Wild taps youngsters, gets promising results

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2013 - 11:31 PM
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Wild rookie Johan Larsson

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As aggravating as this up-and-down start to the season has been for Wild fans, they were given a reminder during Sunday's 3-2 victory over Detroit that the future remains bright.

Five players age 22 and younger were in the Wild lineup.

Jason Zucker, 21, scored his first NHL goal on a beauty. Johan Larsson, 20, made his NHL debut and earned so much trust from coach Mike Yeo that he was on the ice in the last two minutes. Goalie Darcy Kuemper, 22, won his first NHL game with 29 saves. Mikael Granlund, 20, assisted on Torrey Mitchell's winning goal. And Jonas Brodin, 19, was, as Yeo called it, "unbelievable."

Wild fans earlier saw Charlie Coyle, 20, who was impressive during a five-game sneak peek.

The Wild ranked seventh in last year's Hockey News Future Watch. It was the first time in the 20-year history of the edition that five prospects from one team ranked in the top 40 prospects in the NHL (Granlund, 2; Brodin, 12; Coyle, 14; Matt Hackett, 35; and Larsson, 38). A sixth player (Brett Bulmer, 69) made the top 75.

That doesn't even include Zucker, who leads the Aeros in scoring and is climbing toward being considered one of the Wild's top prospects, and other climbing prospects such as Matt Dumba, Raphael Bussieres, Erik Haula, Mario Lucia, Tyler Graovac and Johan Gustafsson.

Assistant GM Brent Flahr and his scouting staff are currently preparing for the 2013 NHL draft in June.

Flahr just spent 11 days scouting in Finland and Sweden. He leaves Tuesday for a scouting trip to Eastern Canada.

"It's an ongoing process," Flahr said. "We're happy with the pieces we have. In 2010, we had no forwards in the system, so we went all forwards. The last couple years, we went defenseman-heavy. It didn't matter where we were picking in 2011, we were taking a D.

"Now, we'll take the best player. We'll continue to add goalies, we'll be looking for size, but we have a couple good young defensemen, some quality forwards. Now we take the best player."

Blue-line shuffle

Despite Ryan Suter's strong play of late alongside Brodin, Yeo broke the two apart at the start of Sunday's game and reunited Suter with his partner of the first three games, Jared Spurgeon.

Yeo said before the game that with left-shot defenseman Justin Falk sick, the Wild didn't have a right-shot defenseman who felt comfortable playing the left side.

Breaking up Suter and Brodin gave the Wild three lefty-righty pairings. The experiment lasted 15 minutes.

Suter and Spurgeon were not only on for Damien Brunner's first-period goal, but their last shift together featured two icings and a Red Wings two-on-none.

The next shift, Suter and Brodin were back together.

Etc.

• To get both Zucker and Larsson into the lineup, two forwards needed to come out. Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed practice Saturday with the flu that's trickling through the team. He didn't play Sunday.

• Center Zenon Konopka was a healthy scratch. Yeo said it was primarily a numbers decision, but the coach acknowledged he "was not happy" with Konopka's second-period roughing penalty that led to Milan Hejduk's power-play goal Thursday against Colorado. Konopka didn't play another shift.

• Niklas Backstrom served as Kuemper's backup Sunday, but he was so sick, he didn't sit on the bench the final two periods. Josh Harding, experiencing complications from new medication to treat his multiple sclerosis, is on injured reserve.

• Sunday was the first time the Wild rallied from two goals down to beat Detroit since the first-ever meeting Dec. 27, 2000. That was 45 matchups ago.

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