The Minnesota Wild may have one of the brightest futures of all 30 franchises currently playing in the NHL, but, like many young teams on the rise, are a piece or two away from realizing that potential.
Prior to acquiring Ryan Suter in free agency two seasons ago, the club lacked a clear-cut No. 1 minute-muncher on the back end. There's no question Suter has proven to be that and more in his time in the Red, White and Green, but he's an All-Star playing with a bunch of youngsters. Extremely talented they may be, but a veteran is needed, and will probably be acquired in free agency this summer. However, Suter needs a proverbial heir, and Minnesota's system doesn't look like it has one at the moment.
Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Christian Folin and Gustav Olofsson all project to be solid top-4 NHL defenders, but very few of them have the potential to develop into a franchise No. 1-2 blue liner. Fortunately for Chuck Fletcher, there is one available in this year's draft--it's just highly unlikely he'll fall to second overall, let alone 18th.
Aaron Ekblad has it all. He's got monstrous size and ability, a booming point shot and makes a great first pass up the ice. He's defensively sound, a battler and has a compete level that's off the charts. Of all draft eligible players, Ekblad is a man amongst boys. This is a kid ready to play in the NHL now and could emerge as an impact player by the end of next season. Ekblad has the potential to be a Shea Weber/Duncan Keith/Drew Doughty/Erik Karlsson/P.K. Subban/Ryan Suter-type player. Adding him to Minnesota's ever-growing youth movement doesn't hurt, especially when the Wild have the spare assets to trade for the first overall pick without hurting their chances of winning now.
The club has stockpiled a plethora of young defensive talent through the draft and free agent signings, including crown jewel prospects Dumba, Olofsson and Folin. Shipping one of these three to sunny Florida only makes sense if Fletcher truly wants to add Ekblad to the fold. However, that young defenseman won't be alone. In addition to one of those three, Florida will also likely want Jason Zucker--a talented individual on the outside looking in at this point--the 18th overall pick in 2014 and goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
Why send Backstrom? Because he's better than Dan Ellis, Florida's end-of-season backup who is set to hit free agency. Backstrom may no longer be a starter, but he'd be a more than capable backup for the Panthers' Roberto Luongo. Fletcher has made it clear he's looking to trade Backstrom and, with the Ducks planning to let Jonas Hiller walk this summer, there's no better time than now to trade him and sign the former Anaheim goalie as soon as July 1st hits. If Fletcher doesn't want Hiller, no problem--there are a few other big names between the pipes out there, as well.
This trade only makes sense if Fletcher's plan is to grab Ekblad. Sending Zucker, Backstrom, Dumba and the 18th overall pick for first overall and maybe a third or fourth round pick should be fair compensation, and it doesn't hurt the team's chances of winning now, either. Minnesota receives a potential franchise No. 1 defenseman and Florida sits pretty happy with a capable backup, a potential top-6 forward, a solid top-4 defensive prospect and likely another potential top-6 forward with the 18th overall pick. Everyone leaves happy.