Minnesota Wild Best Draft Class: 2009
The issue we had with the Columbus Blue Jackets haunts their expansion cousin. Twenty-two drafts aren’t really long enough to have a standout draft unless a team had extreme luck – good or bad. And extremes are not something the Wild – despite the name – are famous for. Even though Minnesota had better luck than Columbus in their first draft, they rarely picked true stars. Fortunately for them, they just as rarely come up empty, either.
In fact, for much of their history, they have been derided by fans of other teams as being “dull”. It was an epithet branded on them early, as they were coached by defensive master Jacques Lemaire. We’ll talk about a few individuals later, but for first we’re splitting hairs between two back-to-back seasons. They are, of course, in the middle of Minnesota Wild history.
Nick Leddy, 1st Round, 16th Overall
In total games, the Minnesota Wild’s first pick in 2009 is – of course – right between Victor Hedman and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While Nick Leddy isn’t the scorer the other two are, he’s got a very respectable 65 goals and 336 points in his 776 games. Unfortunately, none of those games were with the Wild, as he was moved with Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks.
That deal brought Cam Barker back as the team made their push to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their first season out from under Lemaire wasn’t going as hoped, but the boost from the veteran defenceman would… not help. Barker remained with the team just one full season, while Leddy is still going strong. This year it’s going to be Leddy providing leadership for the Detroit Red Wings in return for a veteran forward and a prospect.
Still, his lack of ice time with the Wild doesn’t make him a bad pick. Indeed, he’s easily a top-10 selection for the year. As is our next selection:
Darcy Kuemper, 6th Round, 161st Overall
Voodoo. Magic beans. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. However you want to describe goaltenders, here’s why. Darcy Kuemper was Minnesota’s second goaltender picked that year, 86 spots after Matt Hackett. Hackett improved the season after he was drafted in the OHL and had a fine showing in his first professional season. But he only played 26 NHL games – 13 with Minnesota, 13 with the Buffalo Sabres.
The 6th round pick, however, has passed 240 NHL games and is going to play a vital part on a Stanley Cup favourite this year. When the team that absolutely shells you – as the Colorado Avalanche did – and still trades a first, a third, and a good prospect to get you? It’s not like they don’t know who they’re getting. Kuemper has gone from good on an average team to the reason a bad one makes the playoffs. How he’ll do with a prospective champion is a guess, but he’s very much earned his chance there.
Erik Haula, 7th Round, 182nd Overall
By the time the seventh round hits, scouts and teams are happy if the draftees they select have a solid AHL career. Erik Haula did a lot more than that by the time 2017 came around. In four seasons with Minnesota, he established himself as a good defender who could use his speed to surprise opponents on the fourth line. He was a good face-off guy, picked up some shorthanded points, and his five-on-five was solid. His 42 goals and 89 points in 266 games were brilliant in a fourth-line centre.
He was snapped up by the Vegas Golden Knights in their expansion, and promptly moved him onto their power play. He responded with 29 goals in 76 games. He’s since played for three teams in two seasons, signing with the Boston Bruins this off-season. However they plan to use him, he has more than paid full value for his remote draft position.
Class of 2010
While they aren’t the classic “defenceman, goalie, forward” that 2009 is, the three forwards are classic Minnesota Wild players. They lose some points for expectations, too, all being drafted in the first or second rounds. Still, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, and Jason Zucker are solid NHLers. Granlund has provided good secondary scoring for Minnesota and now Nashville. Larsson is in the “capable, bottom-six” brigade that finds contracts every year. And Zucker continues his wild-card career of gleeful abandon with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Minnesota Wild best draft class isn’t from 2010, but it’s not a bad one at all.
Minnesota’s very first draft pick produced a four-time 30-goal scorer, one-time 40-goal scorer, Marian Gaborik. He was a lighthouse in fog for fans hoping for an exciting player with the Wild. That those five years were all in Minnesota was astounding. He had two more 40-goal seasons after leaving the Wild and finished his career with 407 goals in just over 1,000 games.
It took another 15 years to find that level of excitement in the draft, and general manager Bill Guerin says things are “going well enough” in negotiations with him. The fans certainly hope so. They’ll have a hard time replacing Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov.
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