Future Watch: A look at the top prospects for the Wild ranked 1-5

Aside from the colossal collapse that has some questioning if Wild head coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher should keep their jobs, in addition to two top-six forwards rekindling their relationship with concussions, this has been a great year for the Wild.

But no matter how much you feel Chuck Fletcher or Mike Yeo are to blame for this nose dive, the big picture must continue to be taken into consideration. When Fletcher took over the reigns from Doug Risebrough in 2009, the Wild’s best prospect was a guy they put on waivers this year (Colton Gillies). The second best prospect in the system to start that season was arguably Benoit Pouliot, a bust by anyone’s measure and one of the few misses from the top of the first round of the 2005 draft which included Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, and Carey Price just to name a few. If only Fletcher hadn’t given away Nick Leddy for a steaming pile…

Fletcher has stated numerous times that his biggest project was rebuilding the farm system, as he feels (along with everyone else with common sense) that the best way to rebuild a hockey team is by stockpiling draft picks and prospects and hoping you hit some home runs along the way. The following list should be looked at proudly by Fletcher, as the Wild boast one of the most impressive and deep prospect pools in the NHL, quite an accomplishment considering Fletcher has only been on the job since May 21, 2009.

1. Mikael Granlund, F (Finland-HIFK (SM-Liga)

Height-Weight: 5’10”, 175 lbs
Acquired: 2010 Entry Draft,  1st round (9th overall selection)
ETA: 2012-2013 season
Projection: Top six winger, first line likely
Overview: Extremely gifted passer and an excellent skater, Granlund has cemented himself as a legitimate top-15 NHL prospect with consistent production and a knack for making the spectacular play. His goals are well-documented on YouTube, including the best Michigan style goal ever scored, which can be viewed here. The best part of his game is his playmaking ability, as he sees and completes passes that not a lot of people even think about making. Granlund is not a future 40 goal scorer by any means, but his stickhandling and overall hockey awareness should have him sitting around the 20-25 goal mark for years to come. Granlund is also somewhat diminutive in size, but in today’s NHL, it’s much easier to make an impact at that size with the emphasis on calling hindering penalties like holding or hooking. Of course, the injury concern will always be there but Granlund appears to be a pretty safe bet to be a top six forward for the Wild.

2. Charlie Coyle, F (USA-Saint John (QMJHL)

Height-Weight: 6’2”, 205 lbs
Acquired: Trade with SJ at ’11 Entry Draft
ETA: 2013-2014, possibly 2012-2013
Projection: Top six winger
Overview: Coyle was the primary piece acquired by Chuck Fletcher in the Brent Burns trade, receiving Coyle, forward Devin Setoguchi, and a first round pick (Zack Phillips). Coyle is an extremely hard working power forward who possesses surprisingly soft hands and a tireless work ethic. Coyle is a gym rat who is constantly trying to get stronger and add muscle to his impressive frame. He’s also a very good passer, something that most power forwards lack in their game. There are concerns about his skating ability and overall offensive upside, but watching Coyle for just a game will give you a glimpse of what he can become: A hard working, big hitting power forward who can put in 55-60+ points a season and play solid defensive hockey.  He’s been a member of the USA World Juniors team and is currently on one of the best junior hockey teams of all time with fellow Wild prospect Zack Phillips and Florida super-prospect Jonathan Huberdeau. Simply put, there’s not a lot to dislike about Charlie Coyle.

3. Jonas Brodin, D (Sweden-Farjestad (SEL)

Height-Weight: 6’1”, 170 lbs
Acquired: 2011 Entry Draft, 1st round (10th overall selection)
ETA:  2013-2014
Projection: Top 4 defender
Overview: Any time you bring up the name Jonas Brodin around people who know NHL prospects, the first adjective used is almost always “poise”. Brodin possesses a rare level of poise for a defensemen, something that is well sought after by almost every NHL team. Brodin never panics with the puck and always seems to keep all of his options open, along with being one of the best skating defensive prospects in the NHL. The Wild were considered to reach slightly for Brodin when taking him in last June’s draft at 10th overall, but Brodin is about as solid as they come and an almost surefire bet to be an NHL regular. If you’ve seen the Wild this year, you will understand that poise, skating ability, and the yet to be mentioned transition game of Brodin is something that is sorely lacking on this year’s roster and arguably their biggest reason for demise (as evidenced by my earlier Wild post). Brodin’s biggest fault is obviously his extremely frail frame, as I’m hard pressed to believe that he’s actually 170 pounds. He looks closer to about 155 or 160, but I’m not concerned. Lots of defenders are frail in the NHL and there’s still plenty of time for Brodin to pack on some muscle to that frame. He’s not going to clap a bunch of bombs from the point, but his vision and decision making should make him a steady contributor on offense.

4. Jason Zucker, F (USA-Denver University (WCHA-NCAA)

Height-Weight: 5’11”, 180 lbs
Acquired: 2010 Entry Draft, 2nd round (59th overall selection)
ETA: 2013-2014 season
Projection: 2nd or 3rd line winger
Overview: Gopher fans hate this Denver Pioneer now, but they won’t once he becomes an NHL regular for the Wild. Zucker’s game is simple, but incredibly effective. It’s like he shoots off a flare gun every time he hops over the bench and gets on the ice, because this guy is simply everywhere. He’s a great skater with a fairly good shot, which gives him the tools needed to stay off the fourth line. His calling card is his incredible motor on the ice and reckless play. Zucker playing with Cal Clutterbuck on a line is an absolute match made in heaven. They are actually quite similar as players but Zucker possesses a little more speed and offensive upside while Clutterbuck is a better checker. Their style of play is essentially the same, though: Get puck in deep, hit the shit out of anyone who gets in their way, and play as hard as possible every second. I absolutely love this guy as a prospect and probably like him better than most, but it’s difficult to find effective pests at the NHL level that actually contribute on offense. He will be a fan favorite in the Twin Cities as soon as he joins the NHL full time. He’s probably headed for a season in the AHL for Houston for some seasoning, but make no mistake, Zucker will play in the NHL.

5. Matt Hackett, G (Canada-Minnesota Wild/Houston Aeros (NHL/AHL)

Height-Weight: 6’2”, 175 lbs
Acquired: 2010 Entry Draft, 3rd round (77th pick overall)
ETA: 2012-2013 season
Projection: Starter in NHL
Overview: Wild fans were initially introduced to Hackett during his short stay earlier this year, shutting out San Jose on 34 saves and then beating the Kings two days later. He’s now back with the Wild due to an injury to Niklas Backstrom, and it’s now apparent more than ever that Hackett is the future between the pipes for Minnesota. Josh Harding is an unrestricted free agent and Niklas Backstrom is nearing the sunset of his starting NHL days. Hackett’s time is near. He has given absolutely zero indications that he is not capable of playing full time in the NHL. The son of former NHL ‘tender Jeff Hackett, Matthew is clearly well coached and fundamentally sound. One of the only weaknesses in Hackett’s game is that he is not an exceptional athlete for a goaltender. However, his rebound control is superb for such a young goalie and, by all accounts, is a fierce competitor. He, like many other of the Wild’s top prospects, receives constant praise for his poise in net and preparation that leaks well into his own personal time. Hackett is not an elite goaltending prospect, but he’s a damn solid one and the type of keeper that the Wild can pencil in as a starter for a large chunk of the next decade. He actually reminds me a lot of Niklas Backstrom. Let’s just hope he’s a little better in the shootout than Backs is.

Just missed: Zack Phillips, F; Brett Bulmer, F; Johan Larsson, F; Mario Lucia, F

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