Tyler Cuma, plucked 23rd in the 2008 Entry Draft, became the first defenseman selected by the Wild since the team tabbed A.J. Thelen of Michigan State with the 12th selection in 2004. The Wild acquired the pick from the Devils in exchange for Minnesota's 24th pick and a third-round selection in the 2009 draft.
"He is a quality two-way defenseman who hopefully can become a cornerstone of our hockey club as he develops," said Wild Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel Tom Thompson. "His level of play continued to improve through the year, and he was outstanding in the World Under-18 Championships."
Cuma, who interviewed with a Scouting Combine-high 28 NHL teams in May, was flattered to be regarded so highly by one of the League's most renowned defensive units.
"Especially after they traded up a pick and a third-rounder for me," Cuma told NHL.com. "It felt good and they said afterwards that they had me pegged the entire night. It's a nice feeling to know that a team really wanted you. Minnesota has a history of working with and developing their young guys, so I just have to make sure I'm doing the little things right and we'll see what happens.
"My weakness is sometimes I try to do a little too much for my team," Cuma said. "My competitive nature -- I try to win every game possible."
Really, though, what organization wouldn't prefer a player with that type of winning mentality developing within their system? Cuma, who played at the NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., in September as well as Minnesota's training camp, was assigned to the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League to start the season.
"Tyler has a great blend of everything from competitiveness, to skill and skating," said Kevin Constantine, the coach of Minnesota's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. "The challenge any first-round pick faces is continuing to improve and all you have to do to improve is care, think, analyze, listen and learn. I have no doubt Tyler is willing to do that. He just needs to find little things in his game to get better and have the mental willingness to continue to grow and mature."
Ottawa 67's coach Brian Kilrea agrees with Constantine.
"Tyler is a very strong skater and will be an exceptional NHL player," Kilrea said. "He is one of the most dedicated players that I have ever coached. He started training immediately after our season ended last year to get ready for this season. He is very solid at both ends of the rink, including having to defend against the opposition's top players every game."
Cuma enjoys having Kilrea as his coach in Ottawa.
"He's been a great mentor, he shows me little things that I can improve in my game and he definitely wants the best from his players," Cuma told hockeysfuture.com. "He'll yell at you if you're screwing up, but if he yells at you it's for the best because you know that he cares about you."
Cuma posted 32 points and 69 penalty minutes in 59 games during his second season with Ottawa in 2007-08. He was named Ottawa's Rookie of the Year in 2006-07 after registering 19 points in 63 games and entered the Entry Draft as the 19th-ranked North American skater according to the Central Scouting Service. He looks forward to the day of perfecting his defensive game under the tutelage of Wild coach Jacques Lemaire.
Cuma, a native of Bowmanville, Ontario, earned gold with Team Canada at the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
"It was definitely a good conditioning experience, that's for sure," Cuma said of playing for Team Canada. "The practices were tough and the games were a lot of fun because I've been playing with and against some of those guys a long time now, so I knew how certain guys were going to play. When I was there, I wanted to make sure to impress the coaches and the staff and represent Team Canada the best I could."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.