If you've ever interacted with a large group of Minnesota Wild fans, read the message boards, the blogs, or basically been a Wild fan for any amount of time, you've most likely debated the merit of having Minnesotans on the team. There are a few categories of thought on this topic and, despite the pretty clear and consistent outline of arguments, fans continue to go round and round in this debate. With every signing and especially every summer's draft, the discussion is brought back up again and the different sides reignite the issue.
There are generally three categories of thought on the issue of Minnesotans playing for the Wild:
1. MINNESOTANS! This group wants as many Minnesotans as possible and believes it is the only way for the team to ever be successful. They rejoiced when Nick Leddy was drafted by the Wild in 2009 and wept when he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Every summer is a new hope as it's the Wild's chance to draft the latest Mr. Hockey.
2. I know, but it would be nice... This group knows it's not rational to want a team entirely made up of Minnesotans but wouldn't mind having some homegrown talent suiting up. While they acknowledge that the best player regardless of hometown talent is always the best, their state pride still holds a small bias towards players from the State of Hockey.
3. No. Stop it. No, really. This group is sick of people wishing there were more Minnesotans on the team. The irrationality of some of the proposals makes them want to explode. They will welcome talented players who happen to be from Minnesota, but are wary of it. They never want the Wild to draft another Minnesota high school hockey player ever again. Go Finland (/Canada/Sweden/Russia, etc.)!
Not all fans fall directly into these categories, but most can place themselves into one of the general idea of each (obviously the above are somewhat sarcastic, tongue in cheek descriptions). This debate is probably never going to end, so follow the jump to see some stats about Minnesotans on the Wild and more in-depth analysis of why this is such a big deal to fans.
Looking at the Wild's roster and draft history, it's true that there have not been a significant number of Minnesotans on the team. But the more interesting observation is the lack of success that Minnesotans have had on the Wild.
During the ten seasons in the Wild's history, there have been nine Minnesotan players on the roster at some point in time, with Season 8 being the only one without any. These players are: Brian Bonin (St. Paul, 2000-2001), Jeff Nelson (Grand Rapids, 2000-2001), Darby Hendrickson (Richfield, 2000-2004), Erik Westrum (Minneapolis, 2005-2006), Mark Parrish (Bloomington, 2006-2008), Wyatt Smith (Thief River Falls, 2006-2007), Sean Hill (Duluth, 2007-2008), Nate Prosser (Elk River, 2009-2010) and Matt Cullen (Virginia, 2010-present).
Of these players, Darby Hendrickson arguably had the most impact on the team. Hendrickson was a great player, leader and liaison and is now a great coach. Parrish started strong but ended up having his contract bought out. Cullen has had a solid season so far but it's too early to judge his effect on the team. Other than that, the rest of the Minnesotans have mainly been role players or quick fixes and haven't stuck around long.
As for the draft, it's harder to judge because many of the players are still developing, but drafting Minnesotans hasn't been a successful strategy thus far. The Wild have drafted six Minnesotans in ten years, selecting none in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008. These players are: Jake Riddle (2001, 9th round, playing in the ECHL), Mike Erickson (2002, 3rd round, not playing), A.J. Thelen (2004, 1st round, playing in the ECHL), Kyle Medvec* (2006, 4th round, playing for the University of Vermont), Chris Hickey (2006, 7th round, playing for the University of St. Thomas) and Nick Leddy (2009, 1st round, playing for the Chicago Blackhawks/Rockford Icehogs). [*Medvec was born in Colorado but grew up in Minnesota]
While the idea of a Minnesotan starring for the Minnesota Wild is nice, it's not currently plausible and is unlikely. There are extremely talented Minnesotans in the NHL - Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, Erik Johnson to name a few - but the Wild doesn't have the assets or the need to acquire one. It just doesn't make sense. Some day in the future? Maybe.
But there are other factors working against it. The pressure on the hometown player to live up to fans' expectations is tough. Cullen waited until far into his career to come play for his home state, despite earlier chances to sign with the Wild. Some say having a homegrown talent will sell more, but there's something that sells even more than that: winning. It's GM Chuck Fletcher's job to put together the best team he can, not appease some fans by targeting someone based on place of birth. A hometown star doesn't always mean a fairytale ending (just look at Lebron).
Would it be cool to have a star on the Minnesota Wild who was born and raised in the State of Hockey? Yes. But it's not currently an option. One day, perhaps, but not in the immediate future. Continue having that state pride, Minnesota, but be smart about it. Let's get a winning team first.