If the Minnesota Wild holds steady, it will have the 18th pick at this year’s NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia this weekend. The “if” comes into play because a lot of things can happen in a week and Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has showed a willingness to improve his club on Draft Day via trade.
“We’re not adverse to moving up, but we are also looking at scenarios where we move back,” Fletcher said. “We’re not opposed to moving back a few spots or right into the second round if we can pick up multiple picks.”
Minnesota’s movement, up or down the board, will depend on what’s available. Fletcher said that it’s difficult to move up to the top five or 10, as teams are typically unwilling to part with a top pick without a healthy return. Many prognosticators believe that this class isn’t as stacked as years past. That might be, in part, because there is not a projected franchise-altering player. Despite the lack of a consensus No. 1 prospect, Fletcher and Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr believe that this year’s Draft class is deeper talent-wise than it may be credited—especially at forward.
“It’s a better Draft than we initially thought,” Flahr said. “Obviously at the top end there are a number of quality players. There’s no franchise Crosby’s or anything like that.
“As the season went on it became clear that a lot of these players that we thought were second, maybe even third-rounders stepped up and established themselves and moved up the draft ranks. In that sense it’s good as far as a little more depth, at 18 where we’re picking we’re confident we’ll get a pretty good player.”
Last year, the Wild didn’t have a first-round pick, packaging it in the trade that brought Jason Pominville to Minnesota, and the club selected defenseman Gustav Olofsson with its first pick (second round, 46th overall). In 2012, Minnesota selected Matt Dumba in the first round (seventh overall). So, with a forward-heavy class and the recent succession of defensemen selected with high picks, the Wild might be in line to look up front this year.
“Needs change so much from year to year,” Fletcher said. “We’ve drafted a lot of defensemen in the last few years. Ideally if we could add a skilled forward that’s what we’d like to do.
“Picking at 18, it’s hard to predict what will be there. Certainly there are a couple of defensemen, if they’re there at 18, would change our opinion.”
Last season, Minnesota made two Draft Day trades; the biggest was acquiring former first rounder, Nino Niederreiter, from the New York Islanders in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick.
This summer, Fletcher said there is the same amount of talk between the League’s general managers trying to get a feel for what’s available.
“It seems to be a typical year, where the week prior to draft week there’s a lot of tire kicking and teams assessing what will be available from other teams,” Fletcher said. “There’s a lot of dialogue going into the Draft week.”
With free agency coming a week after the Draft on July 1, trade talk aligns with potential signings. Today, the host team, Philadelphia Flyers, sent Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger and 2015 a fourth-round pick.
“I think you’ll see a lot of movement this year—it’s not a particularly strong free agent class so I think teams will look to potentially fill their needs via the trade route,” Fletcher said. “I expect it to be a very busy week here leading right up until July 1.”
The unlimited phone plan for NHL general managers is a necessity, especially this week. Fletcher said that he’s receiving more calls than dialing out at this point.
“We’re happy with our group,” Fletcher said. “We certainly would like to add; we certainly have holes we need to address. But if you look at our team, we either have players that are right in their prime that are key contributors on our team or young players that are just starting their career.”
State of Hockey Connections
Jack Dougherty is Central Scouting’s top ranked Minnesotan on its list of North American prospects (30). Flahr said there are a couple of State of Hockey natives challenging for a spot in the first round.
“The U.S. program has a number of them, the top tier guys probably,” Flahr said. “Then there’s some high school kids, USHL kids that are from the area that are probably going to go a little bit later in the Draft.”
Flahr and Fletcher both noted that the Wild was unlikely to choose a goaltender in the first round. Last year, the club took Alexandre Belanger with its final pick in the seventh round (200th overall).
“Teams typically don’t draft a goaltender in the first round just because of the time it takes them to develop a goalie,” Flahr said. “If you look in the year’s past, unless there’s an elite goalie at the top of the Draft — Carey Price for example or goalies like that — typically there’s goalies going in the third or fourth round that end up being better.”