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  • A Different Approach Gives the Wild Its Best Prospect Pool Ever

    Cam Jensen

    The Minnesota Wild arguably have a Top-3 prospect pool in the league, thanks mostly to general manager Bill Guerin and Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett. The Wild have drafted very well under Guerin, highlighted by picking Marco Rossi, Jesper Wallstedt, and Carson Lambos, all of whom are expected to be impact players in the NHL. With the 2022 Draft less than a month away, let’s take a deep dive into the Minnesota Wild’s draft history.


    The organization’s first GM, Doug Risebrough, had many talents, but drafting was not one of them. He did fine in his first two years, though. In his first four years as GM, he drafted Marian Gaborik (3rd overall, 2000), Mikko Koivu (6th, 2001), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (8th, 2002), and Brent Burns (20th, 2003) in the first round.


    But then the busts started coming. Risebrough drafted AJ Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Colton Gillies, and Tyler Cuma in the first round between 2004 to 2009. He even traded up three spots to get Gilles. Thielen never played in the NHL; Cuma only played in one game. Pouliot and Sheppard made a limited impact in Minnesota.


    Not only did five years in a row of first-round draft picks not pan out, but Risebrough’s only second-round picks that made the NHL were Marco Scandella and former enforcer Matt Kassian. Yes, he drafted an enforcer in the second round.


    Risebrough’s years of poor drafting made the team's prospect pool pretty thin. Before the 2009 draft, owner Craig Leopold fired Risebrough and hired Chuck Fletcher.


    Fletcher did pretty well in the draft. He took Nick Leddy, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Zack Phillips, Matt Dumba, Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin in the first round. Phillips was the only one who never reached the NHL. Fletcher broke Risebrough’s streak of five first-round busts in a row and even took some strong contributors (and a star) late in the draft: Kirill Kaprizov (135th overall, 2015), Carson Soucy (137th overall, 2013), Darcy Kuemper (161st overall, 2009), and Erik Haula (182nd overall, 2009).


    Although Chuck Fletcher’s draft record is pretty good, he effectively created a Risebrough-like string of incompetence late in his career by trading away picks and getting little in return.


    In 2010, less than a year after drafting Eden Prairie defenseman Nick Leddy in the first round, Fletcher sent him and Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks for Cam Barker. We all know how that turned out.


    Then at the 2012-13 trade deadline, Fletcher swapped Matt Hackett, Jacob Larsson, and a first and second-round pick for Jason Pominville the following year. Pominville was a good player, but Fletcher probably overpaid for him


    At the 2013-14 deadline, Fletcher gave up two second-round picks and Torrey Mitchell for 20 games and 13 points from Matt Moulson and 14 games and 2 points from Cody McCormick. The next year, he shipped out another second-rounder for Chris Stewart, and a third for Sean Bergenheim, both rentals.


    There were some minor trades that also bit Fletcher in a roundabout way. He traded for Darrell Powe, sending the Philadelphia Flyers a third-round pick that eventually became Jake Guentzel. At the 2014 draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded up one pick with the Wild so they could take Brayden Point.


    But the cherry on top of these miserable trades was at the 2016-17 trade deadline. Fletcher traded a first, second, and fourth-round pick for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White. The move didn't work, arguably shaking up Minnesota's chemistry, turning one of the best Wild teams ever upside down.


    While there was plenty wrong with Paul Fenton’s tenure with the Wild, he actually did fine in the draft. But he made a big mistake by taking Fillip Johansson in 24th overall in the 2018 Draft, when he was projected to be picked somewhere in the second-through-fourth rounds.


    However, Fenton made up for his mistake the following year by drafting Matt Boldy at 12th overall. Snagging Connor Dewar and Adam Beckman in the third round also helps Fenton's track record.


    Finally, we have current GM Bill Guerin. Obviously, it is too early to tell if any of Guerin's picks will pan out, but the Wild's prospect pool looks better than ever. After recently graduating Kaprizov (admittedly, a Fletcher pick), and Boldy (from Fenton), the organization still has a wave of intriguing youngsters.


    Beyond Rossi, Wallstedt, and Lambos, they have good early returns on their later picks over the past two years. Second-rounders Marat Khusnutdinov, Ryan O'Rourke, and Jack Peart have had strong careers since being drafted. Even later prospects, like Daemon Hunt (65th overall, 2020), Pavel Novak (146th overall, 2020), and Josh Pillar (127th overall, 2021), have NHL potential.


    It only took 22 years, but the Wild are finally being taken seriously thanks to their budding prospect pool and a general manager that values picks. In fact, Minnesota will enter the 2022 Draft with their own first-rounder, two second-rounders, and their own pick in every round but the seventh. That's before making a Fiala trade, which will likely return an extra pick or two. As long as Guerin doesn’t make some of the same mistakes as his predecessors at this year’s draft, things should be A-OK.

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