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Anatomy of draft day: A look inside the Wild's war room

Behind the scenes of a frantic and exciting first night of the 2021 NHL Draft

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- The NHL Draft is a year's-long culmination of work squeezed into two days of excitement. 

But the process of preparing for the event lasts 12 months, and the Wild's draft board is constantly changing and evolving, right up to the final days before the draft itself. 

Just 24 hours before the start of the draft, Wild General Manager Bill Guerin sat down with Judd Brackett, the club's Director of Amateur Scouting to take one final overview of the club's draft board.

Among those present for the final run-through: Amateur Scouts Dan Palango and Ricard Persson, Senior Advisors to the General Manager Randy Sexton and Ray Shero, Assistant to the General Manager Michael Murray, as well as Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir, Assistant Director of Player Development Matt Hendricks, Director of Pro Scouting Chris Kelleher, Director of Hockey Analytics Mat Sells and Director of Hockey Operations Chris O'Hearn. 

On the smartboard in front of the group is the Wild's draft board, whittled down to its top 39 players.

It's clear that Brackett and his staff have done their due diligence. In some ways - especially up top - their draft board looks like those seen around various websites on the internet. 

But it doesn't take long for the Wild's board to veer elsewhere in a hurry. 

It's an unprecedented year for scouts across the League, as the pandemic season the NHL just finished was indicative of most amateur leagues around the world. Some of the top prospects in the draft played only partial seasons. Others didn't play at all, which makes under-age seasons and previous campaigns even more important. 

It also makes guys like Brackett - widely regarded as one of the top amateur scouting minds in the business - exceptionally valuable. 

As it turns out, the final run through the draft board was about the most exciting development from a day that at one point, was expected to be extremely busy. The roster and trade freeze, lifted at noon on July 22, results in a couple of phone calls from other GMs sniffing around, but nothing of substance develops. 

Certainly nothing of interest to Guerin. 

That lack of activity extends well into the day on Friday, despite a number of big trades around the NHL. First, Rasmus Ristolainen is dealt from Buffalo to Philadelphia. 

Then Pavel Buchnevich is traded from New York to St. Louis. 

The deals continue as Oliver Ekman-Larsson is moved from Arizona to Vancouver before a whopper of a trade just before the start of the draft shifts defenseman Seth Jones to Chicago.

Finally, the high volume of deals expected to begin on Thursday has commenced.

And finally Guerin's interest is piqued by a potential deal with a Western Conference club. 

Their dialogue begins just after 6 p.m., and another conversation follows about 15 minutes later.

The other club offers the Wild an opportunity to move up in the first round of the draft, packaging both their 22nd and 26th overall picks to move up. 

There are a couple of conditions, however. 

Minnesota has two players it likes at that spot, so at least one of them must be available.

The other sticking point is that the player the other team has pegged must be off the board.

If both of those conditions are met, Guerin says he'll pull the trigger. If not, the proposed deal will fizzle and the Wild will keep its pair of first rounders.

As the draft begins, the board falls as many expected. Defenseman Owen Power is picked first overall by Buffalo while Seattle makes its first ever pick by selecting center Matthew Beniers.

That's where things get interesting. 

As Brackett told Guerin on Thursday, he had a pretty good idea of who the first dozen picks would be ... he just couldn't predict where and when they'd go off the board. 

Less than an hour into the draft, one of the Wild's targets is plucked off the board. Guerin looks to his right, where Brackett is highlighting his draft list. 

There's no panic. There's still another target on the board. 

The Wild's draft room then anxiously awaits as its business partner's spot in the draft continues to move closer. 

One name goes off the board, and another, and another. 

Now just one selection away, Guerin grabs his cell phone to call his fellow general manager to check in on the status of the deal. The one team standing between them and the proposed trade has its sights on someone else. 

Just one problem: the team holding the pick has its sights on the same player Minnesota covets. 

The deal has officially died.

Guerin hangs up the phone and announces the news to his draft room with a smile, and a mocking sad trombone sound. 

The good news for Guerin, Brackett and the Wild: It still has two picks to come and the draft board is falling exactly how Brackett had predicted the day before. 

And Guerin's phone isn't done ringing. Not by a long shot. 

As the first round festivities pass their halfway point, Brackett and the amateur scouting staff get a little antsy. Goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, someone they projected as a top-10 pick, is still available in the late teens. 

Shortly before 9 p.m., Guerin dials the phone of Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, the owner of the 18th overall pick. But by the time Cheveldayoff picks up the phone, he and his staff have already submitted the name of Grant native Chaz Lucius.

Guerin immediately hangs up and dials the Nashville Predators at 19.

The Predators selected goaltender Yaroslav Askarov in the first round last year, so they aren't a threat to take Wallstedt. 

But standing between them and Minnesota at No. 22 are Edmonton at 20 and Boston at 21.

So Guerin offers Nashville the 22nd pick and the 90th overall pick for their 19th overall pick. It's not enough, so he offers 22 and 86. Still not enough to pry the pick from the Preds who have their eyes set on Russian centerman Fedor Svechkov.

Things are really getting tight now. 

Sexton asks Brackett and his group of scouts, 'Do you really want this guy?" Brackett's eyes get as big as saucers with a look of a kid on Christmas morning, simply shaking his head yes. 

Tweet from @mnwild: Ready.#mnwild | #NHLDraft

While prognosticators believe the Bruins to be a true threat to snipe Wallstedt in front of the Wild, Sexton -- sitting to Guerin's left -- chimes in with his belief that Edmonton might be the real danger.

Their GM, Ken Holland, has a long history of drafting Swedes, going back to his days managing the Detroit Red Wings. Edmonton also has a number of veteran goaltenders in its system but the belief is that a lack of high-end prospects in the crease could make them a prime landing spot for Wallstedt, where he would immediately be the club's "goalie of the future."

But as Sexton also points out, the Oilers don't have second or third-round picks, and could be eager for a chance to move down a couple spots and gain an extra mid-round pick.

So, Guerin calls Holland and offers him the same deal he offered Nashville -- 22 and 90 for the 20th pick. Holland needs some time to talk it over with his team, and in that time, the tension in the room rises. 

Four minutes pass before Guerin's iPhone rings. It's Holland, calling him back to tell him the Oilers are in. Guerin hangs up and announces to the room the deal is on, much to the delight of those in the room. 

And with that, at 9:20 p.m. -- exactly 17 minutes after Guerin first called Holland with the potential trade -- Wallstedt is announced by Roman Kurvers, son of former Wild Assistant GM Tom Kurvers, as the newest member of the Minnesota Wild. 

Tweet from @mnwild: Having the Kurvers family here with us tonight... 💚

As the excitement in the room begins to die down, the Wild begins to focus on its next first-round pick, scheduled for 26th overall. 

Brackett and his scouting staff have plenty of names remaining on the list of 39 guys presented the day before, including a number of them still inside the top-20 ... the line where the scouting staff differentiated between first-round talent and second-round value.

At 9:42, Guerin's phone rings again. It's Cheveldayoff from the Jets hoping to move up to 26. Whatever his offer is, it's not enough to move Guerin, who has his eyes on defenseman Carson Lambos. 

A minute later, Nashville calls and wants to move up, but the offer isn't enough. 

In the middle of the commotion with Holland earlier, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson had called, hoping to land 26 ... but Minnesota didn't want to drop as far as it would have to necessitate that trade. 

Guerin and Wilson connect one more time but it's a no-go. 

Finally, the Wild is on the clock at 26 and wastes no time in picking the left-shot defenseman it covets in Lambos, a player Brackett believed had a chance to be drafted in the top half of the first round. 

After the pick is announced, Guerin and Brackett both take a seat at the table, and take a deep breath. 

The Wild GM turns to his right, extends his hand and shakes that of his Director of Amateur Scouting. 

"Great job, buddy," Guerin said. 

Brackett doesn't say a word. The smile on his face does all the talking. 


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