By Brandon Mileski
The Minnesota Wild Prospects Camp ended yesterday with Team White beating Team Green 4-3 in a scrimmage in front of 7,500 fans at Xcel Energy Center.
After attending yesterday’s scrimmage and practices this week, it is very evident what a great job Chuck Fletcher has done as Wild General Manager. Most people will give credit to Fletcher for his recent free agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and deservedly so, but what Fletcher has done to the Wild’s farm system probably deserves just as much, if not more, credit. After watching a slew of talented prospects yesterday, I was reminded of when I first started attending Minnesota Wild prospects scrimmages. In 2007, the headliners for this very same camp were 1st rounders James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, and Colton Gillies and 2nd rounders Roman Voloshenko and Ondrej Fiala. Now you know why the Wild have missed the playoffs four years in a row. The only players on the current Wild’s NHL roster from that 2007 camp are Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Kassian, Clayton Stoner, and Justin Falk. Not one top 6 forward, top 4 defenseman, or NHL goalie from that camp. Big John Scott and Ryan Jones also were in the camp and have played minor NHL roles.
Fast forward to this past week, and it’s amazing how much better the young talent has gotten in the Wild’s system.
Mikael Granlund scored 2 goals yesterday, one on a penalty shot, and is someone you can’t take your eyes off when on the ice. He looks like he’s not even trying, he’s so effortless. He makes everyone on the ice better. His teammates make more of an effort to get open when he has the puck. There was a play yesterday when Granlund had the puck in the offensive corner. Defenseman Josh Caron, who was on the weakside point, left his spot on the blue line and moved down toward the slot on the far side when Granlund got the puck. Now, typically for a defenseman, this can be a dangerous play, because if the pass is intercepted or deflected, Caron has now put himself out of position defensively, which would lead to an odd-man rush for the opposing team. But Caron had so much confidence in Granlund’s ability to see him, make the right decision, then make an accurate pass, that he decided to jump up in the play. If anyone else on the ice had the puck, Caron would’ve made the safe play and stayed on the blue line. That’s the effect Granlund has.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin (1st round pick, 2011) is a breakout machine. He’s a smooth skater, who makes the correct decision every time with the puck in his own zone.
Defenseman Matt Dumba (1st round pick, 2012) looked much better yesterday than he did in practice earlier this week. He made 2 big hits, including a thundering open ice hit on Kris Foucault in the neutral zone. He also gets his stick on everything.
Forward Jason Zucker is faster than everyone on the ice. He also has a quick release and made a spectacular pass to Granlund for a goal yesterday.
Forward Brett Bulmer did not have a great game yesterday, but was fantastic the rest of the week. He’s added some muscle to his frame and has improved his skating.
Forward Charlie Coyle has an NHL body and can stickhandle in small spaces very well for somebody his size.
Forward Johan Larsson has an incredible release, is a quick skater, and competes. He goes to the net fearlessly for a guy is size, and scored a goal doing exactly that yesterday on a rebound of a Coyle shot.
Forward Zach Phillips creates offenses. Not the fleetest of foot, but the puck finds his stick often and his line is typically in the offensive end. He’s a first round pick that nobody even really talks about because the prospect crop is so deep.
And we haven’t even mentioned goaltending! Matthew Hackett has led the Houston Aeros to the Calder Cup Final and could be the starting goalie for the Wild in 2 years.
That’s 9 players that are all better than any prospect we saw 5 years ago at the 2007 Prospects Camp, a sign that this franchise is heading in the right direction.
Brandon Mileski can be heard weekdays noon-3pm on FM 100.3 KFAN and followed on twitter @BMileskiKFAN