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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Xcel Energy Center, Wild will unveil new center-ice video board Sept. 27

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 30, 2014 - 3:25 PM


MINNESOTA WILD TO PARTNER WITH DAKTRONICS TO PROVIDE TECHNOLOGY RENOVATION AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER
NEW HD VIDEO DISPLAY IN MAIN SCOREBOARD WILL BE CENTERPIECE OF PROJECT
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The National Hockey League’s (NHL) Minnesota Wild announced today it has partnered with Daktronics (Nasdaq – DAKT) of Brookings, S.D. and Redwood Falls, Minn., to manufacture and install a comprehensive technology upgrade at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn., that will include a new custom HD LED center-hung video board.
 
    “Daktronics is a proven leader in this industry and we are confident and really excited about adding these new technologies and what they will mean for in-arena opportunities,” said Matt Majka, Minnesota Wild Chief Operating Officer.  “We want to enhance our home ice advantage and give back to the fans what they give us each and every night.”
 
    The new center-hung video board will be nearly six times larger than the current one, stretching from blue line to blue line. Although larger, its size was intentionally selected to complement the game or event, rather than dominate it. The design will feature the latest technology available and incorporate the North Woods motif already conveyed throughout the arena.
 
    Additional upgrades will include replacement of outdoor marquees and ribbon displays that encircle the interior arena fascia.  The new elements will be largely manufactured in Minnesota and installed over the summer, with the official unveiling planned for the Wild’s first home preseason game on Sept. 27 against the Winnipeg Jets.

    The new center-hung configuration will consist of 10 LED video displays. The two main displays will each measure approximately 19 feet high by 37.5 feet wide. The two end displays will measure approximately 19 feet high by 24 feet wide. The top ring will measure 3 feet high by 145 feet wide and the bottom ring will measure 3 feet high by 120 feet wide. Four circular displays, two on each side of the main video displays, will each measure more than 4 feet in diameter.

Wild will meet with Vanek; 2014-15 depth chart; more on Iginla

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: June 29, 2014 - 6:52 PM

UPDATE: Vanek is meeting with the Wild tonight. 

Good morning from 34,000 feet on my way back from Philly.

I’ll be on KFAN after I land in the 10:35 a.m. range, but I’ll also be filling in for Paul Allen on Monday from 9-noon. It’ll be a good look back at the Wild’s draft and a free-agent primer in advance of the market opening Tuesday.

I’ll have a number of guests, including 1) Steve Bartlett, Thomas Vanek's agent, and former agent of ex-Wild good guy and 3-time, 30-goal scorer Brian Rolston; 2) Matt Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy (the man I stalked during the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter pursuit); 3) One of the Wild’s draft picks, perhaps third-rounder Louis Belpedio (A charismatic kid who captained the U.S. Under-18 Development team); 4) Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson from the Edmonton Journal to talk about the upcoming NHL offseason; 5) Fox Sports North's Marney Gellner.

The draft is over. Now all eyes on free agency Tuesday at 11 a.m.

-- As you know unless you have been in hibernation, the Wild has interest in Thomas Vanek and I believe plans are in the works for Vanek to sit down with coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher today in the Twin Cities. The Wild is interested in signing Vanek to a short-term deal, but the team wants to make sure he would be comfortable with that and wants to discuss with him its idea of fit and role and what each other may expect. Vanek will certainly have more lucrative and longer-term offers, but the stars could be aligning here due to the Wild’s need for a scorer and the lure of him staying home.

-- The Wild will also be looking for a rugged, fifth or sixth defenseman now that it seems certain that Clayton Stoner will be departing via free agency. Willie Mitchell is a definite possibility, although I’m sure the Wild has other lines in the water, too. I have nothing confirmed, so I don’t want to guess.

-- The Wild also has interest in Niskanen, but it hasn’t been nearly as aggressive here yet, I believe, for three reasons. 1) The first priority is a scoring forward because the Wild’s not nearly good enough around the net; 2) Niskanen has some potential ginormous opportunities, including the potential of seven-year deals. The Wild, as Fletcher has indicated for two weeks and in today’s Insider in the newspaper, is wary adding another super-long deal. Contracts are guaranteed in the NHL and the more long-term deals you have, the less flexibility you have elsewhere, whether that be affording guys you need to re-sign or turning over the roster at times when you feel it necessary. So, this is still very much up in the air just because Niskanen will have the chance to strike it rich. Remember, he doesn’t live in the Twin Cities. He lives on a lake in northern Minnesota, so the lure of “coming home” may not be there as much for Niskanen. 3) Fletcher is a lot more comfortable with his top-4 than he was heading into last season, most notably because Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon had solid seasons.

As of now, no meeting has been set up with Niskanen personally. He also got married Saturday, so he’s a wee bit busy.

-- Back to the scorer, as I reported in today’s Insider here, the Wild has at least contacted Jarome Iginla’s camp about its interest. But the deal here: Iginla, the friendliest Wild killer anywhere who resurrected himself during a 30-goal season for the Bruins, would like to re-sign in Boston. Boston would like to re-sign Iginla, but if it’s on a two-year deal, Boston would have to dump some salary. So things are kind of in flux. If behind the scenes the Bruins ask Iginla to be patient and wait for them to make some arrangements, this could take a little while into July. My guess is the Wild will feel the urgency July 1 to find that scoring forward and won’t feel it can wait, so I’d bet even if in the back of Iginla’s mind he may be interested in Minnesota if Boston didn’t work out, I don’t think the Wild will be able to wait and take that chance it loses out on the slim pickings out there.

So, I’d think Iginla is a longshot and Vanek is the most probable.

-- Remember, I don’t claim to know everybody the Wild’s interested in, which as Fletcher said the other day, “makes me happy.” So it wouldn’t shock me if there ends up being a signing or two of a player not previously reported.

-- Remember also, as Fletcher alluded to in the Insider, free agency is slim pickings this year. If the Wild misses or backs out on some of its No. 1 targets, this is not the year “we should just blindly go after No. 2 or 3.”

So Fletcher, how do you weigh the need to get better because teams ahead of you or behind you may vs. potentially not adding? “I still think we have a lot of players that are going to get better
and will be better next season than they were last season. So to improve you either go outside and add pieces or you hope for internal improvement. And I do think it’s very realistic to assume there will be some internal improvement for some of our younger players as they
either get a bigger role or they with the experience they’ve gained start to produce more. That’ll be really key.”

I also talked to Yeo yesterday and he also said the coaching staff can’t afford to sit back and assume that personnel changes will help improve the team, like offensively or the power play.

“It would be a big mistake on our part as a staff to just assume that personnel just makes it better,” he said. “Whether it’s concepts, philosophy, tactics, whatever, we have to find a way to be more consistently effectively. Also, producing offense from back end. It’s something we’re trying to build and improve on, but it hasn’t come quick enough.”

-- I made you wait long enough – the depth chart.

As I always do after the draft and before free agency, here’s a mind-refresher of what the team potentially looks like now before the upcoming additions. This will change undoubtedly by Wednesday, so this will adjust all summer. But this is, as of now.

Note, the depth chart is my opinion. In parentheses, each player’s cap hits with some assistance from the incredible web site, www.capgeek.com. The RFA’s will get done soon. I’d think Justin Fontaine would sign a one- or two-year deal in the $1.1 to $1.3 million range annually. I don’t even want to guess on Darcy Kuemper. If I’m Nino Niederreiter, I sign a one- or two-year deal, prove myself bigtime and then try to hit a homer on my next contract. Jason Zucker is a rare Group 1 free agent, meaning he has almost no rights. No arbitration, can’t sign an offer sheet, nada. So I’d think he takes his qualifying offer. Kuemper, Fontaine and Jon Blum have arb rights. That has to be filed by July 5, and remember, if it happens, it’s just part of the process and usually a contract gets settled prior to the hearing. Arb, in my opinion, is usually a good thing because it guarantees no holdout, too.

 

WILD DEPTH CHART

 

 

Forwards

 

Left wing                         Center                          Right wing

 

Zach Parise ($7.5+M)       Mikael Granlund (900K)  Jason Pominville (5.6M)

 

Nino Niederreiter (RFA)   Mikko Koivu (6.75M)     Charlie Coyle (900K)

 

Matt Cooke (2.5M)            Erik Haula (900K)           Jason Zucker (RFA)

 

---------------------------       Kyle Brodziak (2.83 M)    Justin Fontaine (RFA)

Vying for spots: Zucker, Stephane Veilleux (587,500), Michael Keranen (792,500), Brett Bulmer (780K), Kurtis Gabriel (667K), Tyler Graovac (747,500)

Unrestricted free agents that may re-sign: Cody McCormick.

Unrestricted free agents departing: Dany Heatley, Matt Moulson, Mike Rupp, Jake Dowell.

Defensemen

 

Left Defense                     Right Defense

 

Ryan Suter (7.5+M)          Jared Spurgeon (2.66M)

 

Marco Scandella (1.025M) Jonas Brodin (1.4+M)

 

Keith Ballard (1.5M)          Christian Folin (925K)

 

Jon Blum (RFA)

 

Unrestricted free agents that may be departing: Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser.

 

Vying for spots: Folin, Blum, Matt Dumba (894,167), Gustav Olofsson (795K).

 

Goalies

 

Niklas Backstrom (3.42M)

Josh Harding (1.9M)

Darcy Kuemper (RFA)

 

* Kuemper can be sent to the minors without waivers even if he receives a one-way deal.

 

Unrestricted free agent departing: Ilya Bryzgalov

  

Total cap hit roughly: $47,787,758.

Available cap space roughly: $20.5 million (I based this on a $68.3 million salary-cap ceiling; NHL salary cap next season is $69 million, but the Wild will be charged a bonus overage of a little less than $700,000). Note, the $20.5 million excludes re-signing restricted free agents. Also, always take that number a subtract a few million because Fletcher will always try to leave space for injury callups and in-season acquisitions.

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.

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