After four consecutive years of missing the playoffs and accumulating draft picks quickly, the Minnesota Wild may be about to start reaping benefits.
There is considerable talent in abundance for all positions on the ice that can grow together, with prime-aged stars like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter signed long term as pillars on which the prospects can lean. Now all the team has to do is watch its young hopefuls earn their way into the lineup as roles slowly start to open up.
"It's hard to know exactly how much these kids will do,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said at the end of a disappointing 2011-12 season. "I'm not expecting, I'm hoping for one or two surprises. We're not going to put anyone on the team -- they'll have to earn it."
One of second-year coach Mike Yeo's tenets since taking over has been to change the culture of the team, where players see themselves and their team as winners and expect to win, as Yeo witnessed during his days in Pittsburgh as an assistant coach. Fortunately for the Wild, most of their top youngsters will arrive having already experienced the process of winning championships and gold medals at their levels. If the club can eventually guide them into helping to do the same at the premium NHL level, there potentially may be a new powerhouse in the West in the near future.
With nearly their full draft class from 2010 signed and showing promise, tough decisions loom for Minnesota's coaches and management until there is more room on the roster or injuries create opportunities.