With tongue firmly in cheek, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher began his NHL draft preview by saying, “We’ll take the best available player, regardless of position.”
Hey, of all drafts, this one especially, that actually might be true. When you’re choosing 18th overall in the NHL draft as the Wild is set to Friday in Philadelphia, you’re at the mercy of what others team do and which players fall.
But Fletcher knows the “take the best available player” mantra is often scout-speak, particular by Brent Flahr, the assistant GM who will be the head of the Wild’s draft table for a fifth consecutive year.
Even when Flahr has uttered those words in the past, he wasn’t being completely honest.
In 2010, with few young skilled forwards in the organization, the Wild knew it would take a forward. It did so with Mikael Granlund at ninth overall -- and then did some maneuvering to take Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker in the second round. The Wild liked so many forwards in 2010, it actually since has acquired two other guys, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, taken in the first round that year.
In 2011 and 2012, Flahr again said the Wild would take the best player available. However, it was obvious the Wild needed defensemen and indeed it took Jonas Brodin (10th in 2011) and Matt Dumba (seventh in 2012).
Guessing who might be available at 18th is not easy.
“I don’t think we’re going to get too picky,” Flahr said. “Where we are, we really do have to look at the best player available. Hopefully some guys fall, and we can get a guy much higher than 18 on our list.
“I think we’ll get a good player. If you asked me that at the beginning of the year, I’d be a little concerned. But guys really stepped up and had strong finishes, so it makes our list look a lot better and gives us a lot of confidence going in, that’s for sure.”
In a forward-heavy draft, Fletcher anticipates the Wild will end up with a forward if it sticks at 18. But Fletcher said the Wild has looked at a number of scenarios where maybe it would drop back in order to gain multiple picks. In 2009, the Wild flipped spots with the Islanders, picked up two extras and drafted goalie Matt Hackett (included in Jason Pominville trade) and center Erik Haula with those picks.
With the Wild currently without a second-round pick, dealt as part of the Matt Moulson trade with Buffalo, it might be hard to move significantly higher.
The Wild would like to add goaltending depth. Boston College’s Thatcher Demko is the top-rated goalie, but No. 18 could be too high to take him.
“Realistically, I don’t anticipate us drafting a goaltender at 18,” Fletcher said. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t move back to look at certain options that may present themselves.”
Last season, the Wild used four No. 1 goalies at different junctures and could again be entering next season with young Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding, who has multiple sclerosis and missed the second half last year, and Niklas Backstrom, who is rehabbing from offseason abdominal and hip surgeries.
Goalies typically need four or five years after being drafted to make the NHL, and Demko likely would return to college at least another two seasons before a few years in the minors. Fletcher said there should be quality goalies through the middle rounds Saturday, too.
“There are so many variables with goalies,” Flahr said. “They develop at different rates, and it’s such a mental game, talent is such a small part of it. That’s why most don’t like taking goalies in the first round. Some guys you think are slam dunks don’t amount to anything.”
The Wild has one pick in each of the third, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and three in the sixth, and Fletcher often uses them to move up and down later in the draft.
Fletcher, who has a history of draft-day trades, continues to work the phones trying to fill immediate holes, too. He said he might have to wait until free agency to address them. He is shopping center Kyle Brodziak, sources say.
Fletcher also said the Wild continues to talk to pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman Clayton Stoner and forward Cody McCormick.