Monday, June 22, 2009

Elise from 18,568 Reasons Why reasons with us regarding the Wild's upcoming draft

Elise from 18568 Reasons Why has frequently contributed Minnesota Wild views to CLS. While the formerly Lemaire-lead Wild might be dull, Elise's blog is far from it. Make sure to follow her coverage of the team as it goes in what could be a very different direction next season.

1. After all those years of (some might even say bland) same-ness, the Wild made some big front office changes. Do you see the franchise going in a different direction, particularly in the way they draft? Talk about a few prospects you'd like to see playing in 'Soter.

There have already been talks of how different things will be since basically the entire front office and half the coaching staff is gone. In the span of the thus far short off-season, the Wild have lost a GM, Assistant GM, Head Coach, and Assistant Coach (with the fate of the rest of the staff unsure). Tommy Thompson, the Wild’s retained Assistant GM, told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune {LINK} that the team will be looking for a player with “pizzazz” in this year’s draft. One thing that’s likely to be different is the amount of picks.

In the past, ex-GM Doug Risebrough used often used picks in trades, leading to a dearth of quality prospects, particularly in recent years. For instance, the Wild draft 12th this year and currently have no second or third round picks because they were traded away last year (one in the Nashville deal to acquire Marek Zidlicky, the other to move up in last year’s draft) and have had no third round picks in three years. Another thing of the past that should change is the reluctance to make big-name trades.

At the draft and trade deadline, names would float and trade talks were rumored, but the Wild never really made any big moves. With new GM Chuck Fletcher not afraid to shake things up, something exciting could happen to acquire more picks or a player. Names that were being thrown around as possible trade bait included Zidlicky, Derek Boogaard, Josh Harding, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, among others.

2. With the Marian Gaborik situation still unresolved, how likely do you think it could be that Gabby could turn into another high draft pick or something of that nature? Do you think the Wild could make waves at the draft by moving Gabby's negotiating rights?

The Gaborik situation is one of the big uncertainties right now. Fletcher’s reached out to Gaby and his agent, Ron Salcer, since taking the job and they are talking, but it would be hard to close a deal this close to free agency. But Fletcher does have a lot of experience negotiating contracts and firing two of the guys Salcer had the biggest problems with – Risebrough and ex-Assistant GM Tom Lynn – certainly could send a message to Gaby. One thing the organization had problems with in the past is letting free agents walk for nothing (see: Rolston, Brian). Hopefully that trend won’t continue, and I don’t believe it will.

If Fletcher chooses to trade Gaborik’s negotiating rights, he obviously has to get that done soon and the draft would be an ideal place to do that. But even if no one signs him before July 1 and he enters the summer with no strings attached, Fletcher will still contact Gaborik to talk about the possibility of a new contract with Minnesota. Despite the difficulties of the Wild-Gaborik relationship, this is still the team that drafted him and who helped shape him into the player he is today; a team he has a eight year relationship with. And after spending most of the season on IR, teams still might be reluctant to sign him long-term, even after his surgery which supposedly fixed everything forever.

3. Looking back now, it seems like the Wild are one of the NHL franchises that lean on the draft most heavily. Describe some of the team's most shrewd draft moves. Are there any "steals" that stand out to you?

A lot of the Wild’s core players have come from the draft – Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns, Marian Gaborik, etc. But most of their draft success came in the early years of the organization. Lately, less draft picks have advanced to the NHL and, as many have stated, the prospect cupboard is bare. Sure, a couple of young drafts have made it up (James Sheppard, Colton Gillies) but that’s mainly been due to need and age (too young to send to the AHL, too good for their junior team). And these young guys simply aren’t ready for the NHL quite yet. But there have also been some good moves that might have gone overlooked.

The team had a good year in 2001, drafting Stephane Veilleux 93rd overall and Derek Boogaard 202nd overall. They also snagged Cal Clutterbuck 72nd in 2006, and he had a fantastic year this year, breaking the single season hits record and spawning a fan push for Calder recognition. Harding was drafted 38th overall in 2002 and he’s developed into a very solid goaltender.

4. On the flip side, every team makes mistakes in the draft. What are some of those moves that look quite boneheaded to you. Are there any mistake picks that really cause Wild fans to ask "What if?" type questions?

One thing Minnesotans are always pushing for and craving more of on this team is homegrown talent – good ol’ Minnesota boys who grew up playing on the outdoor rinks in the State of Hockey and craving the trip to Xcel to play in the High School State Tournament. That hasn’t seemed to work out too well for the Wild, case in point being the drafting of AJ Thelen. Thelen was a defenseman who grew up in Savage, MN and was drafted by the Wild in 2004, 12th overall. He never made it very far, struggling after being booted from the Michigan State hockey team as a sophomore for rule infractions. He wasn’t re-signed by the Wild after his contract was up and currently is playing in the ECHL.

Another now questionable draft pick was Benoit Pouliot, drafted fourth overall in 2005. Pouliot hasn’t developed like everyone wanted to, and although there’s still a chance, Wild fans seem to be losing hope on him. He’s shone flashes, but has never been consistent or put enough effort in. Some players that were drafted behind him? Carey Price, Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, TJ Oshie, Kris Letang, and Mason Raymond, among others. One of the more “What if?” moves was when the Wild chose to trade top prospect Patrick O’Sullivan to the LA Kings for Pavol Demitra (who conveniently happened to be bffs with Gaby who conveniently happened to be in a contract holdout with the Wild at the time). Demitra struggled in Minnesota and with Jacques Lemaire’s system while O’Sullivan turned into a very, very good player. I always wonder what would have happened had we kept Sully…

Soapbox Time If you'd like, feel free to bring up some topics/issues we didn't touch on. What's your feeling about the new management and the general direction of the team?

I always get excited for a new season. It’s sad to see players go, but there are new ones to learn about who come and take their place. But for the first time in awhile, I’m more excited than usual. And I think I can safely call that a blanket statement for most of the fans. So many changes have already been made and seeing how this organization will change into the up-tempo team promised excites me. After so many seasons of the same thing, change is coming in huge waves for Minnesota. We might not be a great team right away, but the organization is going in a very different, and invigorating, direction.

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