Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild drafts seven more players; Tyler Cuma's Wild tenure ends; Odds and ends

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 28, 2014 - 3:20 PM

My 19th NHL draft is complete, and this one was uneventful at least from the trade component. I'll have some free agency advances in the coming days as the market opens Tuesday. I'll also toss up a Wild depth chart Sunday on my blog.

I will also be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN Monday from 9-noon.

The only move the Wild made came in the third round when Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, who I think used to play in the NHL, sprinted over to assistant GM Brent Flahr and GM Chuck Fletcher. The Wild was content to take one of two guys, so the Wild traded the 79th pick to Tampa for the 80th and a seventh-rounder next year originally owned by Vancouver.

The Wild, which took USA Under-18 power forward Alex Tuch in the first round Friday, selected USA Under-18 captain Louis Belpedio, a defenseman, with that third-round pick.

Miami University coach Enrico Blasi told College Hockey Inc. on Belpedio: “There’s not anything he doesn’t do well. He’s got a pretty good offensive knack, although he probably isn’t the most offensive defenseman out there. He’s not overly physical, but he can play that way when he wants to. He’s pretty responsible defensively, but not afraid to jump in the play. Bottom line is he’s a great person, a great kid, who will fit our culture perfectly. Our job will be to help him build on all those skills he has right now, both emotionally and physically, so he can eventually make that transition, hopefully to the NHL.”

The Wild took seven guys today and eight in the draft – four forwards, three D and a goalie, Finnish goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, a 17-year-old who may play on Espoo’s pro team this year after being on their junior team last year. The guy is big. He’s built more like a power forward. Nine percent body fat, his European agent told me.

The Wild had a deal done for a second-round pick that would have involved trading its 2015 second-rounder and a later pick today.

“But there were three or four players we were keying in on and unfortunately all four of them literally went right before that pick,” Fletcher said, chuckling. “We had the trade done to move in, but the last player had to be there, and he got picked the pick before. That was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, it would have involved moving next year’s second, so I guess we paid our price this year in the second and we have ours still for next year. … Next year’s draft’s supposed to be good.”

I was calling a bunch of teams and I couldn’t get anybody and finally the team bit.

On the draft, Fletcher said, “We weren’t trying to be overly cute or creative. We just kind of took what came to us and we didn’t give up any picks going forward.

“We took a chance on a couple kids that were banged up last year and didn’t play a lot. We were able to get a goaltender we liked a lot in the fourth round, Belpedio was captain of that Under-18 team and he’s a high character player, a very good player, very skilled, puck moving, good skater, going to Miami, so we’re pretty happy to get him. So you could see we took some defensemen, we took some forwards, so we weren’t really fixated on position. We were looking for opportunities to find some players that slipped for various reasons. We took some chances. The Tanner Faith kid [in the fifth round] was a kid who missed a lot of time last year (shoulder), a big right-shot defenseman. But we felt if had he been healthy, he may have been selected a lot higher this year, so there’s a little bit of a leap of faith there. The scouts were pleased with the players we got.”

Wild news:

-- As suspected, the Wild will not tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Tyler Cuma, the 2008 first-round pick that just had a lot of bad luck with injuries and only played one game for the Wild in 2011-12. Fletcher wants to give him a chance to move on and try to get a job elsewhere because he’s just way back on the depth chart now with guys like Matt Dumba, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson, etc. in the organization.

-- I would suspect the Wild will try to meet with Thomas Vanek in the next day or two. My guess is the team wants to get in front of him, talk about a potential contract, a potential fit and make sure each side is comfortable with what he could potentially bring and mean to the Wild. I’ll write more about this in my Insider in Sunday’s newspaper, and I’ll also put in there another big name I have learned the Wild has inquired about.

-- Most the RFA’s and UFA’s in Iowa will be gone. Said Fletcher, “I think we’ll still speak to a couple of them. With the times down there, you’ve got to cycle through. After a certain amount of time if it hasn’t worked out, it’s in everybody’s best interest for the player to go somewhere else, try something new, try something different. And after last season, to be honest with you, there wasn’t enough positives to promote the status quo.”

-- On Cody McCormick, Fletcher said, “I’ve had some ongoing dialogue. And I think the whole league is
talking to everybody now. It’s not really realistic for players to agree now when they can wait a couple more days at this point. I think Cody liked his situation here and we certainly liked him. But you never know. It only takes one team to do something that we would consider out of the norm to swing it the wrong way. I’m comfortable we’ve made a very good representation to him with what we can do and
we’ll talk.”


Some odds and ends beyond the Ryan Collins, Jack Dougherty notes on the previous blog:

-- Tyler Nanne, the grandson of former North Stars GM Lou Nanne, son of Wild scout Marty Nanne and brother of Wild prospect Louie Nanne, was taken 142nd overall by the Rangers. …

-- Frederik Olofsson, the brother of Wild prospect Gustav Olofsson, was taken 98th overall by the Blackhawks. …

-- Former Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey’s son, Jack, was drafted 208th overall by Chicago. …

-- Former Wild forward Richard Park was in Pittsburgh meeting with teams about jobs and has talked to Fletcher about a potential player development role with the Wild. …

-- Moments after the Wild drafted Tuch on Friday, Zach Parise texted a USA Hockey official asking for Tuch’s number so he could welcome him to the Wild.

-- Here is snippets of future Gopher Jack Glover’s Q and A after going 69th overall to Winnipeg:

on joining the rivalry.

“Definitely a Wild fan growing up. With the new divisions, the Wild are going to be seeing Winnipeg a lot, which adds a lot of excitement for me. Maybe some day getting to be a part of that rivalry is something that I’m definitely looking forward to.”
 

“Coming into the week, I tried not to come in with too many expectations. Seeing all of my buddies getting drafted definitely built up the excitement for me,” said Glover. “My heart was definitely racing. Getting picked was the best moment of my life so far It was awesome.”

“Growing up in Minnesota, it’s kind of religion there, much like it is in Winnipeg I’m sure, so kid kind of picks it up. My brother played, he’s the one that kind of got me into i to begin with and it it just kind of took off from there. I stuck with it  ever since. I didn’t excel in anything else. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out for me.”

 

I have to write my Insider, but here is a cut and paste of the Wild’s press release on all of its 2014 draft picks:

Minnesota selected forward Alex Tuch, 18th overall, during the Draft’s first round Friday night. The 18-year-old (5/10/96) spent the past two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich. The 6-foot-3.5, 218-pound native of Syracuse, N.Y., posted 64 points (29-35=64) in 61 games with the U.S. Under-18 Team in 2013-14, tying for the team lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He is committed to Boston College for the fall of 2014.

    Minnesota started Saturday by acquiring the 80th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and a seventh-round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft from Tampa Bay in exchange for the Wild’s 79th overall selection in the 2014 Draft. With the 80th pick, the Wild selected defenseman Louie Belpedio in the third round. The 18-year-old (5/14/96) native of Skokie, Ill., spent the past two seasons alongside Tuch at the USNTDP. A 5-foot-10, 193-pound blueliner, Belpedio posted 20 points (7-13=20) in 53 games with the U.S. Under-18 program in 2013-14. He is committed to Miami University (Ohio) for the fall of 2014.

    The Wild selected goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen in the fourth round with the 109th overall selection. The 17-year-old (8/16/96) native of Helsinki, Finland, posted a .912 SV% in 38 games with the Espoo Blues in Finland’s Junior League. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound netminder catches with his left glove and plays in a butterfly style.

    Minnesota selected 18-year-old (10/5/95) defenseman Tanner Faith in the fifth round (139th overall). The 6-foot-3, 211-pound native of Terrace, B.C., posted one assist in 10 games with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2013-14, missing most of the season with an upper-body injury. He posted eight points (2-6=8) in 55 games with Kootenay in 2012-13.

    With a sixth-round selection previously acquired from Ottawa, the Wild drafted defenseman Pontus Sjalin 160th overall. The 6-foot, 168-pound native of Ostersund, Sweden, totaled 31 games (21 at Division 1, six at U-18, four in U-20) for Ostersunds IK in 2013-14. The 18-year-old (6/12/96) blueliner totaled nine points (4-5=9) and a plus-21 rating.

   Minnesota selected 17-year-old (9/13/96) center Chase Lang 167th overall with a sixth-round selection previously acquired from the New York Rangers. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound native of Nanaimo, B.C., totaled 25 points (10-15=25) in 68 games with Calgary (WHL) in 2013-14.

    The Wild drafted center Reid Duke with its third, sixth-round selection, 169th overall. The 18-year-old (1/28/96) Calgary, Alta., native totaled 40 points (15-25=40) in 62 games with Lethbridge (WHL) in 2013-14. The 6-foot, 189-pound centerman posted 24 points (8-16=24) in 57 games with Lethbridge in 2012-13.

    With its final selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Minnesota claimed center Pavel Jenys in the seventh round (199th overall). The 6-foot-2, 189-pound native of Brno, Czech Republic, totaled 21 points (15-6=21) in 55 games with Brno in 2013-14 (29 in senior division, 26 in junior division). The 18-year-old (4/2/96) added two goals in four games with Czech Republic at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge.

Collins, Dougherty become the first two Minnesotans; Wild takes defenseman, goalie

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 28, 2014 - 11:08 AM

UPDATED

Defenseman Ryan Collins, a Bloomington native, will join Gophers teammate Mikey Reilly in the Blue Jackets organization. Columbus made Collins the first Minnesotan selected in the 2014 draft when it chose him 47th overall.

“I’m very proud,” Collins said. “I love Minnesota, and it’s great to be selected from there. I can’t wait to congratulate the other Minnesotans taken.”

Four picks later, Nashville took Collins’ USA Under-18 teammate, Jack Dougherty, 51st overall.

“We’ve been great friends for years, so going in the draft close kind of represents our relationship pretty close,” said Dougherty, who will head to University of Wisconsin.

Dougherty is a huge Wild fan and his favorite player is Wild defenseman and now detested former Predator Ryan Suter: “I guess not anymore.”

Dougherty congratulated his former USA teammate Alex Tuch on Friday when he went 18th overall to the Wild.

“I said he’ll look real good in green and red and he’ll make a long career in the State of Hockey,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty is a pretty funny kid. He was cracking jokes left and right. His best line? Taken by Nashville nine picks after the Preds also took Russian Vladislav Kamenev, who speaks no English, Dougherty said, "We're speechless right now, especially him."

-- The Wild, which tried to trade for a second-round pick to no avail, traded the No. 79 pick to Tampa Bay to move down one spot and also picked up Vancouver's seventh-rounder next year. With the 80th pick, the Wild took Skokie, Illinois' Louis Belpedio from the USA Under-18 team. He's a 5-10 defenseman who has 20 points in 53 games last year.

On what he knew about the Wild? "Rivals with the Blackhawks being a Chicago kid. Definitely switched to the other side already."

Quick scouting report from Future Considerations Draft Guide:

The top U.S. defenseman at the U18 tournament in April, Belpedio’s
game really solidified in the second half of the season and he is a riser for it. Belpedio is a very
strong two-way player, with excellent offensive skills and awareness, as well as the ability to
work as a shutdown player in his own end. Belpedio is a superb skater with tremendous footwork
and fluidity in his stride. He is powerful and balanced on his edges, and is superb when it
comes to stopping and starting to quickly edge his way around pressure or to work his way in
from the point with the puck. He is intelligent and cerebral at both ends of the ice, and is able
to make strong plays with and without the puck. He does a great job at cutting the ice in half on
forwards coming down the wing, and he steps up effectively to take away time, space and options.
He closes players out with his physicality and can easily force a man off the puck with his
strength. He also uses an effective defensive stick and takes away the slot on the PK. Belpedio
handles the puck well on offense with above-average stick skills and good hockey sense. He
makes a good first pass out of his zone and supports the offense well from the point, pinching
at good times and getting involved. He has a hard wrist shot, but needs to work on getting it
through to the net. Pretty solid on the PP as he is more of a shooter than puck mover.

-- In the fourth round, at 109, the Wild took Espoo, Finland, goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, the fourth-ranked European goalie in the draft and the fourth-ranked goalie in the draft by Future Considerations. He'll play on the pro team after playing on the junior team last year. He expects he'll need a couple years before he can turn pro with Minnesota.

What's he know about Minnesota besides all the Finns on the Wild? "I heard it’s like Finland. There’s some trees and mosquitos and lakes, too."

From Future Considerations: Kahkonen has good a natural size and build, and he displays impressive
speed and mobility in net. He has an explosive push in goal and gets side to side very
quickly to take away the bottom of the net. He anticipates the play well in goal, and is able to
react to cross passes quickly and effectively. His rebound control is strong, either eating shots
or deflecting them out of harm’s way. He is able to handle pucks through screens and through
traffic. He handled his higher shots well, and he is strong down low. He is poised in net and communicates
actively with his teammates. He has quick reflexes and a good, active blocker with
a quick glove hand. Kahkonen’s positioning in goal is above average, but there are times when
he gets a little lazy and leaves his post too soon. His focus seems to be an issue too. He allows
some weak goals against that it looks like he should be able to handle. Kahkonen showed very
good agility and balance. He was quite aggressive and he knows when to challenge shooters.
Kahkonen already has NHL size, as well as solid technical skills. His game suffers from bouts
of inconsistent play. Struggled through a very inconsistent U18 tournament and his draft stock
took a bit of a hit.

Coveting Tuch, Wild resisted trading back

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 27, 2014 - 10:48 PM

Evening from Philly, where the Wild selected Boston College-bound power forward Alex Tuch, a 6-4, 215-pound right wing, with the 18th selection. (Read more about him on the previous blog)

This is BC coach Jerry York on Tuch to College Hockey Inc.: “Alex has all those prerequisites for a big, strong, power forward. He’s got size, strength, he skates well and he has a real powerful shot. We saw some really good improvement in his game the last two years and are excited about what he’ll bring as a freshman. He’ll get even better as he adjusts to this level and improves on his ability to make plays with the puck.”

GM Chuck Fletcher was on the phone a lot right before the pick, but as it turns out, he says he was doing the answering and not the dialing. He says some late trade offers for a chance to move back and gobble up extra picks came in, and if Tuch wasn’t still on the board, he would have moved down.

But the chance to get a big, skilled power forward who can skate as deep as the Wild was picking was too good an opportunity to pass up, Fletcher said. Went with quality over quantity, he said.

“This guy can skate, he’s big and strong,” Fletcher said. “He can shoot the puck. He’s going to be a handful for people to defend against.”

Read the stories in the paper for most the details, but Tuch will obviously be developing at BC for awhile, so this is a pick for the future. As I wrote earlier in the week and tomorrow’s paper, it’s very clear the Wild the past two or three drafts has gone for size.

Tonight, 25 forwards were taken and no goalies in the first round. No Minnesotans yet either. Tuch said he has watched a lot of Wild hockey because of Minnesotan teammates on the Under-18 team, Jack Dougherty, Jack Glover, Ryan Collins and Shane Gersich.

So, he was excited and offered this scouting report of himself: “Very versatile, highly skilled, heavy shot, use my body, play all three ends on ice.”

Trade-wise, Fletcher says he doesn’t really have anything cooking player wise but will try to shuffle picks if there are players the Wild wants Saturday in Rounds 2-7. He will try hard to trade into the second round, he said. The Wild doesn’t currently have one.

He would like to draft a goalie Saturday, too. “There’s several names we like.”

“We’re going to get good players in the third and fourth round,” Fletcher said. “Brent [Flahr] and his staff have put together a pretty good strategy for things we’re looking at at different parts of the draft.”

Only James Neal was dealt on the draft floor, going from Pittsburgh to Nashville. Ryan Kesler was traded from Vancouver to Anaheim earlier in the day.

“I predicted more,” Fletcher said. “I still think there’s things that teams are working on. I still anticipate more. The cap ceiling is at $69 million. That’s probably a little lower than most of us would have believed a week ago, so it might take some teams out of adding money unless they can move money. I think it’s going to tighten up the market a little more.”

My guess is Fletcher will dive into the free-agent market because if you look at the depth chart I'll post Saturday, from the NHL roster, the only real tradeable commodities are young players and Fletcher doesn't want to trade them.

As I wrote in the paper, Fletcher met with Matt Niskanen’s agent Friday and will talk to him again Saturday. But Niskanen has a chance to get a big, big contract, so it’ll be interesting to see how high the Wild’s willing to go.

As for Thomas Vanek, I’m getting the sense the Wild will offer him a three-year deal.

NOTES FROM FIRST ROUND OF 2014 NHL DRAFT
 

PANTHERS SELECT EKBLAD FIRST OVERALL

The Florida Panthers selected Aaron Ekblad from the Barrie Colts (OHL) with
the first overall pick, marking the 13th time in NHL history – and first
time since 2006 (Erik Johnson, STL) – a defenseman has been taken with the
top choice.

DEFENSEMEN DRAFTED NO. 1 OVERALL, NHL HISTORY

Year    Player  NHL Team        Amateur Team
1966    Barry Gibbs     Boston Bruins   Estevan Bruins
1967    Rick Pagnutti   Los Angeles Kings       Garson Native Sons
1973    Denis Potvin    New York Islanders      Ottawa 67’s
1974    Greg Joly       Washington Capitals     Regina Pats
1976    Rick Green      Washington Capitals     London Knights
1979    Rob Ramage      Colorado Rockies        London Knights
1982    Gord Kluzak     Boston Bruins   Nanaimo Islanders
1992    Roman Hamrlik   Tampa Bay Lightning     ZPS Zlin (Czech.)
1994    Ed Jovanovski   Florida Panthers        Windsor Spitfires
1995    Bryan Berard    Ottawa Senators Detroit Jr. Red Wings
1996    Chris Phillips  Ottawa Senators Prince Albert Raiders
2006    Erik Johnson    St. Louis Blues U.S. National U-18
2014    Aaron Ekblad    Florida Panthers        Barrie Colts

* Ekblad became the second No. 1 overall selection in Panthers history,
following Ed Jovanovski in 1994. The franchise also held the top pick in
2002 and 2003, but traded it on both occasions.

* Both of Florida’s top picks – Ekblad and Jovanovski – are defensemen who
were born in Windsor, Ont.

* Ekblad became the sixth OHL player drafted with the No. 1 overall
selection in the past eight years, following Patrick Kane in 2007 (London
Knights), Steven Stamkos in 2008 (Sarnia Sting), John Tavares in 2009
(London Knights), Taylor Hall in 2010 (Windsor Spitfires) and Nail Yakupov
in 2012 (Sarnia Sting).

FIRST-ROUND PICKS BY BIRTHPLACE

The 30 players selected in the first round were born in 10 different
countries: Canada (14), United States (five), Czech Republic (two), Finland
(two), Russia (two), Denmark (one), England (one), Germany (one), Sweden
(one) and Switzerland (one).

TRENDS

* Forward Leon Draisaitl, who went third overall to Edmonton, became the
highest-drafted German-born player in NHL history. The previous distinction
was held by Marcel Goc, who was selected 20th overall by San Jose in 2001.

* Forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who was selected ninth overall by Winnipeg,
became the second-highest drafted Danish-born player in NHL history. That
distinction belongs to Mikkel Boedker, who was picked eighth overall by
Phoenix in 2008.

* Eight of the first 10 overall picks, including each of the first seven,
came from the Ontario Hockey League or Western Hockey League.

* Eleven of the first 13 picks were forwards (D Aaron Ekblad at No. 1 and D
Haydn Fleury at No. 7 were the only non-forwards selected in that span).

* Forward Sam Reinhart, who was picked second overall by Buffalo, became
the highest-drafted member of his family. His brother Max was selected 63rd
overall by Calgary in 2010, while his brother Griffin was taken fourth
overall by NY Islanders in 2012. Their father, Paul, was drafted 12th
overall by Atlanta in 1979.

FAMILY TIES

F Leon Draisaitl (selected 3rd overall by Edmonton): His father, Peter, was
a Czech-born, German professional hockey player who participated in
numerous international tournaments for Germany as a member of their men’s
national team, including the 1988, 1992 and 1998 Olympic Winter Games. He
also has coached professionally in both Germany and the Czech Republic.

F Nikolaj Ehlers (selected 9th overall by Winnipeg): His father, Heinz, was
selected 188th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1984 NHL Draft and
played in various European professional leagues from 1981-2004.

F Kasperi Kapanen (selected 22nd overall by Pittsburgh): His father, Sami,
was selected by the Hartford Whalers in the fourth round (87th overall) of
the 1995 NHL Draft, and totaled 458 points (189-269—458) in 831 games with
the Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers.

F William Nylander (selected 8th overall by Toronto): His father, Michael,
registered 679 points (209-470—679) in a 920-game, 15-season NHL career
with the Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago
Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers.

F Brendan Perlini (selected 12th overall by Arizona): His father, Fred,
played eight games with the Toronto Maple Leafs after being drafted by the
team 158th overall in 1980. Brendan began his hockey career in the United
Kingdom, where Fred worked as the director of a hockey program after his
playing career ended in 1997 with the Guildford Flames of the British
Hockey League.

F John Quenneville (selected 30th overall by New Jersey): His older
brother, Peter, was selected 195th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in
the 2013 NHL Draft and his younger brother, David, made his WHL debut this
season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. His uncle by marriage is current
Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk and his second cousin is former NHL
player and current Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.

F Sam Reinhart (selected 2nd overall by Buffalo): His brother, Max, was
selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round (63rd overall) of the
2010 NHL Draft, while his brother, Griffin, was drafted fourth overall by
the New York Islanders in 2012. Their father, Paul, was selected 12th
overall by the Atlanta Flames in 1979 and played 11 NHL seasons with the
Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

F Nicholas Ritchie (selected 10th overall by Anaheim): His brother, Brett,
was selected 44th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2011 and won a Calder Cup
championship with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League in 2013-14.

F Nick Schmaltz (selected 20th overall by Chicago): His brother, Jordan,
was selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2012 NHL Draft and
currently plays defense for the University of North Dakota.

TRADES ANNOUNCED

Anaheim traded Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, its 1st-round pick in the 2014 NHL
Draft (24th overall) and 3rd-round pick in 2014 (85th overall) to Vancouver
for Ryan Kesler and Vancouver's 3rd-round pick in 2015.

Vancouver traded Jason Garrison, the rights to Jeff Costello and its
7th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to Tampa Bay for Tampa Bay's 2nd-round
pick in 2014 (50th overall).

Vancouver traded Anaheim's 3rd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft (previously
acquired, 85th overall) to NY Rangers for Derek Dorsett.

Pittsburgh traded James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick
Spaling.

San Jose traded its 1st-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft (20th overall) and
NY Rangers' 6th-round pick in 2014 (previously acquired, 179th overall) to
Chicago for Chicago's 1st-round pick in 2014 (27th overall) and Florida's
3rd-round pick in 2014 (previously acquired, 62nd overall).

Tampa Bay traded NY Rangers' 1st-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft
(previously acquired, 28th overall) to NY Islanders for the Islanders'
2nd-round pick in 2014 (35th overall) and Montreal's 2nd-round pick in 2014
(previously acquired, 57th overall).

Like I mentioned, read the stories in the paper for insight and quotes. And I’ll talk to you Saturday. The draft starts 9 a.m. CT.

Wild takes Alex Tuch at No. 18

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: June 27, 2014 - 8:54 PM

The Wild took Alex Tuch, a 6-4 right winger who played for the U.S. national development team, with the 18th pick in tonight’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia.

Tuch has committed to Boston College, which is expected to again be a college powerhouse next season.

The Wild had Tuch in for a couple of interviews, and was known to be very high on him. His advisor, Steve Bartlett, is also Thomas Vanek’s agent.

"He's a big, strong winger with quality hands and an NHL shot," assistant GM Brent Flahr said in a text. "We feel that he has tremendous upside and we are very excited to add a potential power forward to our group of prospects."

Tuch is a power forward who was ranked 12th in the final Central Scouting rankings. He is from Baldwinville, N.Y., and grew up playing youth hockey in Syracuse.

Here is his NHL.com profile:

• In 2013-14, his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Tuch tied for the under-18 team-lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He ranked third on the club with 64 points (29-35—64) in 61 games.

• A two-time medalist with Team USA, Tuch won gold at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship (0-3—3 in seven games) and bronze at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (1-3—4 in 6 games). He was also part of the U.S. Under-18 team that finished first at the 2012 Four Nations Tournament.

• Growing up, he idolized his neighbor, Tim Connolly, a Syracuse native who played 11 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.

• In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44-57—101) in 40 games as a 15-year-old.

• He has committed to Boston College for the fall of 2014: “Boston College has always been my dream school. I can remember watching them in the Frozen Four when I was six years old.”

FAVORITES

NHL team: Buffalo Sabres
Shootout move: “Forehand, kick it off the skate, forehand, backhand, shot”
Goal celebration: “Fist pump on one knee”
Video game: NHL 14
Movie: Anchorman
TV show: Breaking Bad
Actor: Will Ferrell
Most played song: ‘City of Dreams’ by Alesso and Dirty South
Website: NHL.com
Sport (other than hockey): Lacrosse
Athlete (non-hockey): LeBron James

Is this the calm before the Wild storm?; Fletcher endorses Dany Heatley

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 27, 2014 - 2:23 PM

Afternoon from Philly, where I’m about to throw on a shirt and tie and head to the ex-First Union Center/ex-Wachovia Center/ex-I-think-Cores States Center or something/now-Wells Fargo Center.

The NHL Draft, again, starts at 6 p.m. CT (Round 1) on NBC Sports Network. Rounds 2-7 is Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. CT on NHL Network.

For real-time NHL and Wild news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.

Twenty minutes ago, the Wild’s head honchos were supposed to begin its final pre-draft meeting. This is typically where GM Chuck Fletcher presents the best trade scenarios he has got on the table and the coaches and key front-office peeps and even the owner weigh in on what’s worth it, what’s not.

I just ran into a team exec at Starbucks who said it’s a very difficult, confusing time right now with this free-agent interview period. He said on one side you have the trade options, the other side you have the free-agent options. You’re trying to get a sense if you’ve got a shot for one of the free-agent options to fill a certain need, but you truly don’t know if you do, so do you pull the trigger and give up big assets for one of the trades?

He said his head was spinning trying to make sense of things because one thing may affect two other things you do or try to do.

I can imagine that’s exactly what Fletcher is dealing with. There’s no doubt Fletcher has been on the phone with GMs trying to improve his roster. He has talked to several agents about free agents.

Do you wait and hope you get one of the free agents knowing price and term can get out of whack? Or, do you pay a price by trading a young player or top pick?

It’s a tough call depending on what you’re getting and what you’re potentially giving up. But as Anaheim just showed, it’s trying to get better by adding Ryan Kesler. As St. Louis and Chicago are likely to prove, they’re trying to get better by adding a Jason Spezza via trade or a Paul Stastny via free agency (Chicago reportedly missed on Kesler, so one would assume it’ll go hard after the others).

So in the West especially, it’s not like the Wild can just sit and rest on its laurels that it advanced past the first round and expect things to go similarly next season. Remember, this is a team that still only scored 199 non-shootout goals. The one thing the playoffs proved is home-ice advantage would be huge for the Wild. If the Wild can figure out a way to get itself 25 or 30 more goals next season, that could be the difference between home ice and not.

The question is how does Fletcher look to improve? By waiting for free agency, which is always a risk because you may not get your player, or by swinging a deal tonight and giving up a significant asset or two?

We shall see. No doubt there are quality players on the block today. The question is the cost. But is also always seems Fletcher has something up his sleeves.

By the way, this team exec became like the eighth source to confirm for me that Kyle Brodziak is being shopped.

As for everybody’s favorite topics – Thomas Vanek and Matt Niskanen.

Vanek: His agent had a frank, good conversation with Fletcher this week to see if the Wild’s envisioned fit and term for a contract aligns with Vanek’s. About eight teams have called on Vanek, four or five considered serious. As I’ve mentioned, Vanek (barring a trade for a scorer by the Wild) will likely have the ability to decide whether he wants to play in Minnesota on a short-term deal vs. more term and money elsewhere.

Niskanen: His agent was scheduled to meet with Fletcher face-to-face this afternoon. The sense is the Wild’s got a lot of interest. The issue is Niskanen, 27, is coming off a career year and will have a chance to get a seven-year deal at big money somewhere. Now, maybe Niskanen would take less term and money to play in Minnesota. Who knows? But obviously, the Wild would need to pony up to get him off more term and money elsewhere. The question is how much does the Wild feel is too much. Niskanen is getting married Saturday and I believe is holding off his honeymoon so he can make a decision hopefully Tuesday on his future.

On another subject, Dany Heatley, 33, who has 372 goals and 791 points in 863 regular-season games, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He was scratched in six of the final eight games and the first two games of the playoffs.

Fletcher’s hope is Heatley can latch on elsewhere as a free agent.

“Dany was a consummate professional for us,” Fletcher said. “He scored some big goals for our franchise, but even as his role decreased, the job he did mentoring our young players. The time he spent with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle almost on a daily basis after practice working with them on positioning and shooting pucks, meanwhile these are the guys that are taking some of his ice time way, yet he’s out there helping them get better? The way he treated our staff, the way he treated the trainers, he’s a tremendous human being.

“I really believe he can help a team and I believe he will get another opportunity. He’s got such high character, he’s such a tremendous human being, I hope for him he gets an opportunity and it works out great.

“I talked to [Avs coach] Patrick Roy, and he thought one of the key things in that [first-round] series was in Game 3 [with the Wild down 0-2], Heatley went back in the lineup and our bottom six started contributing a lot more. He thought that was a big turning point in that series. He expressly mentioned Dany Heatley. That’s interesting because that’s from the opposing coach, but Dany had a tremendous series. He made the play on the winning goal [in Game 7]. The pass he made to spring Niederreiter and Brodziak on the 2-on-1 was an unbelievable pass. He had six points in that series in five games. There’s a lot of guys, but we don’t win that series without Brodziak, we don’t win that series without Heatley, Kuemper, Bryz. All kind of unsung heroes, but you could look at guys like Heatley and Brodziak as being key guys.”

On an aside, seems Fletcher is really stressing Brodziak there, too, for some reason, eh?

Talk tonight, but again for real-time news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.

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