Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: It's globetrotting time for Wild staff

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2012 - 12:58 AM

The Wild's assistant general manager and his staff are hitting the road during a crucial point in the scouting process.

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Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr will scour North America and then go to Europe in mid-April.

Photo: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

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Brent Flahr packed his bags Thursday, filled them with a couple of pairs of jeans and some dress clothes and headed for the airport.

Where's the Wild assistant general manager going?

"Windsor, Guelph, Sarnia. Then I'll go out west to Seattle, Everett, Kelowna. Then to somewhere, not sure yet. Then to the Prairies. Then maybe back out east, I don't know," Flahr said.

When's he coming back to Minnesota?

"I don't have a flight home," he said, laughing.

Flahr heads to Europe in mid-April, so we know he'll come back at some point to do laundry and maybe say hi to his wife.

It's that time of the year for Flahr and his amateur scouting staff. As the Canadian Hockey League playoffs begin, scouts are running around the continent in full gear-up-for-the-draft mode.

Flahr has run the Wild's draft table for two years. As GM Chuck Fletcher says, it appears his right-hand man and staff have missed on remarkably few players. Frankly, as the Wild heads for a third consecutive missed playoff with Fletcher at the helm, it's the hope provided by the prospects Flahr and his staff have unearthed that has kept frustrated Wild fans from completely running for the hills.

The Wild has a pick in all seven rounds of June's draft, so Flahr's task will be to find more players. Flahr personally is focusing on potential top-10 picks these next several weeks.

The bottom five teams have a chance for the No. 1 pick, and heading into Sunday the Wild is fifth-worst.

At the top of the draft, Flahr, in part, is eyeing three Russian forwards -- Sarnia's Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk and Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko.

Yakupov, the potential No. 1 pick, can really skate, loves to score and plays with energy. Grigorenko is compared to Evgeni Malkin. He is tall and rangy, has good hands and vision and lots of poise. Galchenyuk has become an American citizen. He is a skilled center who would be in that top tier if he hadn't missed most of the season because of a torn ACL.

Flahr knows how each plays hockey. What he will try to ascertain the next three months is what they are like off the ice.

With Russians, one always has to be wary that they will bail for the big money in the Kontinental Hockey League. Because there's no transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia's KHL, there's nothing legally that forces the KHL to honor NHL contracts.

Alex Radulov just returned to Nashville after going AWOL for three-plus seasons in the middle of his Predators contract. Jiri Hudler, a Czech, also left Detroit for a year in 2009 when he was a restricted free agent.

Asked if he would be concerned to draft a Russian so high, Flahr said: "I think it's a case-by-case basis. People generalize a little bit. There's a lot of good players that really want to play here. That's the thing you have to figure out by interviewing these guys and their coaches, their families, trainers, radio guys, everybody.

"You've got to get a good book on these guys, and that's what we'll do here over the next couple months."

The fact that all three have come to play Canadian juniors to learn the North American game, the language and the culture "sends a message for sure," Flahr said, "but obviously you want to hear it right from their mouths."

One other forward who may be the total package is Sweden's Filip Forsberg. There are also some elite defensemen at the top of the draft like Everett's Ryan Murray, Red Deer's Mathew Dumba, Moose Jaw's Morgan Reilly and future University of Michigan blue-liner Jacob Trouba.

With so many forward prospects on the Wild turning pro (Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips and maybe Jason Zucker), Flahr was asked if he'd prefer to draft a defenseman. After all, Jonas Brodin is considered the Wild's only elite blue-line prospect.

"No," Flahr said. "We're taking the best player. Picking this high, you've got to be careful about going for position."

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