I watched the 2013 draft with particular interest. I really wanted the Wild to select Portland Winterhawk, and right wing extraordinaire, Oliver Bjorkstrand. He was ranked 36th of North American skaters, so I thought it would be possible that he'd be there when the Wild made their second round pick. He was still available, but the Wild took Gustav Olofsson, a great choice, and I can't really blame them for selecting him. You can never go wrong with Swedish defensive talent.
But I cannot forgive them for passing up Bjorkstrand when he was still on the board in the third round. It seems insane. Bjorkstrand wasn't picked until eight spots later, by the Blue Jackets. I want to mock every NHL team except the Blue Jackets for passing up his talent, but I can't really praise them too much because they picked four guys ahead of him. With all due respects to Messrs Wenneberg, Rychel, Heatherington and Dano, I find it hard to believe that any of them are as good as Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand scored a goal this year that seems impossible. And he made it seem easy. Shorthanded. Ho hum. Simple little backhand. (If you haven't followed that link, do so. It's the goal of the 2014-15 season as far as I'm concerned.)
But it's not just the back to back 50 goal seasons that make me wish Bjorkstrand had a future wearing Iron Range Red. He's as good in the defensive zone as in the offensive zone. He is a fantastic penalty killer and is just as good on the power play. He can score in transition, creates breakaways but can also score standing still. Basically, he's everything the Minnesota Wild (or any other sane team) would want in a player, and they passed him up. My enjoyment of Oliver Bjorkstrand's game isn't going to stop when he leaves the Winterhawks, so the Blue Jackets have gained another fan. In fact, I may be the only Wild fan who thinks Mike Reilly made a mistake choosing the Wild because Reilly had a chance to play with Bjorkstrand!
The 2015 draft eligible player I was most excited about was Travis Konecny. With his speed and skills, I thought there was no way he would be available when the Wild picked 20th. But he was. While Konecny does not have the size that the Wild frequently look for, as a 17-year-old captain of a major Canadian junior team, he has the character that the Wild brass claim that they value. And the Wild, who passed up talent for size and grit in the third round in 2013, seemingly did so again, choosing Joel Eriksson-Ek instead of Konecny. I was not happy. Travis Konecny can do this. And this. And also this.
Since the draft, I've watched a bit of Eriksson-Ek, and I can see why the Wild selected him. One popular comparison of Eriksson-Ek’s game style is Niederreiter. It’s an appropriate comparison. The way Eriksson-Ek uses his strength to power to the net and earn himself space looks a lot like Nino--annoying goalies and defensemen alike. It is encouraging to see these similarities because I love Nino! Everyone (except Mike Yeo, it seems) loves Nino! But I can't help but wonder where the team would be if they had the draft philosophy to take the most skillful player available instead of drafting whoever best fits the perceived need.
But even when the Wild draft a player who I like, it can still be painful because the Wild have not been shy about making trades. Johan Larsson was one of my favorite Wild prospects before he was traded. He's so fun to watch. (Before I go any farther, I must state that I'm glad the trade happened. Pominville has been awesome--an essential part of any regular season and post-season success that the Wild have had. None of this changes the fact that Larsson is fun to watch and that it sucks that the Wild had to trade him--even though it was for a linchpin of the team.)
Let's take a moment to enjoy Johan Larsson's first NHL goal courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche.
At the end of this season, Larsson played top line minutes with good linemates (by the standards of the 2014-15 Sabres) and looked like the same grumpy badass that centered Zucker and Coyle in Houston during the lockout. He played physical and looked confident, and I'm glad the Sabres are getting value from him. He will slide down the depth chart this year, with the Sabres turning all that tanking into an actual team, but he will still be the player who causes me to tune in when the Sabres are on TV.
Watching prospects, it's impossible not to pick a few and make them mine, even though I know it will probably end in heartbreak. As I keep up with the news out of prospect camp this week, I will find more reasons to root for players who the Wild have drafted, and not all of my personal favorites will play NHL minutes for the Wild. But I will still choose favorites, because without that passion, I've got fewer reasons to watch.