Well, it sure wasn’t a boring draft by any means for GM Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild. After shipping the rights to restricted free agent defenseman Justin Falk to the New York Rangers for forward Benn Ferriero and a 2014 sixth round pick, Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third round pick were traded to the New York Islanders for 2010 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter.
The acquisition of Niederreiter is a move three years in the making, as he was the No. 1 candidate for Minnesota and the 9th overall pick in 2010. Instead, the Isles snatched him up four picks ahead of the Wild, and Minnesota was “forced” to “settle” for some Finnish kid named Mikael Granlund. Oh yeah, Minnesota also snatched up forwards Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker and Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson in what may be the biggest draft by the club in franchise history. Throw in the arrival of 2010 28th overall pick Charlie Coyle in the 2011 Brent Burns trade and Minnesota’s future looks to be heavily influenced by the success or failures of the 2010 draft class.
Niederreiter is big, skilled and knows how to score. If he can live up to his projected ceiling as a top-6 winger, he joins Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, defensemen Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba and goaltender Darcy Kuemper as the cornerstones of the future in Minnesota. The interesting thing about him is that he wasn’t given even a look at the NHL level this season after posting his best pro season to date with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In 74 games with the Tigers, Nino potted 28 goals and 22 assists for 50 points and a negative-5 rating, receiving recognition as an AHL All-Star.
Even with the Isles in the hunt for the Cup, Niederreiter never received a call-up. Instead, he had an outstanding showing at the 2013 World Championships, potting five goals and three assists for eight points and a plus-3 rating in 10 games in the process of leading Team Switzerland to the Silver Medal. Compare that to zero points and a negative-5 rating in six games the year before, and it’s easy to see why his recent performance makes this trade so interesting.
According to Elite Prospects, Niederreiter is described as:
A winger with excellent creativy. Protects the puck well and has soft hands. A good finisher who plays with high energy and intensity. (Matias Strozyk)
While it’s easy to focus just on Minnesota’s trades today, the team also drafted four defensemen, two wingers and a goaltender. Not a single one was under 6-feet tall, meaning the Wild are after both size and competitiveness to compete with the talented teams around them.
For the draft recap, this is from the club’s main site:
When the Wild were finally on the clock four hours into the draft, it selected defenseman Gustav Olofsson 46th overall, a 6-3 Swede who played hockey last season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
Olofsson, who is committed to play college hockey at Colorado College, scored two goals and added 21 assists with the Gamblers last season and is known primarily for his defense, skating and ability to get the puck out of his zone.
When asked who he patters his game after, Olofsson responded with a familiar name.
“Jonas Brodin… just his fluidness and how he skates really stood out to me. That’s how I’d like to play,” Olofsson said, referring to the Wild blueliner who just wrapped up a banner first season in Minnesota and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. “A two-way defenseman with string skating ability and good hockey sense.”
Minnesota added to its forward stable in the third round with the 81st overall pick when it selected Kurtis Gabriel, a 6-3 right winger who played for Owen Sound of the Ontario League.
In 67 games with the Attack last season, Gabriel scored 13 goals and added 15 assists. Going undrafted in the OHL meant Gabriel had to work extra hard to get noticed by NHL scouts.
“It’s an absolute dream come true and I mean that to its fullest,” Gabriel said. “Some guys have come up the easy way. I’ve come up the hard way. I know how to work hard and that’s what I’m going to build my career on.”
“A late bloomer who really improved this year,” Flahr said. “He’s a big imposing winger that brings a physical element every night.”
In round four, the Wild added another defenseman when it took Dylan Labbe from Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League 107th overall.
Labbe, 6-1 and 180 lbs, scored seven goals and 21 assists last season. He was the 74th ranked North American skater in the NHL’s Central Scouting Final Rankings.
“Two-way defenseman, I can play offense and be a safe defenseman,” said Labbe, who says he patterns his game after Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith.
“Smart, puck-moving defenseman that plays in all situations,” Flahr said. “He needs to get stronger but he has a quality upside.”
At 137th overall in the fifth round, the Wild nabbed the 129th ranked North American skater in Central Scouting’s final rankings in Carson Soucy, a University of Minnesota Duluth commit.
Another tall defenseman, Soucy — a native of Viking, Alberta — stands 6-4 but is still a bit light at 191 lbs. He scored five goals and assisted on 10 others last season for Spruce Grove of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Flahr praised his mobility and ability to move the puck.
The Wild stayed close to home for its sixth round selection, grabbing forward Avery Peterson of Grand Rapids High School with the 167th overall selection.
Ranked 77th in Central Scouting’s final midterm rankings, Peterson scored 23 goals and assisted in 31 others in 23 games as a junior with the Thunderhawks last season. He also played in eight games with Sioux City of the USHL, scoring once and assisting on three more.
“A good-sized, two-way center that skates well,” Flahr said of Peterson. “He’s been a productive player at the high school and USHL levels.”
Minnesota finished its day with a pair of picks in the final round, selecting defenseman Nolan De Jong 197th overall and goaltender Alexandrew Belanger 200th.
De Jong, a 6-1 a 65-pound blue liner headed to the University of Michigan, scored five goals and 19 assists for Victoria of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. He finished the season ranked as the 111th best North American skater.
Belanger, a 6-foot lefty, was ranked 14th among North American goaltenders and played in 44 games for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL last season, posting a 3.46 goals against average and a .875 save percentage.