The narrative surrounding the Minnesota Wild for years has been that the team hasn’t been good enough to make a deep run in the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup, but they are too good to get top players in the draft.
This is evidenced by the lack of banners in the rafters of Xcel Energy Center, and the draft positioning the last decade. There was more seasons of mediocrity and poor drafting before then, but re-hashing the ineptitude of the drafting under Doug Risebrough is not an enjoyable endeavor.
Under Chuck Fletcher, the Wild spent the majority of his tenure trying to contend. Minnesota drafted Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and added Charlie Coyle to the prospect pool in those early years. The promise of those young players was enough to woo Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as free agents in the summer of 2012.
It was a turning point for the team. It thought that it had its core players and only needed to make changes on the periphery, and the trades of first and second round picks hurt Minnesota in the draft. Brent Flahr and the scouting department had to get savvy and trust in their process. To their credit, a decent crop of their drafted players made it to the NHL, or are on the cusp. However, the upside of the players isn’t more than the middle six.
That’s not terrible. But what the Wild need most is that true No. 1, game-breaking talent. The drafting strategy became as stale and predictable as it was archetypal. Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin were all picked from a mold. Looking back at each player’s scouting reports from their draft year and the archetype becomes apparent. “Size,” “two-way responsibility” and “skates well” were traits the brass coveted.
Enter Paul Fenton.
Outside of the pick of Filip Johansson, the later round picks 2018 and the picks of Matthew Boldy, Vladislav Firstov and Adam Beckman in 2019 show loads of promise of high-end skill that has been missing from the prospect pools since the days of Granlund, Dumba and Zucker.
Overall, the drafting under Fenton by the brains of P.J. Fenton and Darren Yopik look to be pretty solid. Except Fenton’s demeanor in the front office cost him his job.
Bill Guerin was hired late August of last year, shortly after Fenton’s dismissal in late July. Prior to Guerin’s hiring, Fenton either fired or didn’t renew the contracts of many long-time scouts, analysts and other front office personnel. After a season of evaluation, Guerin is ready to build out his front office.
Thursday, the Minnesota Wild announced the hiring of Judd Brackett as Director of Amateur Scouting. Brackett held the same position with the Vancouver Canucks and became a free agent on July 30th. During Brackett’s time with the Canucks, he nabbed some top-notch players in Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
Vancouver didn’t have transformational prospects before the Boeser pick in the post-Sedin era. Now the team is back in the postseason, and is considered one of the top up and coming teams in the league.
Now his new organization is going to have to find ways to defend against his former top picks.
If Brackett can deliver the goods in Minnesota through the draft, the future looks bright for the Wild. Fletcher drafted Kirill Kaprizov. Fenton traded for Kevin Fiala, and drafted Alexander Khovanov, Beckman, and Boldy.
Guerin added to that pool with the addition of Calen Addison, who was acquired in the Zucker trade. Now he’s got at least three first round picks in the next two years to make an impact on the future. Hiring a person to lead the draft table who can identify high-end talent can push the franchise ahead is paramount. Brackett is charged with that task.