With the Gophers being eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four tournament on Friday, many eyes have turned to #HaulaWatch on twitter. Erik Haula, a 7th round draft pick from 2009, could potentially sign an entry-level deal with the Wild this season similar to the deal that Jason Zucker signed last season after Denver University was eliminated. Haula, a forward native of Finland who attended Shattuck-St. Mary's, scored 16 goals and 35 assists in only 37 games. That's 1.38 points per game for the math challenged. It was also the most points scored by a Gopher this season.
Haula is a skilled two way forward, like Mikko Koivu or Cal Clutterbuck. Anyone who has paid attention to the Gophers mens team this season can tell you that the kid can score, at least at the college level. The biggest issue for Haula and his career with the Wild is going to be adjusting his game to fit the role that the Wild will need him to play. With the influx of young top-six talent currently fighting for roster spots, Haula may need to make himself into a more gritty third line player who can score at whim.
While changing play type may be an issue for some players, Haula has shown himself to be an excellent all-around player. Dan Shrader from First Round Bust even went as far as to say Haula "was likely the most complete player in the NCAA this year". He often played the point position on the Gophers poweplay unit, he was second on the roster for amount of face offs taken, and is one of only five players to play for the Gophers and pass the 50 point mark in the last decade (Thomas Vanek, Phil Kessel, Ryan Potulny and Troy Riddle are the other four players).
Haula entails the typical "beast mode" that Wild fans have seen from his fellow Finnish countryman Mikko Koivu. Nate Wells from First Round Bust says that "many of his goals are the result of out-working the opponent." However Haula has a tendency to be inconsistent and often times when he was playing poorly, so were the Gophers.
Both Dan and Nate agree that Haula is best served starting off by playing in the AHL. This is most likely the route that he will take, so don't be surprised to see him sign what's called an amateur try-out with the Aeros this season. He needs more experience in a less intense league than the NHL, and with the Wild poised to make the playoffs the likelihood that they are going to mess with the lines unless they have to is slim to none. It also wouldn't make sense to burn an entire year off of his ELC. There is always the possibility that he stays with the Gophers given the fact that he has one more year of NCAA eligibility left. Most likely, he signs the tryout with the Aeros.
Huge thanks to Nate Wells (@gopherstate) and Dan Shrader (@ShraderD) from First Round Bust who gave for providing some background information about Haula and his play with the Gophers this season.