Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Wild's projects near complete

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2012 - 9:20 AM

The NHL draft classes of 2010 and '11 boast talent that could supplement the Wild's thin depth as soon as next season.

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Swede Johan Larsson is among the top Wild prospects who could find themselves in St. Paul, or Houston, next season.

Photo: Nathan Denette, Associated Press

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There's something to be said for prospects growing together. That's what Anaheim did when Bryan Murray was general manager and Chuck Fletcher, the Wild's now-GM, was his right-hand man.

In 2005-06, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner were thrust jointly into the NHL, and several less-heralded guys began their careers together as well. The Ducks wound up soaring all the way to the conference finals. One year later, they won the Stanley Cup.

That's the grand plan in Minnesota as well.

Next year, the expectation is that six forwards -- 2010 first-rounders Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, 2010 second-rounders Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker and 2011 first-rounder Zack Phillips -- and potentially one defenseman -- 2011 first-rounder Jonas Brodin -- will turn pro together.

"The chemistry that's formed and the trust that's built is really neat," Fletcher said. "Not only do they become buddies, but they push each other and become better players because of that competition and that chemistry and those relationships."

This summer's development camp and next September's training camp (assuming a collective bargaining agreement is ratified by then) will be exciting.

Not every player will make the Wild out of camp. But the expectation is two or three could earn roster spots immediately.

Granlund, who has played three years professionally in Finland, has won a league title and a world championship, is a lock. But could Coyle, a huge body who is dominating the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since leaving Boston University two months ago, be ready? How about Larsson, Team Sweden's captain during its run to a world junior championship in January? Or Brodin, the all-world skater who thrived on the NHL-sized rink during world juniors?

It's early, obviously, but it certainly appears as if Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr and his scouting staff hit several home runs the past two drafts.

The upcoming Hockey News' Future Watch ranks five Wild prospects in its top-40, including Granlund at No. 2 (Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov is No. 1), Brodin at No. 12 and Coyle at No. 14

What's exciting about next season is whether these players are in Minnesota or Houston, the Wild should finally have depth to be able to survive the loss of top players.

The Wild looks like it's heading for a fourth consecutive missed postseason. The No. 1 team in the NHL as of mid-December, the Wild began to derail when it lost top-liners Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse during a 24-hour stretch Dec. 13-14.

Koivu will miss his 20th game-and-counting Sunday when the Wild hosts Colorado. Bouchard will miss his 24th consecutive game and 28th of the season. Latendresse has missed 47 of the past 49 games.

Early in the season, the Wild was able to overcome injuries to defensemen, goalies and bottom-six forwards. It even withstood the loss of Latendresse for 15 games from Nov. 12-Dec. 10. But three at the same time proved too many.

Because there were no adequate top-six fill-ins from Houston, players like Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson "got stretched out of positions they were better served in. We got away from our game and have had trouble getting it back," coach Mike Yeo said.

But Fletcher said, "The one great thing about next year with all these young players coming into the system, whether they're in the NHL or they start the year in Houston, we should have a lot more offensive talent and a lot more depth available to us.

"Some may have to go to Houston before they're ready to contribute, but even if they have inconsistencies in their game, they may be able to come up and give you a stretch of games at a high level."

Whether that translates to immediate dividends next season, who knows? But the goal is to build a long-term winner in Minnesota by growing these kids together.

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