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2008-2009 Top 12 Prospects: Minnesota Wild

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
6/12/2009 12:26:16 PM
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The Minnesota Wild did a great job of scouting players from 2000 to 2003, but their recent drafts did not look to have the same potential.

To their credit, they have been slowly drafting skilled, offensive players to complement their defensive minded group. They traded away Patrick O'Sullivan for Pavol Demitra, but have Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, James Sheppard and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. But they could still use a youthful infusion. The system will have a long-term setback, since both first-round picks in 2004 and 2005 - A.J. Thelen and Benoit Pouliot - don't look like they'll play in the NHL with any consistency or production. Such a young franchise can ill afford to have any first-round choices not play in the NHL - especially when they are fourth and 12th overall choices.

The next group of skaters includes Danny Irmen, Colton Gillies, Peter Olvecky, Cody Almond, Cal Clutterbuck and Roman Voloshenko, so there is a little potential there. However, Irmen, Pouliot and Voloshenko have not produced at the level expected, so there are some serious concerns about their long-term potential. This group is in various stages of development, with Gillies and Clutterbuck farther along than the other high-end prospects. Now Voloshenko has been in Russia for the past two seasons and is not expected back in North America. And expect both Clutterbuck and Gillies to move off the prospect list by the beginning of next season if they start in the NHL.

Defensively, they have good depth and one prospect that has legitimate NHL blueliner written all over him is Tyler Cuma. The blueliners behind him - Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Sean Lorenz and Kyle Medvec - have various talents and levels of potential. This is the strength of the farm system and if the Wild are patient with player development, they might get a couple of these blueliners to play in the NHL full time. Both Thelen and fellow 2004 pick Clayton Stoner both didn't develop as hoped and are now considered journeymen. At this time, Thelen is no longer with the Minnesota Wild and looks like a bust.

They are in a much more fortunate position with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding in goal, which allows their other prospect netminders to develop slowly. So far, Anton Khudobin is the only netminder of note and Niko Hovinen is a long shot. It wouldn't hurt to have someone to groom behind Harding for the future.

So this year's NHL draft is an important one for the Wild, as they will need to re-stock the talent and depth of their forward ranks. While organizations shouldn't choose players based on need alone, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Minnesota to take forwards with their first three picks.

1. Tyler Cuma – Defence, 19 (1st round 23rd overall 2008)
Currently with Ottawa (OHL)

Cuma is an underrated and underappreciated defenceman that has a good all-round skill set. His puck skills and hockey sense are solid, he reads the developing play well and puts himself in a position to cover his teammates. He makes good passes out of his zone and occasionally hits the breaking outlet pass from his zone to the red line. He tends to keep his reads simple and generally does not try to push the envelope. He does not panic often with the puck and can stickhandle well enough to buy himself some time, but nothing spectacular. His overall skating is pretty good, as he shows quickness and the foot speed to get back and recover to defend his zone. He should improve even further in this area once he gets stronger and has more power and flexibility in his stride. He has a decent slap shot that he tries to keep low and on the ice. It is not a howitzer by any means, but he does a decent job getting the puck between the seams. Overall, he keeps a calm demeanor and tries to be the calming influence on the backend. He's a reliable defenceman who could develop into a smart, consistent defenceman who's versatile in all situations.

2. Colton Gillies – Centre, 20 (1st round 16th overall 2007)
Currently with Minnesota (NHL)

He was a surprise pick at 16th overall, but the Wild see the long term potential in him. Blessed with great speed, he has the quickness and lateral movement to cause mismatches. However, he does not have top-line puck skills and must make safe simple plays with the puck. He is a decent passer and has enough vision to make the occasional play down low. His offensive numbers in junior have not been good for such high draft pick, with 89 points in 186 games. He is very good defensively, especially when he keeps his feet moving and uses his wingspan to block passing lanes. He plays a tough, physical game and likes to cause a ruckus when on the forecheck and willingly drops the gloves. He shows leadership and has good experience from international tournaments. He can become a top flight third-line checking centre that will shadow the top lines.

3. Cal Clutterbuck – Right Wing, 21 (3rd round, 72nd overall, 2006)
Currently with Minnesota (NHL)

This greasy, gritty winger plays an in your face style with a never-say-die attitude that's infectious to his teammates. He may not be as naturally talented as others on this list, but his hockey sense and heart cannot be underestimated. He does not get pushed around and hustles at both ends of the ice. He posted solid numbers in junior with 202 points in 259 games and 501 penalty minutes. His puck skills and vision are strong enough to play at the pro level. He skates well and is a menace when he gets going on the forecheck. He is improving in his own zone and will turn into a solid two-way player in the NHL instead of just a role player. As a rookie in the AHL last season, he posted decent numbers with 24 points in 73 games. He followed that up with a solid rookie season the NHL, hitting everything that moved while being a reliable defensive player. He is the type of player that teammates love and Clutterbuck will be valuable when the Wild get back to the playoffs.

4. Marco Scandella – Defence, 19 (2nd round 55th overall 2008)
Currently with Val d'Or (QMJHL)

Scandella is a hard-working blueliner that generally goes unnoticed by the pundits since he does not play a real exciting style. That is not to say the he's not an effective defenceman - he just goes about taking care of business and knocking people around. Now he does not have high-level puck skills, but he makes crisp, smart, short passes and seems to think the game fairly quickly. His quickness and agility will need to be improved before he turns pro, but it's nothing to worry about. He has a solid shot from the point and Scandella does a good job of getting it on net to be tipped or to cause a rebound. He likes to mix it up physically, will lay on the body when he gets the chance and does not take bad penalties. He's a reliable defenceman in his zone and does a pretty good job down low controlling players lingering around the slot. His gap control is improving and he has good habits when it comes to keeping his head on a swivel and using an active stick. He may take some time to fully develop, but the promise is there and he has the tools.

5. Anton Khudobin – Goalie, 23 (7th round, 206th overall, 2004)
Currently with Houston (AHL)

The Russian netminder has been consistently inconsistent for the last three seasons. At times, he looked unbeatable when he is plays square to the puck and keeps his movements simple. But he needs to work on his mental game, as he can get rattled and lose his focus. At 5-10 and 187 pounds, he relies on his athleticism too often and sometimes plays too deep in his net. He can cover down low very well and shows good quickness moving post to post. He can flash a quick glove hand and blocker, but is susceptible to shots up high if he stays down low too long. To his credit, he has shown flashes when given the chance and has played very well in the ECHL and the AHL. When he is hot he is hot, and if the Wild can somehow harness that they could have an NHL backup. The problem for him is the potential rule changes when it comes to equipment, which will make him even smaller in the net. He has the skills to play at the NHL but whether he has the work ethic, moxie and desire to pay his dues remains to be seen.

6. Benoit Pouliot – Left Wing, 22 (1st round, 4th overall, 2005)
Currently with Houston (AHL)

The lanky winger has the speed and the offensive skill to become a top line winger. In his first three seasons in the AHL and NHL, he has not shown the adaptability, toughness and commitment needed to become an NHL regular. His offensive production has been low in the AHL, with 84 points in 143 games and a minus-25 rating along with 182 penalty minutes. At the NHL level, Pouliot has played 51 games and produced 14 points over three years. In 24 playoff games in the AHL, he has produced one goal and seven assists - not exactly shooting the lights out. His ability to beat players one-on-one and play in the slot will make him valuable on the power play. The fact he has not changed his approach or off-ice training with his lack of success is concerning. He needs to improve his defensive game at the pros and there's been concerns on his effort from shift to shift. If he does not turn his game around soon, be will be considered a huge bust considering he went fourth overall.

7. Justin Falk – Defence, 20 (4th round 110th overall 2007)
Currently with Houston (AHL)

The strapping 6-5, 215-pound blueliner is a prototypical stay-at-home defenceman who could develop into an NHLer. He did produce some offence at the junior level, but do not expect the same in the pro ranks. If he keeps his puck movement simple and safe, Falk is an effective partner for a more offensive defenceman. For big kid, he skates pretty well and has the agility to not be burned by speedy forwards. His wingspan allows him to keep the puck carrier at bay and he does a good job of using his stick to plug passing lanes. He's an unselfish player that will take hits to chip out pucks, block shots and battle power forwards in front of the net. He can be a punishing bodychecker and likes to bang and crash along the boards. His experience anchoring the Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup will go a long way in his development through the pro ranks. He's a real character player with the intangibles teams need to make it through the postseason. He will need another two years in the AHL before he gets a shot at the NHL and may develop into a third pairing defenceman.

8. Sean Lorenz – Defence, 19 (4th round 115th overall 2008)
Currently with Notre Dame (NCAA)

The freshman had a solid season at Notre Dame as a defensive defenceman. What he lacks in pucks skills, he makes up for in hockey sense as Lorenz makes pretty smart decisions with the puck. He has promising size and works hard battling without taking bad penalties. He's a decent skater who does not get beaten by quick forwards. He will need to time to work on and perfect some of the aspects of being a consistent defenceman. For the most part, he is aware of his basic responsibilities and makes an effort to improve. As long as he maintains good body position while not straying to make a hit, Lorenz is solid blocking forwards out. His gap control and ability to take the right angles are areas he must work on, but he has some tools. Expect him to play at least two to three more seasons in college before embarking on a pro career. He's a long-term project for the Wild.

9. Cody Almond – Centre, 19 (5th round 140th overall 2007)
Currently with Kelowna (WHL)

Almond is a hard-working pivot who gives everything he has and finds a way to contribute on and off the ice. He has good size, is willing to throw his body around and take hits to make plays. He's a gritty forward that does the little things that coaches like – such as winning faceoffs, battling hard one-on-one and blocking shots. In 207 games over the past three seasons, he has 165 points along with 291 penalty minutes. Do not expect him to produce at a high level offensively at the pro level, but he has the intangibles to be a valuable role player. To his credit, Almond played exceptionally well in the postseason this year, with 27 points in 22 games. Expect Almond to play a few years in the AHL learning the pro game, but do not be surprised he plays in the NHL.

10. Roman Voloshenko – Left Wing, 23 (2nd round, 42nd overall, 2004)
Currently with Moscow/Balashikha (RUS)
He has the nice size and the ability to play both ends, with 60 points in 69 games in the 2005-2006 season. He was an excellent rookie season in the AHL in 2005-06, with poise on the puck and possessing good vision. He looked ready to make the next step, but the sophomore slump hit him hard as he has fumbled through 2006-07 with 30 points in 70 games and a horrendous minus-23 rating. The Russian sniper looked to have enough defensive conscience to play in the NHL, but lacked the consistency. In the 2007-2008 season, he went back to play in Russia and whether he comes back remains to be seen - but it does not look good.

11. Kyle Medvec – Defence, 20 (4th round 102nd overall 2006)
Currently with Vermont (NCAA)

At 6-6 and 210 pounds, he is an imposing figure who could be a decent defenceman at the AHL level. It's unclear whether he has the ability to process information fast enough to play past the AHL level. To his credit, Medvec makes a decent pass and has some vision in the offensive zone. He has some difficulty with his skating when it comes to acceleration and agility and it's something he must improve on. It would be nice to see him be more aggressive and assertive in the physical game. His advantage is his wingspan and the fact he can take away options from forwards. If he can learn to take better angles and maintain solid gap control against fast forwards, he will be more effective at the next level. He will need two more years in college before turning pro, but he has some tools to work with.

12. Niko Hovinen – Goalie, 21 (5th round 132 overall 2006)
Currently with Pelicans (FIN)

It's rare to see a goaltender stand at 6-7 and it could be an advantage to the Finnish netminder if he can round out the rest of his game. He can take a lot of room in the crease, as he tends to leave some big holes and must keep a compact frame. For size, he moves post-to-post fairly quickly but he does not always set up fast enough after he has moved. It seems Hovinen has relied on his size too much to just let pucks hit him instead of stopping pucks and using proper techniques. He needs to work on his rebound control along with shot recovering. With his size, you would expect him to be better at tracking pucks - which will be needed if he comes over to North America. He is an intriguing package due to his size and goaltenders take longer to develop, so there is still hope.

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Minnesota Wild - NHL Entry Draft Record (2000 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Minnesota Wild 2000-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
2000 9 (3) (RW) Marian Gaborik (1/3), (D) Nick Schultz (2/33), (D) Lubomir Sekeras (8/232)
2001 7 (3) (C) Mikko Koivu (1/6), (LW) Stephan Veilleux (3/193), (RW) Derek Boogaard (7/202)
2002 10 (2) (C) Pierre-Marc Bouchard (1/8), (G) Josh Harding (2/38)
2003 9 (2) (D) Brent Burns (1/20), (C) Patrick O'Sullivan (2/56)

Total: 4 yrs – 35 draft picks – 10 NHL Players = 28.6% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (2000-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 0 total picks

4 yrs – 4 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 100.0% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 4 total picks
Kyle Wanvig
4yrs – 4 draft picks – 3 NHL Players = 75.0% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 5 total picks
Chris Heid, Barry Brust, Mike Erickson, Danny Irmen
4 yrs – 5 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 20.0% success rate

Total: 4 yrs – 13 draft picks – 8 NHL Players = 61.5% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (7) North American, (3) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (5) North American, (0) European

Success in the last six rounds (2000-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 22 total picks
7 yrs – 22 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 9.0% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

Hockey Prospect Radio

Benoit Pouliot (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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