Assessing the ability of a general manager fairly is difficult and impossible to do in a vacuum. When a GM is exceptionally good, it’s pretty clear to everyone. The same goes for the truly terrible GMs that end up hurting their team for years after their run in charge is over. Most of the rest are somewhere in a mushy middle. There are some good moves, some bad moves, and in either case some luck likely played a role. Part of the reason for this is that managers are working with (and against) each other. Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher isn’t making trades with a computer, but with another general manager who wants to get a good deal for his club just as much as GMCF does. Free agent signings are with players that have their own agenda, most obviously to get a good payday, but also to end up on a team that is a contender or where they can have a better role.
Another reason for the mushy middle is the difficult nature of the Entry Draft. GMs are guessing at how players, drafted while teenagers, are going to perform at the highest level of competition, sometimes several years down the road. The guessing is informed by scouts and prospects’ performance at the lower levels, but it is still asking GMs to predict these young players’ futures. Difficult, but it doesn’t involve the back and forth that trades and free agent signings does. During the Entry Draft, if a player is still available and GMCF has the next pick, he can draft that player. There’s no negotiation with the player, at least at this stage. There is, of course, the added complexity of the wheeling and dealing among GMs to acquire or trade picks to select particular players, so even here managers are not working in a vacuum.
Still, drafting provides one of the most straightforward ways to judge the ability of a GM. Does he identify NHLpotential consistently or does he choose first round busts? Does he have a knack for finding value in the later rounds, where the odds of a finding a NHL contributor are much smaller? To answer these questions, I’ve constructed an all-drafted roster from the Minnesota Wild’s draft picks over the years. I’ve included the player’s draft round beside each of their names and a symbol (* for Chuck Fletcher and # for Doug Riseborough) to indicate which Wild GM selected the player.
Jason Zucker (2nd)* - Mikko Koivu (1st)# - Marian Gaborik (1st)#
Luke Kunin (1st)* - Mikael Granlund (1st)* - Alex Tuch (1st)*
Benoit Pouliot (1st)# - Erik Haula (7th)* - Cal Clutterbuck (3rd)#
Tyler Graovac (7th)* - Joel Eriksson Ek (1st)* - Kurtis Gabriel (3rd)*
Jonas Brodin (1st)* - Brent Burns (1st)#
Nick Leddy (1st)* - Matt Dumba (1st)*
Marco Scandella (2nd)# - Gustav Olofsson (2nd)*
Anton Khudobin (7th)#
Darcy Kuemper (6th)*
You can quibble with some of the player placement with this roster (personally, I’d probably split up Dumba and Leddy to capitalize on the offensive advantages they offer), but there’s no getting around the fact that this is a below average team overall. The forward group is short on scoring and was so thin at center I had to move Granlund back there despite winger being a better fit for him. For a team that has had a lot of depth at left wing in reality, the draft-only team is especially desperate there.
The defense is unequivocally the strength of this team. Only Gustav Olofsson remains an unproven NHLer, and with Brent Burns, Nick Leddy, Matt Dumba, and Marco Scandella, this is a team that is spoiled for choice on the power play and can count on offense from the back end.
The goaltending looks questionable with two career backups splitting the job as a platoon. With Josh Harding’s early retirement due to complications from multiple schlerosis, the lack of recent success in drafting a goaltender is stark. A few prospects are still working their way up to the NHL right now, but in the meantime, this team has to rely on Khudobin (career .917) and Kuemper (career .913) in net.
Another thing I noticed, this team is largely made up of early round draft picks but there are some key contributions coming from seventh round as well (one center, one left wing, and one goaltender). It seems that the Wild over the years has had some success with finding diamonds in the rough, but has had almost no success in the middle rounds of the draft, partially due to having traded away many of those picks. It will be interesting to see how players like Carson Soucy (5th), Louis Belpedio (3rd), Kaapo Kahkonen (4th), and Kirill Kaprizov (5th) turn out.
Riseborough is responsible for seven of the 20 players on this roster. Seeing as Fletcher has been the Wild’s GM since April 2009, I can’t decide if I find that surprising or not. On the one hand, top NHL players frequently play for more than a decade in the NHL, so it is possible that players from any of Riseborough’s drafts could be active NHL players. In fact, with Gaborik still active, this is the case. On the other hand, Fletcher has been at the helm for exactly as many Entry Drafts as his predecessor. Shouldn’t more of his picks be on the team by now? The most recent drafts are mostly prospects that haven’t had time to reach the NHL yet, but the NHL journeymen that Fletcher might have selected in his early drafts are largely missing.
One important caveat to keep in mind with all of this is that the Wild’s GM, especially Fletcher as he is the current one, have been drafting in response to what the team possesses in reality. For example, with the trade to acquire Devan Dubnyk working out so well, Fletcher hasn’t needed to drop an early round draft pick on a high level goaltending prospect, which he almost certainly would have been forced to do in this alternate reality.
There’s also the matter of the Wild’s draft position to consider. The Wild have never selected earlier than third overall and have selected within the top ten only seven times. This has severely limited the number of “can’t miss” picks the Wild GMs hae enjoyed. Instead, they’ve been somewhat victimized by the Wild’s success and been forced to pick in the middle or bottom of the draft rounds where prospects are much less certain of making an impact at the NHL. Fletcher has done well with the two opportunities he has had, drafting Granlund (9th overall) and Dumba (7th) overall. Riseborough’s picks have had the most impact with Gaborik (3rd overall), Mikko Koivu (6th overall), and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (8th overall), but also included several busts like Benoit Pouliot (4th overall) and James Sheppard (9th overall).
In the end, I wouldn’t rate the draft work of either Riseborough or Fletcher particularly high. The former was especially underwhelming with much of his work, and the effect (or lack of effect) his picks are having on the team still to this day are negative save for Koivu. The job of NHL GM is undoubtedly a tough one, but the draft needs to be an area of strength in the salary cap world. So far, it hasn’t proved to be one for the Wild.