One debate continuing to swirl around the Minnesota Wild is that of the prospects. Fans continue to push for the prospects to make the team, completely forgetting about James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, and Colton Gillies... all of the players across the league that are thrown into the NHL and not given the proper development. They seem to be forgetting about the four years of first round draft picks that went down the toilet, setting the franchise back by at least that many years, likely much more.
With players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter coming in, is there room anywhere for the prospects? Even if there is, is now the time to move them up and thrown them in the fire? A look at each of the top prospects and where they might be able to crack the lineup.
Keep in mind, the Wild are allowed a roster of 23 players. Right now, they have 23 players in those positions, and a handful of other players ready to step in, should they be needed.
2012-13 Projected Lineup
If the season opened tomorrow, you would see something like this:
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley
Mikael Granlund - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Torrey Mitchell
Darroll Powe - Zenon Konopka - Matt Kassian
extra forwards: Jake Dowell, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Tom Gilbert - Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner - Justin Falk
extra defenseman: Nate Prosser
Top prospects (excluding Granlund):
Charlie Coyle - Here is someone who will give Matt Cullen a run for his money in camp. Coyle is big, he's strong, and he can flat out play. That said, he is also young and needs time in the AHL to fully develop. Sheppard was also big, strong, and showed signs of being able to flat out play. Matt Cullen is not going to be shipped to Houston, and has a NTC, so good luck moving him out.
As much as Coyle could possibly make the jump, there is absolutely zero reason to do so and risk screwing him up. Add to that the fact that he is going to struggle to make the jump from NCAA and QMJHL level play to the NHL, and this won't wind up a difficult decision for Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher.
Jason Zucker - Showed he wasn't out of place in the NHL, but only in a completely sheltered and limited role. Zucker needs to be developed into minimum third line / second line player, and most likely into a top 6 forward. Playing him in the NHL on the fourth line is not going to do him any good. With the level of work we saw last year, Zucker should be able to go to Houston and have some real success. That is much, much better than toiling away with fourth line minutes in St. Paul.
If Zucker is a top 6 forward, which two of the top six do you remove to get him in? Bouchard is going to fight for ice time at this point, so how do you just hand it to Zucker? You see anyone else in the top 6 you are ready to bench for Zucker? And if so, who is going to Houston to make room for him? Devin Setoguchi?
Johan Larsson - Everything I read is that Larsson is slated to be a third line center. The Wild have one of the best third line centers in the league in Brodziak. The Wild also have Cullen who can step into the role, and move Ganlund to a fill in role on the second line should they need to do so. They could also move Konopka or Powe into the role. Or Jake Dowell. The Wild have more options at the third line center hole than almost any position on the ice, so Larsson would need to get some luck, some injuries, and be extremely good in camp to even get a sniff at the Wild.
Zack Phillips - Unfortunately (fortunately?), I don't see even a chance for Phillips to make the Wild this season. The Q just is not a good enough gauge for talent when making the jump to the NHL. Phillips and Coyle clicked well in the Q, which could be another thing holding Coyle back. If one is in Houston, why not keep both there to grow together? Phillips still needs to work on skating, which as he moves up will only become more and more exposed. Great kid, great work ethic, but I don't think he gets even a cup of coffee this year unless all hell breaks loose.
Brett Bulmer - One of two players I feel would have had a solid chance to make the roster had free agency gone differently. I cannot express how excited for Bulmer I am for him to get the chance to go and develop further. This kid is going to be good, and rushing him would have been a huge mistake, but one Fletcher likely would have made. With Mitchell on board, Stephane Veilleux and Dowell ready to step in if needed, Bulmer gets to ease up the pace and learn the game at another level. It cannot be expressed enough how good these signings were for Bulmer.
I can see Bulmer pushing to be a call-up at some point if needed, maybe even one of the first call ups to back fill as players move up in the lineup. He's good, and showed last season he can handle it. Time in Houston will be good for him, but don't expect it to be forever.
Jonas Brodin - Here is the one prospect I would not count out. He is facing a d-corps full up with one way deals, but if Brodin can impress enough, Prosser, Stoner, Falk, or even Scandella could find their way back to Houston in short order. Fletcher went out and improved the defense, and likely will not handle well if his defense is not performing. Brodin skates with pure grace, and plays a smart game. If the other young guys continue to make mistakes, Brodin is going to push them out of St. Paul.
And that, right there, is good for everyone involved. Hopefully, his mere presence is enough to make the other guys step up their games. If not, Brodin is likely the one top prospect ready to skate in the NHL should he be needed.
Thoughts Wilderness? Anyone you can see pushing a one way deal to Houston?