I replayed Saturday night's Wild/Avalanche game earlier this morning in preparation for today's article. I had originally been planning on writing about how impressed I've been with Wild forward Charlie Coyle, but another young Minnesota skater commanded my attention instead. His name is Marco Scandella.
Drafted 55th overall in 2008, Scandella, a big 6'3" 207-pound left-shot defender, can already be considered the best prospect of the latter stages of the Doug Risebrough regime. First round picks, A.J. Thelen, James Sheppard, Colton Gillies and Tyler Cuma were believed to have real promise and potential, but are all either playing with different organizations or not at all. With the arrival of new GM Chuck Fletcher came the gradual departure of the shallow Risebrough-Era talent pool and the emergence of a wealth of real blue chip youngsters. As names like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, Coyle, Darcy Kuemper, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula arrived, Scandella continued to develop and mature in the process of cementing himself as one of the team's top young players.
It hasn't always been easy. His first three seasons in the league (2010-13), the Montreal, Quebec native had just four goals, 15 points and a negative-32 rating in 89 games. While he showed flashes of brilliance, Injuries and inconsistent play forced him to miss games or spend time in Houston with Minnesota's top minor league affiliate.
Last year, Scandella seemed to flip a switch, scoring three goals, 17 points and a plus-10 rating in 76 games. Not only was he Minnesota's fourth leading scorer from the blue line, he also averaged 18:48 of ice-time per night in a top-4 defensive role. In 13 postseason games, Scandella also added two goals, three points and a plus-4 rating, and saw his average ice-time increase to 21:28 per night.
This year, in a two-game sample size against the defending Central Division champs, Scandella has yet to find the score sheet, but what he has brought to the team is something you can't measure except in the number of goals not scored by the opposition. At 24 years old, Scandella seems to have hit his stride as a shutdown defensive-minded defender with offensive upside and a nasty streak. Defensively, he uses his stick well in breaking up plays and limiting opportunities. He's also not afraid to go down and block a shot (he has five already this season) or throw a timely hit.
Then there's his size. Scandella's large frame is almost impossible to muscle around when driving to the net - just ask Colorado. And, if you get too close to the kitchen, he's a real handful. Then there's that heavy shot of his and the way he takes it upon himself to lead the charge into the offensive zone. Scandella does it all, and odds are good he'll only get better.
However, Scandella isn't the young defender Fletcher just signed to a six-year $25 Million extension. Brodin is going to be exceptional. He's a superb skater, has improved offensively and also seems to have shaken off his struggles from last season. Then again, we're still only two games in. Regardless, his projected ceiling, and the club's promising future with him in the lineup, make the extension a no-brainer. Likewise, Scandella is also playing in a contract year. So far, he's making a case for a similarly-sized suitcase full of cash. While the obvious move for Fletcher to make next would be to locking up key young forwards Granlund and Coyle, signing his No. 4 defenseman would also be a smart move to consider.
With the talent on the team and in the prospect pipeline, it isn't out of the realm of possibility for Minnesota to string together several years of playoff runs. When the trade deadline comes around, the hottest commodity is almost always going to be a strong, minute-munching top-4 defenseman. With top-pairing rear guards Ryan Suter and Brodin signed long-term, the Wild would be much better served locking in their Nos. 3 and 4 defenders (Jared Spurgeon, who will likely come into big money in 2016-17, and Scandella) now in order to head any future lack of defensive talent off at the pass.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - Minnesota has quietly been assembling the best defensive corps in the league. Extending Scandella will only reinforce what has quickly become the foundation of one of the NHL's deadliest franchises and will give Fletcher, and head coach Mike Yeo, a better picture moving forward.
Is it Friday yet?