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Tommy’s Take On The NHL Draft

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild

 
 Tom Thompson has overseen each of the Wild’s six drafts. He’ll make it number seven next Saturday.
Minnesota Wild Assistant General Manager/Player Personnel Tom Thompson, is the guy when it comes to the Wild and the National Hockey League Entry Draft. You can ask him a question about any player that has ever been, or ever will be, drafted, and Tommy’s got an answer. Just don’t ask him, who he really, really wants, because this man is averse to tipping his hand.

He will say that Erik Johnson of Bloomington will go number one on June 24th, and that this draft is stacked with high-end forwards.

Wild.com sat down with Tommy to get his insight on the upcoming draft, the players involved, and the history of Minnesota Wild drafts.

Wild.com - You just got back from the combine where you evaluated players and interviewed them. How much can a player move up and down in your pre-draft rankings after the combine?

Tom Thompson - I don’t think it can make them move up that much. It can confirm beliefs in a positive way. I do think it can have a negative effect though. Most of the players that are highly-skilled that don’t make it…it’s not that they don’t have the hockey skills, but that they don’t have the right personality to be a professional hockey player in the NHL.

I think there are some red flags that can be raised in those interviews.

What type of personality is it that would raise red flags? Someone who is too laid back?

I think there are some people that might look at advancing in the hockey world as an entitlement. There’s people that we might feel don’t have a forceful enough personality for the role that they are going to play. There’s people who clearly do not understand what role they have to play to make it in the National Hockey League.

I think all those things are taken into account there.

The consensus on this year’s draft seems to be the lack of a superstar, but solid players near the top. Would you agree?

No. I think there are going to be some real star players that come out of this draft. It’s very shallow analysis to look at a draft as being one person. The Ovechkin draft, for example, also had Evgeni Malkin. I love Ovechkin, but he’s 1, and Malkin is 1A. I think that there’s more to it than that.

There’s a group of about five guys that probably will all be gone before we pick at nine. They all should be starters in the National Hockey League. We have 14 people that our staff is unanimously thinking we’d be very happy to get in the first round.

It’s certainly a deeper draft than a number of previous drafts. I remember the draft that we got Pierre-Marc Bouchard, we were picking eighth. There were only seven people that we really liked and we had to have someone else go before then, and fortunately that happened and we got Bouchard.

Do you have that same viewpoint then with the 17th pick considering you’ve got only 14 that you’re really excited about?

Well, first of all, we have to get 17. That’s not a sure thing yet, because the Oilers are still alive for the Cup. But at 17, I’d be optimistic that we’d get two of the players in our top group, in which case I’d be elated before we even started talking about the next rounds.

With two first round picks, the possibility of a trade is certainly there. How involved are you in pushing for trades on draft day?

It would always be the general manager’s call. It would be our recommendation, for instance, to let’s really do this. Our view in a draft is you move up to get a player, you never move up just to get a pick. The example of that I use is we moved up in 2003 to get Danny Irmen (in the third round with the 78th overall pick). We would not have had him if we waited for our next pick, so we moved up because we really wanted Danny Irmen at that stage.

The next year, we had a chance to move up, but there really wasn’t a particular player that we thought we could get in the second round that we could not get in the third. So we kept our two third round picks and got Clayton Stoner and Peter Olvecky and I’m very glad we did. We didn’t just move up to get a pick, we wanted both of those guys and we thought we could get them both if we waited until the third round. It was a little bit of luck but it worked out.

Have you ever drafted for need, or have you always taken the best player available?

I’ll sound like a politician, but I think I can answer yes to both of those questions. We have a blueprint in our mind of the requirements needed for each particular role on a hockey club. So we need those roles filled, so we need the person who best exemplifies what we think is needed for a particular role.

 

 Tommy’s Two Cents

 Erik Johnson

 The first real complete defensive prospect I’ve seen at that age since Chris Pronger

 Phil Kessel

 A dynamic, exciting player. He has the potential to be a good NHL player that excites the crowd

 Jonathan Toews

 Looks like a 6-foot-2 version of Steve Yzerman to me. A very complete player

 Jordan Staal

 Fits right in with that Staal family. He has the potential to be an awesome player when his body fills out

 Nicklas Backstrom

 Closest thing I’ve seen in this draft to a Joe Sakic-type player. I think he’s really good

 Peter Mueller

 Big, strong guy that makes good plays and can shoot the puck. He wins face-offs, plays the penalty kill. Took a little time to adjust to the WHL, but when he did and got to the playoffs, he was very good. He’s playing for Kevin Constantine, who demands two-way players.

 Derick Brassard

 Dynamic, exciting. A little in the Phil Kessel-mode. He’s not a big guy, but he makes other people better and raises the energy level

 Jiri Tlusty

 He’s good. He looks a little like those old-sytle Russian players. He’s a little under six-feet, 200 pounds. He’s a complete player and a competitor

 Bryan Little

 He’s built like a bowling ball. He’s not a physical guy, about 5-10, 190. Real good puck skills and can score in any situation.

 Kyle Okposo

 A solid two-way winger that can help teams win

 Michael Frolik

 Frank Mahovolich. He’s tall, lanky with tremendous skills. He’s there some nights, he’s not some nights

 Jonathan Bernier

 A solid guy with international experience

You try to balance things a little bit. People can say, “look at that hockey club, they don’t score enough,” but our top prospects are guys like Patrick O’Sullivan, Benoit Pouliot and Roman Voloshenko, and they’re all scorers. So maybe we’ve got to look at our reserve list coming up and ask if we need to balance that out with something else.

What you see on the ice is really the tip of the iceberg as far as the reserve list goes.

This could be the best draft ever in terms of Americans, and in particular, for Minnesotans.

Certainly as far as Minnesotans. There are arguably four kids (Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel, Peter Mueller, Kyle Okposo) with direct Minnesota ties that conceivably could be gone before we even pick. Not conceivably either, the odds are that they’ll probably all be gone before we pick. That’s before you start talking about the other guys from Minnesota.

I guess I’m more focused on the Minnesota connections than the overall U.S. connections. I think the Minnesota connection is very strong and we’re very proud of that. I think it’s a credit to the minor hockey program here and to the players and their families that they’re able to get to that level.

One player that has some remote ties is not from Minnesota, but his brother plays for the Wild, and that’s Francois Bouchard. What kind of a player is "Butch’s" kid brother?

There are some similarities with Pierre-Marc like great hockey sense and loves to play. He’s a significantly bigger guy. I think he would acknowledge that until this year, he wasn’t in the best physical condition. But he’s a great talent. He can handle the puck and I always bug Pierre-Marc that there’s one thing that Francois can do better than him and that’s shoot the puck. He’s got an NHL shot and he got over 100 points as a 17-year-old in the Quebec League. I don’t think he’d be a guy that would be picked in the first round by us, but we’d certainly be interested in him down the road. He has the chance to be a good offensive player in the NHL.

Where is this draft strongest in terms of positions?

I think there is no doubt that at the top end, you’ve got a defenseman who I’m quite sure will go number one. But the first half of the first round will be dominated by centers. Okposo is a good winger, but I think you could have eight or nine centers taken in the first half of the first round.

There seems to be no doubt in your mind that Johnson is an NHL-ready player. Do you see any other players that can step in immediately?

I don’t know the intent of the teams, or the players, but I would say off the top of my head that there would be four others who are very close. It would depend on what they want to do and what they’re teams want to do.

In no particular order, I would say Kessel, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal and Nicklas Backstrom are all very close. Whether it’s the best thing for them, I don’t know that.

Every year...every year, there’s going to be one player that I don’t mention that steps in right away and play regularly like a Patrice Bergeron situation. You have to give the player credit in those instances.

Touch on your past six drafts. Most of your top picks are still within the organization, including every first and second-round pick. Some of the lower selections are no longer with the club. Is this normal for a team to part ways with some of the lower selections?

Sure. I’ve always said that you can’t judge drafts by looking at players that don’t work out. You have to say, “what’s the overall record of people that have and have not worked out.” It’s like batting in Major League Baseball. You don’t get a hit every time, but the good hitters get a lot more hits than the weaker hitters.

But we’ve been pretty pleased. That’s a lot of guys that advanced quicker than we thought when we first drafted them. There’s the odd-guy that doesn’t make it, but then you’ll get a guy like Matt Foy, who was a sixth-rounder and he looks like he’s pretty close to being an NHL player. He’ll leapfrog some guys that were picked ahead of him.

Once you acquire a player, you don’t really care if he was a sixth or seventh round pick, or if he was a first-rounder. You just want the best player.

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