Photo: Rookie pro Erik Haula already has 10 NHL games under his belt in 2013-14. He is currently with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, where he leads the team with 16 points in 22 games this season (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
As the Minnesota Wild goes through periods of unforeseeable injury and head-smacking offensive inability, several burgeoning talents from the Iowa squad have stepped up into NHL roles.
Photo: First-year pro Erik Haula, who has four points in five AHL games this season, represents the depth of talent that the Wild have at the pro level (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)
The Minnesota Wild has taken an aggressive approach in free agency and trade at the NHL level, adding a franchise defenseman in Ryan Suter, and bolstering its forward corps with legitimate NHL stars in Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and a solid defensive presence in Matt Cooke. The confidence to make these moves was in part due to a group of prospects who seemed ready to come in and provide support during their cheaper entry-level contract years.
Photo: Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has missed most of the first half of the season with a broken collarbone, is one of the high-profile prospects making their debut in Houston this season. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
Although many people in and around the world of hockey were negatively affected by the 2012 NHL lockout, the Minnesota Wild was no doubt one team that saw a silver lining. With a cluster of players around the same age needing a developmental year or three in the AHL, the lockout saved the team from hard personnel decisions while also giving these young players a great opportunity to learn to play the pro game together at a high level of competition.
Photo: Johan Larsson is one of the many top prospects spending the 2012-13 season with the AHL's Houston Aeros. (courtesy of Juan DeLeon/Icon SMI)
The Wild is still in the midst of a controlled rebuilding process. While the team has added immediate help at the NHL level for some areas of deficiency, most notably an elite top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Suter, an underrated top-four defenseman in Tom Gilbert, and an all-star scoring winger in Zach Parise, a few barren years at the draft kept the team from contention recently. Very strong drafts in 2010 and 2011, punctuated by the trade for Charlie Coyle, have put the team in excellent shape to be contenders soon. The core might be able to take advantage of the NHL lockout to grow together at the AHL level. Part of the Minnesota mentality is knowing there is a long winter ahead to test for weaknesses. With luck, this group of prospects will emerge strong and battle-tested.
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