Successful Drafting Has Built Minnesota Wild into Contender
By Dakota Case, Special Contributor
The week leading up to draft day is always filled with a lot of anxiety and anticipation. In fact, it’s a lot like the lead-up to Christmas morning. Add to that the fact that the Minnesota Wild and General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s scouting staff has produced a tantalizing young prospect or two every year, and it’s easy to see why Wild fans can get so excited to see who will be the newest resident of the State of Hockey with each passing June.
However, successful drafting hasn’t always been the case for Minnesota, as a significant stretch from 2004-2008 left the club with a dearth of elite offensive talent both on the team and in the prospect pool. Coincidentally, those were also the last five drafts of the Doug Risebrough era. With the arrival of Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr, momentum has swung in the Wild’s favor considerably.
Heading into his sixth draft at the helm, Fletcher has already seen four of his first round picks, three second round picks, a third round pick, a fourth round pick, a sixth round pick and a seventh round pick make their NHL debuts with the Wild or other teams. That’s no small feat by any means, and many more promising youngsters will make their way towards the bright lights of St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center later this fall.
In addition to drafted talent, Fletcher has also added a pair of quality young forwards with elite offensive upsides via trades. The duo of Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, along with one of Fletcher’s firsts in Mikael Granlund, has already emerged as legitimate top-6 forward options for the club. That was never more apparent than when Niederreiter sealed Minnesota’s first round series against the Colorado Avalanche this spring with a pipe-clinking snipe over the shoulder of Semyon Varlamov in overtime of Game Seven, a sound that, I’m sure, can still be heard ringing from Denver’s Pepsi Center to this day. The Wild then fell in six games to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but there was no question the series was much closer than it had been between the two clubs the year previous.
Fletcher has built his club the right way—supplementing an offensively-challenged team with savvy draft picks and mind-blowing free agent signings. Signing Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville has helped make the Wild a threat now, but the best way to build a contender is through the draft, and Minnesota’s GM has done an excellent job of identifying and developing elite young talent to help take the club to the next level. The fact that Minnesota’s draft day prowess goes seven rounds deep has given the club one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, and it’s only going to get deeper after this weekend.
Yes, these are once again the good old days of NHL hockey in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Don’t worry—training camp is just two and a half months away…