In the annual Prospect Development camp scrimmage, Erik Haula shined the brightest. He looked like a man among boys on the ice. In fact, he was. He was the oldest prospect on the ice and played three years of NCAA Division I hockey for a major college hockey machine - the University of Minnesota. In my first ever writing for Hockey Wilderness, I did a prospect camp scouting report from the scrimmages that took place.
Erik Haula, 5'11", 189 lbs. from Pori, Finland
Well, Gopher fans, this kid lived up to his billing. He was one of the top 3-4 best players on a very good University of Minnesota team. Erik Haula plays a very cerebral game. He is smart, plays with his head up, and is always around the puck in both ends. This comes as no surprise because a 3 year division 1 college player should play as good as he did against much younger talent. He has good speed and a great shot that he displayed in his goals. The first he streaked down the right side and beat his defender 1-on-1 and roofed the puck over the tender's left shoulder. The other goals came in the shootout. One was a spin-o-rama that brought the crowd to life, even though the move is now or close to being illegal in the League. The other in the shootout was an absolute snipe in to the upper left-hand corner. I see him being a solid two-way 3rd line center on a 3rd line that scores a bunch in the NHL.
Haula is now impacting games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He opened the scoring for the Wild against the Avalanche in Game One while playing on the fourth line. In Game Three, Wild head coach Mike Yeo was searching for answers to the question of how to stop 18 year old phenom, Nathan MacKinnon. He handed Haula the task. The Finnesotan responded all series long by shadowing the speedy kid with elite speed of his own. In three games at the Xcel Energy Center, the Colorado rookie was held off the score sheet.
Fast forward to Game Three in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Blackhawks. Haula used his speed all night long. Justin Fontaine saw that Haula had a full head of steam as he streaked in to the zone in the third period and fed a nice saucer pass that Haula was able to tip home. The kid, who was playing his first stint of pro hockey a year ago in the AHL, had a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The former 7th round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, has five points (2g, 3a) in the playoffs while not taking penalties and being a pest for the other team's top lines. We saw Haula elevated to the second line when fellow Finn, Mikael Granlund, missed time with injuries. He filled in nicely as a scoring threat and the Wild endured without Granlund because Haula elevated his game.
The Wild were able to control the face-off circles in Game Three because of the Finns down the middle of the line-up. Haula held his own as the third line center winning 56 percent of the face-offs. He offers positive 5v5 close Corsi For and Fenwick For numbers all playoffs long and has the majority of his time on ice starting in the defensive zone.
Mike Yeo has trusted his rookie center in tough situations. Erik Haula has been a work horse on the penalty kill. He's also seen a heavy dose of Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjamlarsson as well as the high-powered forwards of Chicago like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in the latter parts of Game Three.
He averages roughly 14 minutes of ice-time per game. For a former 7th rounder, former 4th line center - now third line center, 23 year old rookie getting just a small portion of the game and playing shutdown minutes, he is finding ways to impact games in the post-season.