Top Shelf Prospects: Minnesota Wild

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Updated: August 13, 2013
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Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”.  As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks).  You can find all the articles here.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).

TopShelfProspectsThe Minnesota Wild came into the 2012-13 season with big expectations after signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as unrestricted free agents last summer.  It was not the instant transformation from non-playoff team to cup contender that some overhyped it to be.  While the Wild did make the playoffs, they finished 8th and only clinched their spot on the final day of the season.  Once in the dance, they were quickly sent home by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  Still the season went right along with this author’s personal expectations, as I stated last year that the while Parise and Suter are great players, they are only two men, and could not transform the roster over night.  Still last year I named the Wild as having the best prospect system in hockey and as those prospects grow, develop and make it to the big team the Wild are set up for success in future years.  After all, Parise and Suter signed long-term deals in Minnesota, they shouldn’t have been expected to turn around a club that was near the bottom of the league overnight.  The growth of the prospects and the contributions they can make to the Wild have already begun as Jonas Brodin showed to be NHL ready and finished 4th in voting for the Calder Trophy, while Charlie Coyle spent most of the season with the big club, playing in 42 games including playoffs.  Given the short nature of the last NHL season, I think that these two have made their mark and am considering them graduated for this report.

2013 NHL Draft Picks Profiled by LWOS: Gustav Olofsson,
Graduates: Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle,

 

Top Prospect, Mikael Granlund, Centre
Born Feb 26 1992 — Oulu, Finland
Height 5.08 — Weight 169 — Shoots L
Selected by the Minnesota Wild in round 1, #9 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft

It wasn’t quite the debut I envisioned for Mikael Granlund.  Last summer, I called him one of the “best prospects in the world, Period”  and last fall I picked him to be in contention for the Calder Trophy.  With just 2 goals and 8 points in 27 games with the Wild he didn’t live up to those predictions, but I stand by my assessment that he is a super stud and one of the best prospects in the world.  It may take Granlund some time to become accustomed to the North American game, but he isn’t the type of player you should sleep on, as I feel he has all the tools and a breakout is just around the corner.

Granlund has proven his talent throughout his hockey career.  He dominated the Finnish Elite League as a teenager playing against men. He has also attended the Mens IIHF World Championships as an 18 and 19-year old and put up 14 points in 19 games. In the 2011 semifinal against Russia he scored an incredible lacrosse-style goal that has earned him postage stamp treatment in his home land.

Offensively Granlund’s hockey sense is off the charts. He reads the play exceptionally well and finds openings in the defence. He has sublime hands and stick-handling ability, which he uses to beat defenders both off the rush, and in the offensive zone. He also protects the puck well, and can use those quick hands to score goals in-tight. Granlund’s biggest strength is as a playmaker. He has outstanding vision and the ability to thread the puck through tight areas. Despite his small size, Granlund has great balance and a low centre of gravity which makes him very tough to knock off the puck. He works well on the cycle and makes a ton of plays below the goal line and behind the net.

That said, there are still some areas for improvement in his offensive game. He is not a sniper, and his wrist shot and release and are average at best.

He is also not very fast. His top-end speed and acceleration have improved since he was drafted, but they’re just not at an elite level. They are merely slightly above average. That said, he has great edgework, agility, and balance. This, combined with Granlund’s stickhandling, makes him extremely elusive in the offensive zone and off the rush. He is able to get around opponents and find and capitalize on openings.

Granlund plays a complete game and is solid in both ends of the ice. Defensively he shows a good effort level on the backcheck and a great understanding of defensive positioning. He uses his great hockey sense to read the play well, cut down passing lanes, and strong anticipation to create turnovers.  When those turnovers are created he is ready to transition into offence and catch the other team on the counterattack.

I believe that Granlund will make a permanent home in the Minnesota lineup this year.  With Matt Cullen moving on there is certainly room for him to centre an offensive line.  I think he will grab the bull by the horns and seize the opportunity having a very successful year in the his first full campaign in the league.

 

Prospect #2, Mathew Dumba, Defence
Born Jul 25 1994 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 6.00 — Weight 173 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Minnesota Wild in round 1, #7 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

It was an up and down season for Matt Dumba. The defenceman had a down year offensively as even though he played less games his goals per game, and points per game totals were down considerably in Red Deer. He was also cut from the Canadian World Junior Championship team. That said, he also had some up moments such as making the Wild out of camp as an 18 year old (even if he was sent back to Junior after four games), and his Red Deer team had a much better season, finishing fourth in the conference, making the playoffs and sweeping the Prince Albert Raiders in the first round of the WHL playoffs. While the Rebels would fall in the second round, it should be considered a successful year for the team. Dumba finished the year getting a taste of the AHL, spending some time with the Houston Aeros in the regular season and playoffs.

Matt Dumba is a very talented, but very raw defence prospect. Offensively talented, Dumba has great skating, a tremendous slapshot, smart offensive instincts, makes great passes, and is clearly not afraid to join the rush or take offensive chances. Over his time in Red Deer, Dumba has shown that he can use these skills and translate them into being an offensive weapon. While his numbers were slightly down, this is due in large part to some improvements that have been made in Dumba’s defensive game over the past year. While he has a ways to go, he’s become less of a gambler, and more willing to pick his spots and play defensive hockey as the year progressed. This lead to an improvement from -6 in 2011-12 to +10 in 2012-13

Dumba is also a big hitter. He loves to see a forward coming down his side of the ice with his head down, and will not hesitate to throw a hard, heavy hit, if he gets the opportunity. He’s usually able to do so with great timing and deliver his big shots legally.

Dumba has certainly improved his defensive work, but still has a ways to go in his own end of the ice. He sometimes takes too many offensive chances or gets himself out of position looking for that big hit and his defensive game can sometimes suffer as a result. He also needs to bulk up as he’s listed at 6’0, 173 lbs. He’s got decent enough height, but he certainly needs to add muscle to that frame if he expects to be able to continue to throw those type of big hits against the bigger stronger opponents he will face in the pro game. More size and strength will also help him to contain the bigger forwards he’ll face in the pros. He could also use some more time learning at the junior level, as his defensive positioning and decision making could stand to be improved. This is something that Brent Sutter continues to work on with Dumba, and you can see how he’s bought in over the last year, as he’s gone from below average to above average in his defensive game. Some might say I’m being too harsh on Dumba, but he has the mobility and the athleticism to be an elite defender and so with that potential I hope to see him continue to work on his fundamentals.

I expect Dumba to spend another season in the WHL, and he has an excellent chance to make Canada’s World Junior squad this year. He’s probably at least a full season away from contributing in the NHL, but he can be a real game changer down the road for the Wild.

 

Super Sleeper Prospect, Erik Huala, Centre/Left Wing
Born Mar 23 1991 — Pori, Finland
Height 5.11 — Weight 190 — Shoots L
Selected by Minnesota Wild round 7 #182 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft

Huala led the Minnesota Golden Gophers in points for a second straight year in 2012-13 amassing an incredible 51 points in just 37 games. In his last two years of NCAA hockey, Huala has played 80 games, and put up 100 points for the Gophers. In truth, it could have been even more as a broken foot cost him some time down the stretch. After the NCAA season came to a close, Huala signed an Entry-Level Deal with the Wild and played for the team’s AHL affiliate in Houston, down the stretch and into the playoffs. The young Finn struggled a little with the adjustment during the AHL playoffs, but this is to be expected, and overall it was a solid season that makes the former 7th rounder look like a promising prospect in the Minnesota system.

Huala is a speedster. He has a great skating stride, and excellent top end speed and acceleration. Defenders must back off and respect his ability to go wide and cut to the net, for if they don’t Huala will blow right by them. This backing off, opens up room for Huala who is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has taken advantage of the passing lanes created and his good vision and passing skills to set up plenty of Gopher teammates off the rush. While not really known for his goal scoring he does have a decent shot and good release, and could stand to use it more.

Huala is a good two way player who played important minutes on the penalty kill for the Gophers. He is strong in the faceoff circle an important aspect for any two-way centre. His quickness is a major asset defensively as he anticipates plays well, creating turnovers and allowing him to start the transition game.

I would expect Huala to start in the AHL next season, but he shouldn’t be far away from challenging for a third line role on the Wild. Continuing to develop the two way game at the pro level will be what allows Huala to make the big show sooner rather than later.

 

The Graduations of Brodin and Coyle, along with the trade of Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett mean that the Wild are unlikely to repeat at the top of the Top Shelf Prospects organizational rankings.  However this isn’t a bad thing, as 2 of those 4 players are now contributing directly to the Wild’s on-ice success and the other two were traded for Jason Pominville, the type of two way winger that can really help the Wild find a balanced attack now and in the future.  There is still plenty of quality pieces and good depth in the Minnesota system, just look at players like Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Darcy Kuemper, Tyler Cuma, Johan Gustafsson, and Mario Lucia who I have not had the room to profile today. The future is bright for the Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher has done an outstanding job in quickly turning the franchise around.

 

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