Mar 21, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Jason Pominville (29) before the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild Acquire Jason Pominville from Sabres for Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett

It was bound to happen sometime, might as well happen now. The Minnesota Wild stunned the NHL yet again, trading top young prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, their 2013 1st rounder and a 2014 2nd rounder to Buffalo for Sabres captain Jason Pominville and a 2014 4th rounder. This is the first time in Minnesota Wild history that the team has traded their top pick in a draft. Considering who they’ve drafted lately in the 1st round, hopefully that speaks to the quality of player they are getting.

Pominville is an NHL All-Star and the second team captain to join Minnesota in less than a year (the other being Parise). Drafted 55th overall in 2001, he’s scored 185 goals and 271 assists for 456 points, a plus-41 rating and 147 penalty minutes in 578 games. He also has 42 power play goals and is a much needed right-shot power play point-man for Minnesota. Best of all—he brings four seasons of playoff experience with 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points and a plus-1 rating in 45 postseason games.

This is a guy that instantly improves Minnesota’s offense and, aside from this lockout shortened season, has had six straight 20-plus goal seasons. In 37 games this season, the 6’ 185-pound right wing has scored 10 goals and 25 points with a plus-1 rating. The only question is how this acquisition affects current top line right wing Charlie Coyle. Not to say Coyle isn’t a legitimate top line right wing, but Pominville gives us a proven legitimate top line right winger that we haven’t had since Gaborik. Minnesota’s newest winger has one more year left on a five-year $26.5 million deal, making his cap hit for next year $5.3 million.

The trading of Matt Hackett comes as no surprise to many Minnesota Wild fans. He struggled this season down in Houston and, while making plenty of spectacular saves in his only NHL game this season, couldn’t seal the deal for Minnesota. The emergence of big 6’5” 207-pound Darcy Kuemper didn’t help him either. Kuemper was very solid in his short NHL career thus far, notching a 1-2-0 record, 2.22 goals against average and .924 save percentage. With Harding still on injured reserve, Kuemper is on his way to meet the team in San Jose to back up Niklas Backstrom tonight.

What is slightly surprising is the trade of Larsson. He was the forward prospect that was most often forgotten about in the Wild’s prospect pool. Drafted the second of three Minnesota second round picks in 2010, Larsson has fared quite well in his native Sweden, including being named the Rookie of the Year in the SEL—Sweden’s top professional hockey league. Larsson was also captain of the Swedish World Junior team that took home the gold medal in the 2012 tournament. In 49 games last season as a rookie with the SEL’s Brynas, Larsson potted 12 goals and added 24 assists for 36 points, 34 penalty minutes and a negative-10 rating. Playing his first season of North American pro hockey this year, Larsson scored 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points, 38 penalty minutes and an even plus-minus rating in 62 games with Houston.

With a few more years of seasoning in the North American game, Larsson was likely Kyle Brodziak’s heir apparent as Minnesota Wild third line center and is most certainly captain material. Sabres fans should definitely keep an eye on this young man, and Wild fans will definitely be left wondering “what if”.

What does this mean for the Minnesota Wild? Fortunately, Minnesota’s prospect pool is so deep, this hardly affects the future. There was very little room for Larsson, considering fellow top prospects Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund were ahead of him on the prospect depth chart, with Brett Bulmer and Zack Phillips not far behind. Another young prospect to emerge is 2011 7th rounder Tyler Graovac—a 6’4” 200-plus pound center that has just signed with Minnesota—and can just as easily fill that third line center role. With the emergence of Kuemper, the writing was on the wall for Hackett, and now Kuemper has a very solid chance to take the label of franchise No. 1 netminder for his own. It also gives Swedish netminder Johan Gustafsson the chance to finally make his North American debut next season in a Houston Aeros sweater.

Bottom line, this trade signifies that Minnesota has finally made it in the NHL. Even though two top prospects and two high picks are leaving, the Wild roster and prospect pool has never been more deep or talented than they are now. Chuck Fletcher isn’t stuck selling pieces for the future, he’s building a contender—one that stands a serious shot of making a deep playoff run this year. So give yourselves a pat on the back, Wild fans; your team has made it and so have you.

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Tags: Charlie Coyle Darcy Kuemper Jason Pominville Johan Larsson Matt Hackett

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