ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild sure caught the attention of their fans at last year's NHL draft, completing a big trade that was one of the headlines of the weekend event.
"It certainly was an adrenaline rush, particularly when the draft's in your home city," general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
This time, they'll be in Pittsburgh and out of the spotlight when the first round arrives on Friday evening. The Wild are less likely to pull off a deal on par with last summer's, when All-Star defenseman Brent Burns was sent to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi and a couple of first-round picks.
Those two prospects, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips, are now part of a well-regarded group of young players turning pro this season and strengthening the competition for spots on the Wild's roster. Mikael Granlund has the highest profile of those up-and-comers, and Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker are also part of the mix.
These are the guys the Wild are counting on to fulfill the aim of constructing a legitimate Stanley Cup contender by drafting and developing the core, like the Los Angeles Kings just did, sneaking into the playoffs and surging all the way to their first championship.
That puts the Wild in a situation where acquiring NHL-level players through a draft-weekend deal, as they've done with Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Pavol Demitra, Todd White and Cliff Ronning in the past, is not expected. They don't have the same type of trade chip like they did with Burns last year, for one. They see fewer holes to fill from the outside, for another. And they're already poised to aggressively pursue some of the top free agents next month, with Zach Parise leading the list.
Plus, they're excited enough about these prospects that they'd probably have to be blown away by an offer to part with one of them before their NHL career begins.
"We're going to do everything we can to win in the present, but behind the scenes it's like a duck swimming on water," Fletcher said. "Underneath the surface our feet are going a million miles an hour trying to improve our team. It may look calm and placid up top, but believe me we've worked extremely hard to add a lot of young kids. We feel we have, and we feel that's the only way you can become a Stanley Cup winning team."
He added: "How quickly they make an impact, we'll see. How many of them make an impact, we'll see. But some of them will. And some of them might next year. And to me, that's the most exciting thing about our franchise right now. That's where our focus is. We're getting better. It's happening."
Fletcher praised assistant general manager Brent Flahr and team scouts for "finding so much talent in such a short period of time" and "outperforming the marketplace" to stock the system.
"That's why I think this draft is even more important than the previous drafts. Because the previous drafts are over, and I think we did pretty well. Time will tell. We have to do well in this draft. We have to do well in the next draft. We can't take our foot off the gas," Fletcher said.
The draft isn't considered as deep at the top this year as it has been before, which isn't ideal for a team like the Wild, which is picking seventh. But blue-liners are in abundant supply. The league's website features mock drafts from three different analysts, and they've predicted that between five and seven of the first 12 players taken will be defensemen.
That could fit well with the Wild's needs, since they're lighter on quality blue-liners in the organization than they are forwards. This is a pick for a few years out, though, and not so much for the 2012-13 season. The chance of this year's first-rounder playing for the Wild right away is slim.
So it'll be either a forward or a defenseman. That much is certain.
"I'd fall off my chair if we draft a goalie at number seven," Fletcher said at a pre-draft news conference last week, lightening the mood.
Said Flahr: "I'd be getting my resume ready, probably."
If the Wild's recent draft picks continue on their career tracks, well, Flahr's resume will look pretty good.
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