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Fenton, Flahr prepare Wild for NHL Draft

Minnesota holds eight picks, including the 24th overall selection in the first round

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Wild General Manager Paul Fenton has been helping coordinate and run entry drafts for the better part of the past two decades.

Whether it was as a scout in his early years with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim or as a director of player personnel and later an assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators, Fenton knows draft weekend is perhaps the highlight of any offseason.

"No question, it's the most important building piece that we have," Fenton said. "Pressure-wise, it really puts a lot of pressure on your amateur staff. They have to find these players and we need these replacements in this new (salary) cap world. It's such an important piece to be able to have younger, entry-level contracts coming in at some point."

It will be one month on Friday since Fenton was introduced as the third GM in franchise history, a day which also marks the beginning of the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas.
 

[RELATED: Complete Wild coverage of the 2018 NHL Draft is available at wild.com/draftcentral.]
 

Minnesota is scheduled to pick 24th in the first round, which begins and ends on Friday night. The Wild has seven more picks on Saturday, including three in the third round and two more in the fifth. 

When it comes to whom the Wild will pick with those selections, Fenton has historically abided by a very simple rule.

"You take the best player, plain and simple," Fenton said. "The way that things are, very rarely do you take someone for a specific position to fill you in. Generally, we're picking at 24 this year, we're looking at the guy contributing in four to five years. If you're successful, that's when he should be able to contribute for us."

So while the Wild begins draft week with just two forwards on its NHL roster that are right-handed shots (Charlie Coyle and Luke Kunin), don't expect Minnesota to pick righties just because the NHL club could potentially use them.

As Fenton indicated, the chances that the 24th pick in the first round will help Minnesota this upcoming season are very, very slim. 

And if you abide by Fenton's 4-5 year rule, the Wild's roster could look completely different as the 2022 NHL Draft dawns. 

"If the best player is the best player, then you have the best asset," Fenton said. "And that's when you can start to fine-tune your lineup and say, 'I might have too many at this position,' and now I can use that piece to go on and get somebody else who can better fill that role for us."

Mathematics and history provide most GMs with a goal from every draft; if two or three players from each draft eventually perform at the NHL level, it's considered a quality weekend.

Any more is gravy.

Any fewer puts teams in a real bind down the road.

Because the Wild doesn't have two or three first-round picks (at least as of now), that means Fenton will be counting on Senior VP of Hockey Operations Brent Flahr and his staff of scouts to connect on a player in the later rounds.

Minnesota doesn't have a second-round pick as a result of the 2017 trade that sent the pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Martin Hanzal.

The Wild will have three cracks in the third round, including the first pick in round three, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last summer along with Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. Minnesota also has its own pick (86th overall) and Vegas' third rounder (92nd overall). 

If the Wild is to leave the 2018 draft with multiple future NHLers, that will ratchet up the pressure on scouts to unearth those players.

"I think it's the competitive nature that we all have, our scouts have that same competitive nature to try and succeed," Fenton said. "You try and put a two-to-three player ratio on every draft based on percentages, and when guys do turn out, it's a great feeling. It's a great feeling for them, it's a great feeling for the organization because it justifies all the work they've put in to build this team."

Flahr will again play a major role in directing the Wild's draft. Fenton has certainly done his share of work on this draft, even before being hired by the team last month. But he will lean on Flahr and his experienced group of scouts to do much of the in-depth work this weekend in Texas.

That work will begin on Friday night, as the Wild holds a first-round pick this summer after sitting out the opening two rounds of last year's draft.

"It's always tough when you don't have a first rounder," Flahr said. "It's tough on the scouts and your staff who travel all over the world every year. But to have a first round pick is great, not only for our scouts but for our team moving forward. We should have a good player there."

After their initial set of amateur meetings two weeks ago, Flahr and Fenton believe there should be a handful of quality prospects available at 24. 

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the sure-fire top selection in the draft and will be likely headed to Buffalo, which holds the first overall pick.

Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov and American forward Brady Tkachuk are also expected to hear their names called early on Friday.

The general consensus is there are another six or seven picks in the next tier of selections, but after around pick 10, things are wide open. 

While the 2017 draft was viewed as one of the weaker ones in recent memory, the 2018 selection meeting is much deeper.

The fact Minnesota has eight picks this year could be very beneficial in a draft that should have many quality players.

"I think it's a decent draft," Flahr said. "There's a couple different levels of what we feel are different tiers of prospects. But I think there's some depth through the top couple rounds, and we're confident we're going to get some good players."

Having three thirds and two fifths also gives the Wild one of the most important things a team can have as it heads into draft weekend.

"It gives you lots of flexibility," Flahr said. "We could move up in the first even, or if there's a player we really like in the second, we could package up a couple picks and move up if we feel strongly enough. Or we could take three players in the third and add more assets."

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