After two draft-filled days (and a few to digest), the 2011 NHL Draft will be known as a turning point for the Minnesota Wild. With Minnesota missing the postseason for the third straight season and having the 26th best prospect pool according to Hockey's Future, General Manager Chuck Fletcher decided to trade All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and re-focus on younger talent.
The trade of Burns to San Jose for forward Devin Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle and the #28 pick was unexpected but not shocking. Despite it being one day after reiterating his love for the Wild organization, Minnesota has few if any trading chips and Burns is one year from unrestricted free agency. With the Wild being unable to lose Burns for nothing and a deal too good to pass up, Minneota pulled the trigger.
While Burns' departure leaves a gaping hole on defense, the trade gives the Wild some outstanding pieces to build around. Setoguchi, who on Thursday signed a 3 year $9 million contract, is a 25-goal scorer (although a lousy lawyer) who will give Minnesota two solid scoring lines and help center Mikko Koivu out drastically. Coyle was San Jose's top prospect (and the twentieth-best in the NHL) and a power forward who led Boston University's team as a freshman. He is a prospect who along with Mikael Granlund should give the Wild much needed offensive help in the future. Finally Minnesota was able to use the 28th pick to select center Zack Phillips. Phillips put up 38 goals while helping to lead the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Canadian junior hockey championship but is a project who needs to work on skating.
Overshadowed in the Burns trade Friday night was the tenth overall selection of 6'1" Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin. Like many picks in the Chuck Fletcher era, Brodin is a player with upside who finished his season strong; however not a consensus top-ten pick. In fact, TSN analyst Bob McKenzie is the only person who had Brodin in his top ten along with a comparison to Nicklas Lidstrom. Regardless, there are high expectations for Brodin. As a 17 year-old playing for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League (one of the top leagues in the world) has shown great patience and vision along with fellow Swede Kim Johnsson's ability to complete a breakout pass. He's a safe pick but for Brodin to become a NHL star he is going to have to further develop and work on his offense.
Saturday brought another four prospects into the Wild organization and the big story was the team drafting two Minnesotans. Although Minnesota was without a second round pick due to trading for Chuck Kobasew in 2009, the Wild traded their third and fourth round pick to Vancouver for the #60 pick and drafted Wayzata HS forward Mario Lucia. It was a great pick (despite what others may say) for Minnesota because Lucia is a late first, early second round talent and the Wild need quality prospects regardless of where they were born. The team did the same thing last year trading their third and fourth round pick for a late second with Las Vegas native Jason Zucker and that move has appeared to pay off.
After Lucia, Minnesota drafted Eden Prairie native Nick Seeler with the #131 pick in the fifth round. Seeler, a defenseman headed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, helped lead the Eden Prairie Eagles to the Class 2A hockey title with 9 goals and 34 assists. The Wild used their sixth round pick on goalie Stephan Michalek out of Loomis-Chaffee High School in Connecticut. Michalek was seen as the sixth-best goalie by Central Scouting and is headed to Harvard to play hockey for the Crimson. Minnesota's final pick in the seventh round was spent on Ottawa 67s center Tyler Graovac, who spent time this season injured with a broken forearm. Graovac is a two-way player with a big body and focuses more on faceoffs and being sound defensively than offense.
All in all, it was a good draft for the Wild organization but not one for the NHL team. For an organization with few high-end assets, Minnesota added the equivalent of four first-round picks and wisely chose to focus on younger talent after years of quick fixes. However, the loss of defenseman Brent Burns and the fact that many prospects are one or two years away from helping leave the Wild with holes to fill. It remains to be seen how General Manger Chuck Fletcher can help the NHL team through free agency - he already started by adding Setoguchi and trading a third round pick in 2013 for Philadelphia Flyers forward Darroll Powe - but the road back to the playoffs and the top of NHL appears to get worse before it gets better.