The popular opinion among the Wild blogosphere is that the Wild will absolutely not pick a player with high offensive upside. Heck, we even share that opinion- the title of our most recent podcast is called "The Inevitability of Colin White".
This stems from the Wild's history of drafting and acquiring young players, particularly under the Chuck Fletcher era. The Wild's draft braintrust (Led by Assistant GM Brent Flahr and Head Scout Guy LaPointe) has a pretty demonstrable history of drafting for players known for their character, two-way play, and hockey sense. Players like, well, Colin White.
But don't take my word for it. Dan Shrader (former Wild Blogger turned scout) found this trend in 2012.
Looking back on what has been said about the players taken, you see trends or elements that Minnesota values in prospects.
Mikael Granlund- extremely smart and skilled, plays a competitive game.
Brett Bulmer- skilled, competitive, hard to play against.
Johan Larsson- works very hard, speedy, strong and gritty, Character guy. Competitive.
Jason Zucker- very competitive, skilled, very fast skater. Great character.
Johan Gustafsson- big and athletic, good character, big international U-18 tournament.
Jonas Brodin- hockey sense, moves the puck well, elite skater, poise.
Zack Phillips- hockey sense, skilled, competitive, work ethic.
Mario Lucia- hockey sense, skilled, character, competitive.
Nick Seeler- competitive, skates well, moves the puck, vision.
Stephen Michalek- big and athletic, big international Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
Tyler Graovac- big, skates well, gritty, character, competitve.
When it's spelled out like this, it's easy to see what they look for: Character, hockey sense, and a competitive nature.
You can see this trend manifesting itself throughout the Wild organization, with solid all-around players like Charlie Coyle, energy forwards like Raphael Bussieres and Kurtis Gabriel, and defensemen whose primary value stems from their skating and hockey sense (Gustav Olofsson, Louis Belpedio).
Even if every pick hasn't worked out (no team is perfect in their drafting and development), it's a viable strategy. Players that fit this archetype are generally considered "safer" picks- more likely to become a long-time NHL-contributor- than flashier offensive players who might have defensive/attitude concerns.
But, like any strategy, there is a drawback to it: When you attempt to minimize risk, oftentimes you will find yourself missing out on players who could develop into elite offensive stars. Sometimes this works out, and you pick Jonas Brodin over Sven Baertschi. And sometimes, you pick Colton Gilles instead of Max Pacioretty.
When you look at the Wild's prospect you see a lot of guys who are lower-risk prospects. Alex Tuch, Tyler Graovac, Mario Lucia, and Gustav Olofsson all seem like pretty safe bets to play in the NHL. But with the exception of Tuch (and some will debate on Tuch's skills), the system is pretty void of prospects that could become the elite offensive player the Wild have lacked since Gaborik's departure.
There's clearly a need for a high-upside player. The question is: Will Fletcher and Flahr buck tradition?
I might be just hoping against hope here, but I think there's reason to believe the Wild will take that "home-run swing" tonight. Here's my logic.
1) The Playoffs Have Exposed Minnesota's Lack of Star Power
In the last three post-seasons, the Wild have played the Chicago Blackhawks three times, and the Blues and Avalanche once. In each of those matchups, they've had to face a young, dynamic star player- CHI's Patrick Kane, STL's Vladimir Tarasenko, and COL's Nathan MacKinnon. All three of these players torched the Wild in these series. Here's their combined stat line:
28 Games Played, 16 Goals, 16 Assists, 32 points.
Meanwhile, here are the Wild's leading playoff scorers in the last three seasons:
- Zach Parise (28 GP, 26 P)
- Jason Pominville (23 GP, 15 P)
- Mikael Granlund (23 GP, 13 P)
- Nino Niederreiter (23 GP, 11 P)
- Mikko Koivu (28 GP, 11 P)
With few players scoring more than a point every other game, it has to inspire envy in Chuck Fletcher when a Patrick Kane can score so effortlessly. While Zach Parise's production was at that elite level (or at least quite close), him turning 31 next month means the Wild should be looking for a young replacement for his star-level production.
2) The Wild's Efforts to Bring in a Star Have Fallen Short
The Wild have absolutely known about this, and have tried to remedy the situation for the majority of Fletcher's tenure, with no solution working out (sans Parise) quite as intended. Injury-prone Martin Havlat fizzled as a free agent. Trades to add goal-scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi absolutely flopped. Jason Pominville isn't that star player. Thomas Vanek was, but his first season in Minnesota casts a ton of doubt as to whether he's that player anymore.
After 6 years of trying to fill this void through outside means, the Wild may finally reckon with the fact that the only way for them to acquire "The Next (Patrick Kane/Vlad Tarasenko/etc.)" is through the draft. If they realize this, they're much more likely to take a risk at Pick 20.
3) The Wild Have Picked Upside Over "The Safe Pick™" Before
There remains one glaring exception to the Wild's risk-averse drafting, and that instance may have produced the Wild's most dynamic player.
In 2012, the Wild selected Matt Dumba with the 7th pick in the draft. Now, Matt Dumba was seen as a high-character kid, but there were red flags in his defensive game and decision-making that made many view him as a high-risk, high-reward kind of player.
Needing an offensive option to eventually compliment Jonas Brodin, the Wild took the risk and picked Dumba over lower-risk options like Jacob Trouba, Zemgus Girgensons, Olli Maatta, and Cody Ceci.
Breaking their usual pattern paid off this season, as Dumba dazzled fans with his speed, shot, and ever-improving defensive game and decision making. While other players (Trouba, Maatta) got to the NHL quicker than Dumba, I can't imagine the Wild brass is disappointed in the risk they took.
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These factors all lead me to believe that the Wild will believe that they have the need, and in this deep draft, the Wild will certainly have the ability to choose from more dynamic players than their standard two-way fare.