2014 NFL Draft Has Minnesota Wild Fans Thankful For Chuck Fletcher Era


June 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Matthew Dumba poses for a photo after being selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Minnesota Vikings had two consecutive chances to snatch up their next quarterback of the future in Mr. “Johnny Football” himself–Johnny Manziel.

The atmosphere around the fan base was electrifying…until Manziel was passed up not just once–when Minnesota traded down to ninth from the eighth overall pick–but twice when they selected linebacker Anthony Barr with the very next pick. By the time the Vikings traded back up into the first round, Manziel was gone to no man’s land–that’s right, Cleveland. They’d have to settle for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. It’s too soon to be too excited or devastated, but we’ll see how this draft pays off.

What could be interesting is how similar this draft might be compared to the Minnesota Wild’s host year in 2011. With the tenth overall selection, the Wild would pick defenseman Jonas Brodin, a slick, skilled Swede with exceptional defense but very little physicality or offense. Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher, his assistant GM, Brent Flahr, and the Wild scouting staff were so high on Brodin, they tabbed him ahead of the likes of dynamic defender Ryan Murphy and highly skilled left winger Sven Baertschi among others. Wild fans were incensed. I, myself, remember shutting my laptop in complete disbelief. Who would’ve known that, just a season and a half later, that move would pay off in spades? I certainly didn’t.

Fletcher wasn’t done, though. As the evening progressed, Minnesota’s GM then shipped defenseman Brent Burns and a 2012 second round pick to San Jose for forward Devin Setoguchi, “rock star” prospect Charlie Coyle (28th overall, 2010) and a 2011 first round pick (28th overall). It was a bold move, but it looks like it’s paid off big time.

The Seto experiment lasted two seasons, during which he would score 32 goals and 31 assists for just 63 points and a negative-12 rating in 117 games. He would later be traded to Winnipeg for a 2014 second round pick (since traded to Buffalo in the Matt Moulson deal). The jury is also still out on forward Zack Phillips, who the Wild reeled in with the third-to-last pick in the first round. That said, this coming season could be the biggest of his career.

Coyle, however, has established himself as a regular top-6/top-9 power forward for Minnesota, and is currently skating alongside team captain Mikko Koivu and big gun slinger Nino Niederreiter. All three are at least 6’2″ 200-plus pounds and play like it, using their size and skillsets to their advantage while creating plenty of scoring opportunities and making life difficult for the Blackhawks defenders.

Speaking of Niederreiter, though the Swiss sniper was originally drafted by the New York Islanders with the fifth overall pick in 2010, it’s well known he was Fletcher’s guy going into the evening, but the Minnesota GM was forced to “settle” for Finnish Phenom Mikael Granlund with the ninth pick. Nearly four years later, the duo joins Coyle as three 2010 first round young guns having big postseasons for Minnesota after the club was able to flip grinder Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third round pick last June for the former Isles top prospect. Five years into his stint as the second GM in franchise history, Fletcher has nine draft picks/prospect acquisitions ranging from first round picks, to seventh round picks to undrafted collegiate free agent signings that have played big roles in the Wild’s impressive run this season.

Brodin is already playing a top-4 role on defense. A few year before, top-4 Defenseman Jared Spurgeon went unsigned by the Isles and Fletcher snatched him up after an impressive prospect camp. Third pairing shutdown defenseman Nate Prosser was signed out of Colorado College. Third line center Erik Haula was a seventh round pick in 2009, played three seasons with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and is taking like a duck to water in his first season of professional hockey. Bottom-6 winger Justin Fontaine was signed straight out of an impressive run with the UMD Bulldogs. Injured starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper was a 2009 sixth round pick and could be ready to take the reins as fulltime No. 1 netminder next season. Most important of all, Minnesota’s three 2010 first rounders have combined for nine goals–three of which have been game winners, one from each–and nine assists for 18 points in 10 games.

It’s too soon to say whether or not this was a successful draft for the Vikings, but Wild fans sure have every reason in the world to be proud of the way their hockey team has drafted. This year, Minnesota will draft no higher than the 23rd overall pick barring a trade. The last time they drafted that late in the first round was when defenseman Tyler Cuma was taken in 2008 as the last top selection of the Doug Risebrough Era. Fortunately, if the Wild can find a gem like Gustav Olofsson with the 46th overall pick in 2013, they can find someone just as good–if not better–with a first round pick even in a weak draft year. Even still, Minnesota wouldn’t mind if its top selection came a few picks later at 29th.