If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, we’ve saved the best for last, as that team just so happens to be your very own Minnesota Wild. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down the Wild’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook as we get you caught up on what you need to know before the puck officially drops on the regular season.
For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild did not make a selection in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. In addition, none of the team’s selections would come directly from a European league, but one would jump in as the team’s No. 2 prospect according to NHL.com. As you know, we shot that down yesterday.
With seven selections in rounds two through seven, Minnesota would select four defensemen, a right winger, a center and a goaltender from five different North American Junior/Major-Junior leagues, including the USHL, OHL, QMJHL, AJHL and BCHL. None of them are going to jump into the league within the next three years and make a significant impact. Instead, the Wild scouting staff chose to use the cards they’d been dealt to add more depth to the supporting cast surrounding their stud rookies and prospects.
After acquiring a one-time top-5 draft pick in 21-year old Nino Niederreiter–who Minnesota originally wanted to draft in 2010–from the New York Islanders, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was more than happy to wait until the 46th overall selection to make his first pick of the night. That pick would be used on Green Bay Gamblers USHL All-Rookie defenseman Gustav Olofsson, a native of Boras, Sweden. Standing somewhere between 6’2-3″ and 185-pounds, Olofsson brings great size, vision, smooth skating and scoring potential to a blue line sorely lacking elite defensive talent past fellow top picks Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba.
According to Elite Prospects:
Olofsson is a smart two-way defenseman with good size and overall skills. Skates well and plays the body. Quite unspectacular and prefers to make the easy play. Good positioning. (EP, 2013)
Oh, he also models his style of play after the aforementioned NHL All-Rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin. In 63 games last season with the Gamblers, Olofsson would score two goals and 21 assists for 23 points and a plus-11 rating. He was also a key power play performer, scoring a goal and adding seven assists for eight points on the man advantage. He’ll likely play all four seasons with Colorado College before eventually making the jump to the pro ranks, but he’s definitely one to keep your eyes on in the meantime.
With the 81st overall pick in Round Three, Minnesota added a potential third/fourth line staple in Owen Sound Attack right winger Kurtis Gabriel. At 6’4″ and 206-pounds, the 20-year old physically dominates the OHL with his NHL-ready man-body. He’s not going to put up big numbers in the pro ranks, but he’s a guy that could very well be the missing piece to an intimidating bottom-6.
It’s become all the more evident with each new Stanley Cup Champion that a team needs to be able to roll all four lines in any situation. It’s guys like Gabriel that make it possible for a coach to roll lines without worrying who they’re matching up against. If Minnesota is going to go far in this league, they can’t just rely on exceptionally talented young players–they need a physically intimidating tough-to-play-against bottom-6 watching their back and keeping opponents’ heads up. Look for Gabriel to provide that in coming seasons.
With the 107th overall selection, the Minnesota Wild would transition back to defense with the selection of Shawinigan defenseman Dylan Labbe. The 6’1″ 181-pound left-shot is a smooth skating defenseman that has the ability to log a lot of minutes in all situations. He does need to get stronger, but he has some considerable upside and adds to the prospect pool’s depth at the position. Long-term project.
With the 137th overall selection, Minnesota would select another defenseman. At 6’4″ 190-pounds, Carson Soucy brings an intriguing package of size, mobility and puck-moving ability that Wild fans will see on display this fall at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Say hello to “Kyle Medvec: Part Deux”.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wild draft class without drafting at least one Minnesotan. Cue Grand Rapids center Avery Peterson with the 167th overall pick. After dominating the Minnesota High School ranks with 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points in 26 games last season, Peterson will look to take his skillset to the next level with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.
At 6’2″ 195-pounds, Peterson is a good-sized two-way center that has excelled at every level of play he’s faced so far. He’s also had a knack for scoring big goals, including two in Grand Rapids’ victory over Benilde St. Margaret’s on Hockey Day Minnesota 2013. A year in Sioux City, a full collegiate career and a year or two in the minors could pay off in a big way for Avery and his dreams of an NHL career.
Finally, with two picks in the seventh round of the draft, Minnesota would select incoming University of Michigan freshman defenseman Nolan De Jong, and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies starting goalie Alexandre Belanger.
While De Jong just adds to the depth of the defensive corps, Belanger could prove to be an intriguing prospect in Minnesota’s goalie pipeline. Last season, Belanger would notch a 24-13-4 record, 3.46 goals against average and .875 save percentage in the most offensively-minded major-junior league in the world. That said, after the dynamic duo of Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson, it’s Stephen Michalek, Belanger and that’s it. Gone are Anton Khudobin, Dennis Endras and Matt Hackett. If he can compete, there’s a legitimate chance Wild fans could see Belanger make an appearance within five to seven years.
In conclusion, this draft class is filled with a lot of long-term projects, but if developed right, it could pay off in a big way. That’s what Chuck Fletcher, Brent Flahr and every scout that invested their time and effort in finding these kids are banking on.
Follow Dakota Case at Twitter.com/Dakota_case