There are more ways to improve the Minnesota Wild than signing Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, or Matt Niskanen this offseason. So, leading up to the draft, Hockey Wilderness is going to look at 15 potential trade candidates around the league for the Minnesota Wild to target.
If I had to guess what Chuck Fletcher's favorite things are, I'd probably guess a Top-5 in this order: Family, Hockey, Puppies, They Might Be Giants, and the 2010 NHL Draft Class.
Make no mistake, Chuck Fletcher loves the 2010 NHL Draft Class. I think if he could go back in time, he'd trade every one on the 2009-10 Wild team for a first round pick in 2010.
And it's not hard to see why. The 2010 Draft put Chuck Fletcher on the map, as he acquired Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, and Jason Zucker in the first two rounds. While only Granlund has made a significant impact for the Wild, Larsson was part of a package that landed Jason Pominville for the Wild. Bulmer and Zucker are still considered players that have promise with the team, and the latter scored an overtime goal in the playoffs last season. Late in the draft, he also drafted Johan Gustafsson, who is looking like a fine goalie prospect.
And that's not even all. In the 2011 draft, the Wild traded Brent Burns to San Jose, and the crucial part of the return there was 2010 first-rounder Charlie Coyle. Coyle is now an established NHL-er, and has shown considerable flashes of becoming an all-around power forward.
And that's not all. In the 2013 draft, Chuck Fletcher flipped Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick to New York for the player that went 5th overall in 2010, Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter was the biggest steal of last year's offseason that didn't involve Tyler Seguin. At his best, he could skate, score, get to the net, and agitate. It's easy to see why the Wild coveted him in 2010.
To begin our trade target series, we're going to focus on another member of the 2010 Draft Class, 6th overall pick Brett Connolly.
Brett Connolly is a player that has a lot to like about him. By all accounts, he's a dynamic offensive player who has top-end speed, and can score. He's not a small guy, listed at 6'2", 193 pounds. He's also had good production in the AHL, leading the Syracuse Crunch in points this season (57 in 63 games), while going 52G-68A in 137 AHL games the last two seasons.
So why could the 22-year old be traded this offseason? To say his NHL performance has been underwhelming is very fair. He played 68 games in his age-19 season, and while he didn't struggle to the extent Niederreiter did in his Age-19 year, 15 points in 68 games were not what the Lightning were hoping from him. Since then, he's never been able to lock down a Top-6 role with the Lightning, having been passed over on the NHL roster by young forwards in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown, Alex Killorn, and Nikita Kucherov.
There's no relief below him, either. If not for Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin could be the best forward on the Lightning in a couple of years. Vladislav Namestnikov and Adam Erne also could make Top-6 pushes for the Lightning soon. They are stacked at forward.
So stacked that Connolly could be squeezed out. Maybe to the point where Fletcher could be looking for "Finding Nino 2".
With Jason Zucker seemingly in the doghouse, and potentially trade-bait, Connolly could be an upgrade to the speedy sniper role that Zucker currently fills in the system. The drawbacks to him is that he's young, and he hasn't produced in the NHL yet. But this was the case last year with Niederreiter. And then there's the fact that no one in the Wild system has the combination of speed, size, and shot that Connolly could offer. That makes him worth a flier right there, despite the risks.
Connolly is a Restricted Free Agent this season, but with his lack of production in the NHL (2 goals in 16 games the last two seasons), getting him under contract wouldn't be a big-dollar commitment, and the Wild would have time to assess him before making a long-term deal to be part of the Wild's core.
Here are what the lines could be if the Wild acquired Connolly:
Pretty clear-cut lines. Parise-Granlund-Pom would be deployed to be your main scoring line. Nino-Kaptain-Coyle could be used to absorb tough minutes while being able to provide offense while doing so. Putting Connolly with Haula and either Fontaine or Zucker gives you the opportunity to overwhelm the opposition with speed, while a Cooke-Brodziak-Bulmer combination would be a pretty solid fourth line.
There are reasons that Fletcher would actively avoid going after Connolly. First off, he may find Connolly a bit too similar to Zucker- why give up an asset if you have something in-house that could maybe perform that role? The Wild may be looking for a young, but still more experienced player in a trade. They've got plenty of 22-24 year-olds on their team. They may want to look for someone a bit more proven, someone around the age of 25-27. And lastly, Tampa Bay's General Manager is Steve Yzerman, who is notable for not being Garth Snow. Yzerman may not be willing to sell low on Connolly, and prefer holding onto him until he can get more value than he would now.
I think Brett Connolly would be a worthwhile player to ask about acquiring in a trade. He offers another young, cheap scoring option for the Wild, and he has the kind of skill-set that the Wild could really use in order to take the next step. Throw in the fact that he may be under-valued, and this sounds really similar to the Nino Niederreiter situation Fletcher took advantage of last season.
Hockey Wilderness will be continuing this Trade Target series every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the Draft.