It’s no secret that Chuck Fletcher has made some mistakes during his tenure as general manager of the Wild. Just today, the team announced that it had put defensemen Cam Barker on waivers, hoping that someone will pick up the slack of his tremendously ludicrous contract and all but confirming that the Leddy/Johnsson for Barker swap was one of the worst trades made over the past few seasons in the NHL. Nick Leddy looks like a keeper for Chicago, playing minutes (albeit not heavy) for the Hawks in the playoffs, showing off the skating ability and solid one on one defense that made the Wild originally trade up to select the Eden Prairie native. On the other hand, at least Cam Barker has a hard slap shot. He can’t skate, defend, be physical, or pass the puck.
Hindsight is 20/20, and Fletcher banked on Cam Barker continuing to develop and not being a product of talented teammates in Chicago. Nick Leddy was having an injury plagued and rocky first season with the Gophers and there were rumblings written that Fletcher was not very high on Leddy due to his frail build and lack of offensive ability. Johnsson was basically a throw in and hardly played for Chicago due to a concussion.
However, there are a lot of things to like about how Chuck Fletcher is assembling his hockey team. The Brent Burns trade was a huge step in the right direction for the Wild. Fletcher was proactive in knowing that the Wild probably could not afford to have another high salary defensemen on the roster despite Burns popularity with fans. Burns is in the last year of his contract and will undoubtedly command elite money with the season that he had last year. If there’s one thing that the Wild have a surplus of, it’s defensemen. They don’t really have any elite guys (and I won’t even put Burns in that group due to his tendency to take incredibly stupid penalties and lack of prowess in his own zone), but they’ve certainly got the bodies to help fill the void that Burns leave as he moves west. Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, and Justin Falk have all shown promise as young defenders, with Scandella being the prize of the group.
The three assets that Fletcher got for Burns should all prove to be very worthwhile. Devin Setoguchi is a goal scoring top six winger who’s proven and under contract for three more years at a reasonable price. A top line of Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Setoguchi has a ton of promise and certainly has the potential to be the best line that the Wild have had since.. well… ever. Setoguchi is certainly streaky, but Fletcher had to make this move to help balance out the roster.
The piece that people need to talk about more is Charlie Coyle. Coyle is a legitimate power forward and one of the best prospects in the entire league. Hockey’s Future ranked Coyle as the 20th overall ranked prospect in it’s most recent rankings. Top Wild prospect Mikael Granlund checked in at #10, giving the Wild two top 20 prospects for the first time in its existence. Coyle has rocketed up prospect lists due to a very impressive freshman season for Boston University and his physical maturity is way beyond his years and could be a perfect compliment to Mikael Granlund for years to come in St. Paul. He could make the NHL roster next year, but his more likely arrival is the 2012-2013 season (along with Mikael Granlund)
Just before the Brent Burns trade went through, the Wild were on the clock with the tenth pick and selected Swedish defensemen Jonas Brodin. Brodin was considered a mini-reach but the upside is certainly there for Brodin to become a top four defensemen in the NHL. Brodin is extremely reliable in his own zone, is an excellent skater, and can start a breakout very well for his age. He is quite thin, paper thin actually, but most scouts believe that Brodin will fill out at least to a respectable level. He is a safe pick that should at the very least become a regular NHL player with the chance to make an impact. I don’t mind the pick, but I think the Wild probably could have gotten Brodin around 17-21 instead of using pick 10 (and passing over a few guys like Dougie Hamilton for example)
The draft pick acquired in the Burns deal was used on Saint John center Zack Phillips of the QMJHL. Phillips is considered “one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2011 draft” due to his balanced offensive game with his ability to shoot the puck with a lighting fast release and playmaking ability. Phillips slid because of concerns about his skating and the talent level around him (Saint John had five draft picks, four in the first 35 selections). It was a solid pick for the spot that San Jose was put into and Fletcher could afford to take a slight gamble on a kid like this with the other pieces that he’s acquired over the past two years.
After the first round, the Wild decided to use two picks to move up and select local product Mario Lucia, son of Gopher hockey head coach Don Lucia. Every year, people clamor for the Wild to take the best Minnesotan for whatever reason, and Fletcher pleased the masses by moving up to take the versatile forward in the second round. I am not that high on Lucia, I think he is a bit of a tweener, not big enough to be a power forward and not skilled enough to be a scorer. There are a lot of things to like about Lucia’s game but I would have preferred the Wild keep the extra pick and continue to take high upside players.
I have to admit, I will miss Brent Burns. The guy was silky smooth with the puck and had hands like the former forward he was. He was physical, a great teammate, great in the community, and a damn fine player when he was on. I will not miss the brain fart penalties and odd man rushes that he so generously gives the opposition, but he is the definition of a hockey player who does not play scared and I hope most Wild fans wish him the best as he moves on to San Jose.
After all is said and done with the draft, Chuck Fletcher has turned the Wild in the right direction, moving towards a youth movement and clearing up cap space. Free agency will probably not bring much this year, probably a backup goalie and a fourth line center. The Wild had been stuck in a holding pattern for the better part of its existence, just good enough to not be in the cellar, but just bad enough to know that there was basically no hope. This draft signals a changing of the guard with veteran free agents like Andrew Brunette, John Madden, and Anti Miettinen (thank god) almost certainly packing their bags. The Wild will probably struggle again in 2011-2012, but at least the future looks as bright as it’s ever been and I look forward to watching a young team grow together rather than a group of mediocre veterans struggle to get to the 8th playoff spot year in and year out.