Erik Haula and Jason Zucker are names that even the most casual fan can be familiar with, thanks to their playing in or around Minnesota on a regular basis. Though the prospect pool has been affected by injuries, the overall performance for the young men has been pretty solid.

Mikael Granlund, C, 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 9th overall, 2010

Granlund had a fantastic rookie season as an 18-year old in Finland‘s top league, scoring just under a point per game. Though one might have expected him to shatter that pace, he suffered a concussion and missed almost half of the season. Despite that, he tallied eight goals and 36 points in 39 games, good for fifth on the squad. Granlund obviously drew a bit more attention from opposing squads this season. He will have to adjust to that enhanced physicality, for his size puts him at a disadvantage even in the SM-Liiga. He is a strong and slick skater, but is at risk. In the intense playoffs battle between HIFK and rival Jokerit, Granlund was checked into the goalpost by Ossi Väänänen and appeared dazed. He remains a strong bet to come to North America next season.

Johan Larsson, LW/C, 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 56th overall, 2010

Larsson hasn’t put up great numbers but has seen an increase in his responsibilities in his first professional season. He started the season in the Elitserien, but was a little overwhelmed and returned to the J20 squad. He found his game, putting up 15 points (six goals) in ten games. Mostly used in a third line role for the Elitserien squad, Larsson seemed to improve in each game, finishing with eight points (four goals). He had a solid World Junior tournament as well, with four points (one goal) in a somewhat disappointing showing for the Swedes. Brynäs was eliminated by Färjestad in the Elitserien playoffs, but Larsson had two assists in those five games. With a lot of defensive forwards in the Wild system, one might expect Larsson to continue his development in Sweden next season. He was a very strong faceoff performer in his development years, and might be well served by moving back to center next season.

Jere Sallinen, LW, 20
Acquired: 6th Round, 163rd overall, 2009

20-year-old Sallinen finished another season with the Blues, tallying 14 points (six goals) over a 55 game season, a scoring rate that diminished considerably from last year. After going scoreless in four games, he appeared to be a healthy scratch as his team had an improbable victory in the first round of the SM-Liiga playoffs. Sallinen has the size and skill to be a contributor, and may be a late bloomer. He is probably running out of chances as a Wild prospect however.

Johan Gustafsson, G, 19
Acquired: 6th Round, 159th overall, 2010

Gustafsson sits pretty deep on the Wild’s organizational depth chart, giving him plenty of time to develop more consistency. He is a sturdy keeper at over 200 pounds, and stands 6’2. He has been moving up through Sweden‘s leagues, but this season was his first as a starter in a professional league after gaining much attention with a silver medal winning performance at the U18s. This season, Gustafsson split starts pretty evenly with veteran keeper Daniel Sperrle, and posted nearly identical numbers. Gustafsson’s stats look decent when isolated, and he was in the top ten for the league statistically, with a .911 save percentage and 2.30 goals against average over 26 games. Talent tends to fluctuate somewhat throughout the Allsvenskan, but it has been a decent developmental league for goaltenders in the past, and the Wild can afford to be patient.

Mikko Lehtonen, RW, 23
Acquired: Trade with Boston Bruins, February 28, 2011

Late on deadline day the Wild and the Bruins made a trade that largely escaped commentary, but that could have a positive impact for both franchises. With a healthy amount of quality goaltending prospects in the fold, the Wild exchanged Anton Khudobin for Mikko Lehtonen. The third round pick (83rd overall) in 2005, Lehtonen put up quite impressive numbers for the Providence Bruins of the AHL before heading over to Sweden somewhat frustrated. With 103 points (51 goals) in 150 AHL games, Lehtonen obviously possesses a decent skillset. He has excellent speed for a bigger man, and can snipe from all over. Critics have nicked him for an unwillingness to play a power game, and for a certain fragility in the face of adversity. That said, Lehtonen will take the body and plays a physical game. Still just 23, the maturity to overcome additional checking pressure is something that comes with time for some players. He is having a superlative season with Skellefteå of the Swedish Elite League, although he has struggled to score in the early goings of the playoffs.

Julian Walker, C, 24
Acquired: 6th Round, 162nd overall, 2006

Walker can hardly be considered a legitimate prospect anymore, but the sturdy Swiss power forward is still listed throughout the Wild’s literature. A three goal scorer for relegation-bound Ambrì-Piotta, Walker is defensively minded, a typical checker the Wild seem to have in clusters. His best ever offensive season was just 25 points over 50 games. Walker still seems like an odd pick, but there are organizational ties with the Swiss club that may explain it.

Dennis Endras, G, 25
Acquired: Free Agent, July 2010

At first glance, there is very little to like about Endras, but if there is one constant thing about the Wild’s franchise identity it has been finding good goaltending. Endras’s professional career began way back in 2004-05, but he caught on as a consistent starter in the 2008-09 season with the Augsberger Panther. For two seasons he put up identical .905 save percentages, averaging somewhat over three goals against per game over 102 outings. More importantly, he took a non-playoff team into the tournament in his first year, and into the finals in his second (2009-10). Endras sparkled at the 2010 World Cup posting a .961 save percentage and 1.15 goals against average to be named MVP, which quickly made him a top European free agent. Though he is a smaller goalie, going somewhat against a current trend in the NHL, Endras has shown the ability to overachieve and remains a likely candidate to perform as a backup in Houston next season.


Jason Zucker, LW, 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 59th overall, 2010

Zucker and the Pioneers lost the Broadmoor Trophy on a goal by North Dakota’s Matt Frattin (TOR) in double overtime, but will have the NCAA tournament to extend Zucker’s incredible freshman season. Zucker was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year and a Second Team All-Star as well after tallying 41 points (21 goals) in 38 games. He finished second on the team in scoring (Florida prospect Drew Shore was first). About the only thing that didn’t go as well as could be expected was the World Juniors where Zucker was held to just one goal. He was also elbowed in the head by Edmonton prospect Martin Marincin of Team Slovakia and suffered a mild concussion. Despite that ugly incident, Zucker added a Bronze medal to his already impressive resume. It is assumed that he will return to Denver for his sophomore season.

Erik Haula, LW, 21
Acquired: 7th Round, 182nd overall, 2009

The Golden Gophers bombed out of the WCHA tournament in disappointing fashion, but the season was a success for freshman Erik Haula. He finished in the top five for team scoring with six goals and 18 assists in 34 games. His shots on goal total was good for second on the team and he led in overall +/-. He had been something of a power play specialist as he lit up the USHL, but only two of his goals were with the man advantage. He is a superb passer of the side boards, but ceded a lot of special teams time to upperclassmen. The Gophers will lose some of their talent to the professional ranks next season, but assuming that players like Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish, and Max Gardiner return, Haula will form an important part of a much improved team.

Sean Lorenz, D, 21
Acquired: 4th Round, 115th overall, 2008

The junior defenseman is having a decent scoring season for Notre Dame, despite playing a primarily defensive role. He finished regular season play with 13 points (four goals, of which two were credited as game winners). Despite the lack of gaudy scoring stats, the team-leading plus-26 certainly sticks out in a good way. A product of the U.S. National Development program in Ann Arbor, Lorenz is certainly tracking pretty well. He has just average size (6’1, 200) but his strength and positioning are definite assets. The season is not over for the Irish either, as they head to the NCAA tournament.

Chris Hickey, C/RW, 22
Acquired: 7th Round, 192nd overall, 2006

Chris Hickey had the makings of a Minnesota legend after leading Cretin-Durham to a state championship his junior year and then being selected by the Wild as a late-round flyer. A very distinguished multi-sport prep athlete, Hickey had a decent transitional season with Tri-City of the USHL (31 points in 55 games) before heading to Madison to start his collegiate career. His time under Coach Mike Eaves was frustrating, and after only playing eight games, Hickey decided to transfer programs. Though rumored to be headed for Dartmouth, NCAA rules mandated a year’s absence from Division I hockey, so Hickey returned to St. Paul. He is currently a junior playing at Division III St. Thomas, mere blocks from his old high school. He scored twelve points in 19 games this season for the Tommies.

Anthony Hamburg, C, 19
Acquired: 7th Round, 193rd Overall 2009

Hamburg started the season at Colgate University, but after registering just three points in seven games decided he needed more icetime to be productive and returned to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. The relationship with Colgate coach Don Vaughan appears to remain amicable, and Hamburg may well return for next season. He improved over his first USHL outing considerably, scoring 16 points (six goals) in 24 games.

Kyle Medvec, D, 22
Acquired: 4th Round, 102nd overall, 2006

It was a pretty tough season in Burlington for senior defenseman and assistant captain Kyle Medvec. The team struggled on the whole all season long, finishing the campaign with a valiant loss to New Hampshire in the Hockey East tournament. Medvec registered just six points (two goals) in 29 games before injuring himself trying to finish a check in a February 12 game against Maine. He returned for the last three games of the season. Quite tall at 6’5 and filled in at 229 pounds, Medvec’s ability to cover is his best asset. His size will give him a chance to compete at the next level. He finished his collegiate career with 38 points in 137 games.

Scott Campbell, C, 24
Acquired: Free agent, March 2011

With his college career at a close, the Wild signed Scott Campbell to an amateur try out contract to bolster depth for the Houston Aeros. Ontario native Campbell had a pretty decent four-year collegiate career, scoring 85 points in 126 games. A two time Hockey East All-Academic, Campbell’s senior season was marred by injury. Lowell is somewhat of a middling team, but Campbell’s signing makes sense for the Wild’s overall depth, giving them a more experienced player for the farm team. Campbell is a good sized player, who scored at a healthy pace his junior and sophomore seasons, and won a Junior A scoring title with Pembroke as well.