Marco Scandella has had something of a bumpy ride during his career, but it has seemingly all been worth it as he realised his talent and played like a solid top-4 defenceman last season. He was one of just 4 (!) players the Wild selected in the 2008 draft. Tyler Cuma just left the organisation with 1 NHL game played and seems to still be without a team. Sean Lorenz played 2 games for the Aeros before retiring from hockey to become a player agent. Eero Elo never played a single game outside of Finland. This could have been one of the worst draft classes of all time if not for Scandella emerging last season.
This will be Scandella's one and only appearance in these rankings as he turns 25 next season. After an up-and-down first full NHL season in 2011/12 that featured concussion issues, demotion to the AHL and a strong finish playing 30+ minutes a night with Tom Gilbert on the top pairing, he spent most of 2012/13 in the AHL where he struggled with injuries and form. He returned to the Wild for the playoffs and played well in a losing effort. He was no longer waiver eligible at the beginning of the 2013/14 season, which meant it was his last chance to establish himself in the lineup. After taking a healthy scratch early in the year after a rough night against the Ducks, Scandella returned to the lineup energised and was fantastic right up to the end of the Wild's playoff run.
Only TJ Brodie and Niklas Hjalmarsson had tougher zone starts relative to their teammates last season and, in spite of this, Scandella was still the Wild's 2nd best defenceman in Points/60 and Corsi (Shot Attempts)/60 at 5v5. That's pretty remarkable considering where he was starting most shifts and is a testament to his excellent stick-work and puck retrieval in the defensive zone and his skating ability and tenacity through the neutral zone. He often seems to get tagged as a defence-only guy, with is odd considering his good scoring rate and his excellent slap-shot (he really should have had more goals with that thing last year).
A 24 year old defenceman who can thrive in tough usage and be a positive influence in all 3 zones is an extremely valuable commodity. He appears to have the coach's trust and, despite a fairly bumpy start to his NHL career, there's a lot of reasons to assume that he will be able to continue last season's momentum. His run of mostly great play went from the 2013 playoffs through to the end of the 2014 playoffs, encapsulating 94 games. That's a pretty large sample size and, at his age, I think if he stays healthy, there's no reason why he can't do the same again or, better still, improve on it in 2014/15.
Physically, he's everything Wild fans want in a blueliner; big and strong while also playing smart and having good mobility and skill. The Wild's lack of size is often criticised but, in Scandella (and now Folin), they have a couple of pretty big guys who can clear the crease and throw their weight around. Aside from his effectiveness at even strength, he's also a useful penalty killer and has shown some intriguing promise on the powerplay during preseason.
It's tough to choose between some of the prospects at this point in the list. We're somewhat relying on Scandella putting together another great season in 2014/15 to make us look smart here but I've got a lot of faith in his ability.
What do you think, Wilderness? Leave a comment below.