Even with the departure of James Sheppard, we continue our adventure through the ranking process of allowing the readers to select their top 20 prospect list. I know, I know, it's tough to believe we aren't just going to close up shop after Shep left us, but we have to find a way to move on. We'll get there together, folks.
There hasn't been much competition in this little contest yet. Mikael Granlund made the first selection look silly. Charlie Coyle then took the second place spot without a second thought. Now, we move on to the third selection. Is this when things get contentious? Is Jason Zucker a better prospect than Jared Spurgeon? Is Casey Wellman better than both of them? When do this year's first rounders get involved? What about Colton Gillies?
All of this, and more, is up to you. Cast your vote, and if you need a reminder of who these guys are, make the jump.
We are using using Dan's definition of prospect from last year:
Requirements for rookies:
*Under the age of 27
**Has played less than 53 NHL Games (some exceptions apply e.g Gillies)
***Has played less than 4 years of pro hockey
Still in the Game:
Casey Wellman - Houston Aeros
After landing the top college free agent prize last summer, the Wild sent their prize to Houston to further develop. He also got a taste of NHL action, and performed admirably in the role he was given. Wellman looks to be a top six forward, which in the Wild organization is still not loaded with top end talent, but is suddenly rather crowded. Wellman has proven he deserves his chance, and with Mike Yeo behind the bench, maybe Wellman gets the first call up to fill an injury hole in the top six.
Marco Scandella - Houston Aeros
The debate last season was which Wild defensive prospect was at the top of the list. With Scandella's play, and Tyler Cuma's injury, there is no further debate. Scandella has the unfortunate and completely unfair title of "Brent Burns replacement." Hopefully fans can keep in mind that d-men take a long time to develop, and not put undue pressure on the kid to be Burns right away. It is certainly time for the depth at the blue line to show its value, but at the same time, don't expect any of them to magically become Norris trophy candidates. Scandella is the top defensive prospect, but where does that put him on the list overall?
Jonas Brodin - Fargestads
The first of the 2011 NHL Draftees to make the poll, Brodin was impressive at Wild development camp. Brodin's skating has been praised, hearing words like "skates like the wind." I'm still not sure how the wind skates, but if it's good, then so be it. He is not an offensive d-man by any means, so his defensive and puck moving abilities better justify his 10th overall draft position. We don't have much to work with on Brodin, but he has to be considered near the top of the prospect rankings, if only because he is the newest member of the top first round pick club for the Wild.
Matt Hackett - Houston Aeros
Hackett took the starting goalie job in Houston as his own after Anton Khudobin was traded. All Hackett did from then on was backstop the Aeros to the Calder Cup finals. His form is solid, his technique quiet. Hackett is the de facto starter in Houston next season, but with Darcy Kuemper and his 7215 awards from last season coming in, there will be competition. Hackett is the top goalie prospect, but nothing says that lasts through this season. Should be fun to watch how it plays out.
Zack Phillips - St. Johns Sea Dogs
Phillips became a member of the Wild via a draft pick brought back from trading Brent Burns. If the pressure wasn't on this kid just being a first round pick for the Wild, it was doubled after being forever tied to the successes and failures of a fan favorite. Ninety-five points playing pivot for Jonathan Huberdeau, Phillips is already a champion winning the coveted Memorial Cup this past season. It will certainly be interesting to see if Phillips can continue those numbers without Huberdeau, and equally interesting to see if Wild fans can forgive him for playing for the same team that James Sheppard once played for.
Jason Zucker - Denver University
If you want proof that Wild fans shouldn't care about where a guy is from, this guy is it. From the middle of the desert, and playing for a major rival of the local college team, Zucker won himself the rookie of the year honors in the WCHA. Forty five points in forty games as a freshman is... well, it's pretty good. As he progresses through his college career, he will get even more chances to succeed as he is given larger and larger roles to play. That is, if he decides to stay in school. He'll certainly be there next year, after that, who knows. Wild fans are drooling to see him with the big squad, but rest assured, he'll visit Houston for a stint first. Right now, Zucker is certainly worthy of some consideration here at #2.
Jared Spurgeon - Minnesota Wild / Houston Aeros
Is Spurgeon still a "prospect?" He still has to earn and keep his spot on the roster. He still meets Dan's definition. That's good enough for me. Spurgeon has performed admirably, and is certainly the most NHL ready prospect. Does that make him better than the guys a year or two away? Or does potential upside play a part? That's for you to decide. Spurgeon is certainly a top prize, and is no longer someone anyone has doubts about. If this were December, my bet is, Spurgeon doesn't make the list because he will have too many games played. What that means for his rank? Cast your vote.
Author's note: We did not add anyone to the list today. The number three prospect is on this list, trust me. Maybe we'll add someone on Thursday.