Part 19 in my "State of the Franchise" series.
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#12: Minnesota Wild
Top Fws: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley
Top Ds: Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert
Top G: Niklas Backstrom
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. D Marco Scandella (22)
2. D Jared Spurgeon (22)
3. D Justin Falk (23)
Top 5 Prospects
1. F Mikael Granlund (20)
2. F Charlie Coyle (20)
3. D Jonas Brodin (19)
4. D Mathew Dumba (18)
5. F Zack Phillips (19)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: A
The Wild, as always seem to be the case, have great goaltending in their professional system. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are about as steady a 2 man tandem as you can get, and Matt Hackett is also knocking on the door. They also have something they haven't had in a while; offensive depth. With the addition of Parise to a team that already has Koivu, Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, all of a sudden the Wild's offense actually looks dangerous if left alone.
In comparison though, the team's defensive depth is lacking. Ryan Suter is a true blue top pairing defender and Tom Gilbert is a good second pairing option, but Falk, Spurgeon, Scandella, Steven Kampfer and Clayton Stoner make for a very inexperienced bunch. While all 5 have talent, they also make plenty of mistakes from the backend and will be focused on and exploited by other teams.
There is a case to be made that the Wild have the league's best prospect pool. Not only do they have depth throughout every skating position, they have bluechip prospects at all of them. Names like Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Erik Haula, and Cody Almond offer depth and leadership up front, while John Draeger, Tyler Cuma and Nate Prosser offer depth at defense. Matt Hackett leads a solid, if unspectacular, group of goalies.
The goalies lack a true top flight prospect, although names like Hackett and Kuemper are not bad at all. Charlie Coyle is a bluechipper, but the Wild are somewhat thin behind him with Brett Bulmer and Carson MacMillan being the only other players of interest at his position. While Brodin, Dumba and Cuma offer strength at the top of their defense pool, the talent behind them is only borderline NHL caliber.
Minnesota got off to the hottest start in the league last year, only to fall off a cliff after injuries hit and tumble to 12th in the Western conference. The league's lowest scoring offense (you know you're screwed when Warren Peters is your second line center, no offense to him) was hit by injuries to key players such as Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi, and the team ended the year on the worst 40 game stretch in the league. It was bad; even the fans had started turning apathetic towards the Wild.
Then the coup occurred. When Parise and Suter joined "flyover country", it changed the team overnight. A potent group of young prospects suddenly looks even better when none of them have to immediately step up and be the star on a bad team. And just 1 and a half years ago, this pool didn't even have much in it; the Wild clearly have the most improved developmental system in the NHL after trading shrewdly, drafting well and watching their older prospects develop into potential NHL players. At the NHL level, the team finally got a hometown Minnesotan to be the face of their franchise, and he's joined by some pretty darn good players as well.
For the first time in a long time, Minnesota every reason to be positive about their team's upcoming season. And they'll have a ton of reason to be optimistic about their franchise's future as well. Count the Wild among the teams who will be in the playoff mix next season.