As I was watching NHL Live today on the NHL Network you’re starting to see more and more discussion on draft as its the biggest upcoming event for the NHL. Sure you have the (insert player here) contract extension here or there, but for the most part the draft becomes the front and center story. The draft has morphed a bit since the institution of the salary cap as teams now use it as a means to attempt to shed salary or bad contracts by sweetening the deal by throwing in a few picks. The Wild certainly have some albatross contracts, but is the team’s prospect pool in position where you can afford not to use every pick you have?
About a year ago in a pivotal moment in the history of the Minnesota Wild, Wild owner Craig Leipold made the decision to fire General Manager Doug Risebrough. A few weeks later, Craig Leipold hired Chuck Fletcher to be the team’s new General Manager. After a brief search, Fletcher hired Todd Richards as head coach, but I wonder if he realized just how empty the Wild’s prospect pool was at this point? Not wanting to rock the boat too much, Fletcher held onto a few pieces of the old Wild administration in his first year running the ship as he kept Assistant General Manager Tommy Thompson who was more or less the draft guru for the organization since its inaugural season. Thompson would get one more draft to shape the team, picking Eden Prairie’s Nick Leddy the reigning ‘Mr. Hockey’ 16th Overall, after trading down four spots for the fairly cheap price of a 3rd round pick in that year’s draft (which became goaltender Matthew Hackett, 77th Overall). Perhaps wishing to cut the team’s losses, the Wild made a deal near the trade deadline moving veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson and Leddy to the Chicago Blackhawks for Cam Barker. Shortly after the conclusion of the Wild’s 2009-10 season, the team axed Tommy Thompson and placed Brent Flahr at his former position. In Thompson’s tenure, his selections have brought in franchise cornerstones Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Cal Clutterbuck. So why did Thompson get fired? To put it nicely, the last five drafts have not been too kind to the Wild and many of the 1st round selections have not panned out into the impact players they were projected to become. The result of these consistently poor drafts was a gradual hollowing out of the team’s prospect pool. Here is a snap shot of the Wild’s prospect pool according to Hockey’s Future as well when the respective players were acquired.
Colton Gillies (16th Overall, 2007)
Casey Wellman (free agent)
Cody Almond (140th Overall, 2007)
Erik Haula (182nd Overall, 2009)
Kris Foucault (103rd Overall, 2009)
Morten Madsen (122nd Overall, 2005)
Jere Sallinen (163rd Overall, 2009)
Carson McMillan (200th Overall, 2007)
Matt Kassian (57th Overall, 2005)
Marco Scandella (55th Overall, 2008)
Nate Prosser (free agent)
Tyler Cuma (23rd Overall, 2008)
Maxim Noreau (free agent)
Justin Falk (110th Overall, 2007)
Matthew Hackett (77th Overall, 2009)
Anton Khudobin (206th Overall, 2004)
Darcy Kuemper (161st Overall, 2009)
An outsider may say, that doesn’t look too bad. Yet it ignores some basic truths. The team is woefully short of blue chip talent that project to have meaningful NHL futures. Even the Hockey News, noted as much during this year’s Future Watch issue noting that the team was ranked last in terms of its prospects in comparison to where they normally draft in the 1st round. The Wild have only 3 prospects that are considered amongst the league’s top 100 (which was collected by polling a panel of NHL scouts); in forward Casey Wellman (who the team did not draft), defenseman Marco Scandella rated 54th, and goaltender Matthew Hackett rated 74th. While Wild fans liked seeing Chuck Fletcher take a more active role in trying to fill out the prospect pool with some free agents plucked from the college ranks, that still is not a lot of potential help. Especially when you consider the team has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and you’d like to think there is plenty of young talent to rejuvenate the team ala the Colorado Avalanche yet that simply is not the case.
The pool needs to be restocked, and as recent cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have clearly shown the true path to rebuilding is through the draft. You build the core of your team on draft day, and then add a few more important players via trade and free agency and that is how you create a contender. Poor drafting, has led to too many holes which the team felt compelled to fill via free agency which is prohibitively expensive and thus the team is in the predicament it is in right now. With the background all clearly placed on the table, this year’s draft will be crucial to re-stocking the Wild’s prospect pool with players that will end up being the foundation of this organization for many years to come. Even if a player doesn’t quite fit, if they develop into a viable prospect they become an asset the team can use to deal for players that do mesh with what the team wants. The Wild have 8 selections in this year’s draft as of right now. That could change, but for the purposes of consistency we will assume the team will not trade up or down and simply stick with the selections they have at this time.
1st Round – 9th Overall
2nd Round – 39th Overall
2nd Round – 56th Overall (from the Capitals for Eric Belanger)
3rd Round – 69th Overall
4th Round – 99th Overall
5th Round – 129th Overall
6th Round – 159th Overall
7th Round – 189th Overall
If you check out NHL.com or various hockey blogs you’ll see mock drafts which cover what teams will pick in the first round. Here are some of the mock drafts the NHL has put together and they typically provide updates as the latest information on the NHL hopefuls.
Adam Kimelman’s Mock Draft I
Adam Kimelman’s Mock Draft II
Adam Kimelman’s Mock Draft III
Brad Holland’s Mock Draft I
Brad Holland’s Mock Draft II
Brad Holland’s Mock Draft III
Mike Morreale’s Mock Draft I
Mike Morreale’s Mock Draft II
Mike Morreale’s Mock Draft III
Mock drafts are fun because it gives us all a chance to play the role of General Manager / NHL scout and make our picks based on our own preferences. Yet most mock drafts as I said before really just focus on the 1st round and rarely do they go farther than that. I am going to have a mock draft just for the Wild’s 8 selections. I will draft each player who I think will be available when the Wild go to make their choice using data I’ve collected from the 2010 International Scouting Service Draft Guide, Central Scouting Service Final rankings, and the Hockey News‘ Draft Preview issue. I will provide my explanation as to why we selected this player as the team attempts to restock its prospect pool. In addition I will also provide two alternates for each pick just in case (with a very brief explanation for each) that primary player is selected before the Wild get their chance to draft them.
Here is how I see the Wild approaching this draft no matter the rhetoric about taking the “best player available”, but overall the team can use to build depth at all positions.
1. Forwards – Emphasis on skilled forwards whose main ability is to create offense and score goals.
2. Defenseman – Emphasis on strong, physical defenseman who will take the body but can provide offensive support, have good mobility and can make a good first pass.
3. Goaltenders – Another blue chip calibre goaltender to push current blue chipper Matthew Hackett and perhaps be his backup or a future #1 by their own right.
Without question, all of the league’s 30 teams practice this scenario multiple times before draft day and do their best to project just how the talent will fall their way. So as you picture Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr and the team’s small army of scouts and other draft related personnel like Amatuer Scouting Coordinator Guy Lapointe huddled in a conference room for an entire day having their own mock draft, here is mine.
2010 Minnesota Wild State of Hockey News’ Mock Draft
(1st Round – 9th Overall)
RW – Nino Niederreiter ~ Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Height: 6’1.5″ Weight: 201lbs Shoots: Left
CSS Final ranking: 12th (NA) ISS ranking: 6th The Hockey News‘ ranking: 8th
2009-10 Stats: 65GP 36G 24A = 60pts 68 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: Simply put, this is the ideal player for the Wild to select as he fits all the major criteria for playing within an up-tempo forechecking system. Nino Niederreiter has the speed, skill, strength and grit to both score the goals both off the rush and near the crease as well as win battles along the boards for loose pucks. The Chur, Switzerland-native had a strong performance for an outgunned Team Switzerland at this year’s U-20 World Junior Championships, scoring the game winning goal in an overtime shocker of Team Russia. His style of play also opens up opportunities for his teammates and Niederreiter has shown he has the vision to be an effective set up man as well. He has a fearless side and has a wicked shot off the rush, but is also comfortable taking the puck to the crease and paying the price to score a goal. The current Portland Winterhawk is great on the power play, and is a future NHL top line forward.
What if he is gone?: If Niederreiter is off the board the Wild should probably consider trading down and adding more picks if at all possible. Even if the team trades down 3-4 spots it could still probably land either of these two choices who could help the organization a lot.
Jeff Skinner (Kitchener, OHL) – a small centerman at 5’10” with excellent lower body strength, outstanding hands and finishing ability. While some scouts knock his skating, Skinner is not afraid to go into the high traffic places to light the lamp, and his 20 goals in the OHL playoffs prove he plays big when the games mean the most. Skinner is rated by ISS as the 2nd best scorer available next to Taylor Hall. (ranked 9th by ISS, ranked 34th (NA) by CSS, ranked 25th by the Hockey News)
Emerson Etem (Medicine Hat, WHL) – at 6 feet tall, this center who can also play on the wing is an excellent skater who has tremendous speed. Etem may not be the biggest player but gives his all every single shift and is defensively responsible. The former Shattuck-St.Mary’s star has great hands and uses his speed to create offensive opportunities. Most scouts agree he is a player who has a tremendous upside as a Top 6 forward. (ranked 18th by ISS, ranked 8th (NA) by CSS, ranked 17th by the Hockey News)
(2nd Round – 39th Overall)
RW – Teemu Pulkkinen ~ Jokerit (Sm-Liiga Jr. Elite)
Height: 5’11” Weight: 183lbs Shoots: Right
CSS Final ranking: 17th (Euro) ISS ranking: 48th The Hockey News‘ ranking: 50th
2009-10 Stats: 17GP 20G 21A = 41pts 41 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: Teemu Pulkkinen is another highly skilled forward who is an excellent goal scorer and has been dominant at every international tournament he has played at including leading the U-18 World Junior tournament in scoring. While durability is a bit of a concern, Pulkkinen demonstrates great creativity with the puck and is an excellent skater. What may surprise you, is that despite all the skill Pulkkinen has he also does not shy away from dishing out the hits. With a decent set up man, the Vantaa, Finland-native is a very potent offensive weapon. He is an overly committed defensive player but his ability to provide offense makes him a very nice addition as a potential Top 6 forward who has proven he can be an effective finisher. ISS has him as the 5th most underrated player in this year’s draft, and the 4th best scorer available.
What if he is gone?: It does not seem all that likely that Pulkkinen will be off the board by the time the team goes to make a selection at 39th Overall, but if a team feels he’s the perfect fit it is a definite possibility. Here are two others that could be great early 2nd round finds.
Petr Straka (Rimouski, QMJHL) – A great skater with the ability to play both center and right wing possesses a high skill level who has outstanding instincts offensively. The Plzen, Czech Republic-native makes plays at high speed look easy, and has great on-ice vision for setting up teammates. He was at his best in the playoffs for the Oceanic, leading the team in scoring but scouts noted he seemed inconsistent during the regular season. He needs to add strength but the reports agree he is a player who has the potential to be a Top 6 forward at the NHL level. (ranked 36th by ISS, ranked 23rd (NA) by CSS, and 52nd by the Hockey News)
Beau Bennett (Penticton, BCHL) – The Gardena, California-native is going to be plying his game at the University of Denver next year after having an outstanding year tearing up the BCHL. A great skating right winger who is also an adept stickhandler Bennett is an offensive force to be reckoned with. He has excellent on-ice intelligence and has the natural instinct to be in the right places at the right times he constantly is finding himself set up in scoring position and seldom misses an opportunity to light the lamp. He needs to add strength to his slight 6’0″, 173lbs frame but he’ll have time to do so in college. (ranked 34th by ISS, ranked 32nd by CSS, and 35th by the Hockey News)
(2nd Round – 56th Overall)
G – Philipp Grubauer ~ Windsor Spitires (OHL)
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 180lbs Catches: Left
CSS Final ranking: 15th (NA) ISS ranking: 3rd The Hockey News‘ ranking: 47th
2009-10 Stats: 50GP (23W-15L-2OTL-5SOL) 2.86GAA .911%SP 2 Shutouts
Why do we select him?: The old addage that it never hurts to have too many good goaltending prospects fits here rather nicely. While the Wild are salivating over the progress Matthew Hackett has made, it still could use another quality goaltending prospect to push him. Grubauer will remind a lot of Wild fans of Niklas Backstrom in his focused approach, and is a very calm presence between the pipes who plays angles well, consistently squaring himself to the shooter shutting down low shots very effectively. One area where Grubauer sets himself apart is his instinct to be more active in denying the cross-ice passes in front of the crease by quickly using his stick to corrale the puck and prevent the near gimme type of scoring chance. He has excellent rebound control and shows a good attention to detail to deflect pucks out away from the center of the ice to prevent additional scoring chances. He would be another blue-chip goaltending prospect that would provide the team additional depth.
What if he is gone?: After a strong performance at this year’s Memorial Cup, where he helped the Windsor Spitfires repeat as champions a team desperate for goaltending help may choose to select him earlier in this draft. If Grubauer is gone, the Wild could probably wait 1-2 or more rounds before the select a goaltender but I think its important Minnesota drafts at least one goaltender to continue establishing depth at this position.
Johan Gustafsson (Farjestad – Sweden Jr. Elite) – Johan Gustafsson is your prototypical big goaltending prospect that most NHL teams love to have in their development pool. At 6’2″, 205lbs, Gustafsson covers alot of net, but is a player who has to refine the technical aspects of his game most notably his glove and his rebound control. When he addresses these technical issues to his game, he’ll likely have the consistency to be a solid NHL goaltender. Gustafsson will likely still be available in the 4th round as he is much more of a project than Grubauer. (ranked 4th by ISS, ranked 5th (Euro) by CSS, and 94th by the Hockey News)
Sam Brittain (Canmore – AJHL) – Another big goaltending prospect at almost 6’3″, Brittain is a player who dominated in the Alberta Jr. League. Very poised, who has great recovery allowing him to be effective in multi-shot situations near the crease he is a prospect who will need to show he can do the same against better competition. His development may take a bit longer considering where he’s at right now but so far has shown he’s willing to do what it takes to become a future NHL goaltender. I think Brittain will be available in the 5th and perhaps even the 6th round. (ranked 5th by ISS, ranked 8th by CSS, and unrated by the Hockey News)
(3rd Round – 69th Overall)
C – Jared Knight ~ London Knights (OHL)
Height: 5’11” Weight: 186lbs Shoots: Right
CSS Final ranking: 82nd (NA) ISS ranking: 68th The Hockey News‘ ranking: 71st
2009-10 Stats: 63GP 36G 21A = 57pts 39 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: Named by ISS as the most underrated player in the draft, Jared Knight would be an early 3rd round steal if the Wild can pull it off. Knight is another skilled forward who is an tremendous skater who can both set up teammates and light the lamp himself. Like Emerson Etem, Knight plays hard at both ends of the ice and is noted by scouts for his great competitive level that makes him appear bigger than his 5’11” frame. The Battle Creek, Michigan-native was more of a role player for Team USA at this year’s U-20 World Junior Championships event but did not look out of place as the Americans outworked most of their competition to win gold. He has that ability to turn on the jets just enough to get the defense on its heels and his ability to make plays at high speed, as well as his good hands make him another great skilled forward to add to the Wild’s prospect pool.
What if he is gone?: It would be very unfortunate if Jared Knight is gone when we go to select at 69th Overall, since I think he is a great mix of skill, offensive ability and work ethic at both ends of the ice, yet here are two that would be not bad consolation prizes if Knight is off the board.
Devante Smith-Pelly (Mississauga, OHL) – I must admit, when I was putting together this mock draft he was a player I thought long and hard about as making him the Wild’s primary selection. In terms of build, Devante Smith-Pelly will remind you a lot of Cal Clutterbuck as they are both built like sparkplugs, solid but smallish right wingers at around 215lbs. While Smith-Pelly is not as much of a pure hitter as Clutterbuck, he uses his speed and skill to create scoring chances while using that strong frame to power his way through and past defenders. A very intelligent player who can hit, but focuses more on being an offensive threat for the Majors. A rugged but skilled player who projects to be a Top 9 forward. (ranked 69th by ISS, ranked 76th (NA) by CSS, and ranked 65th by the Hockey News)
Joe Basaraba (Shattuck-St. Mary’s, USHS-MN) – Unlike Knight and Smith-Pelly, Joe Basaraba is a big power forward type of player at just over 6’2″. A great skater with excellent hands Basaraba is going to be playing at University of Minnesota-Duluth next fall. He uses his big body to protect the puck well, and has great vision to find teammates with sharp tape-to-tape passes. Basaraba also likes to hit but needs to work on his shot which would round out his game nicely. (ranked 70th by ISS, ranked 54th (NA) by CSS, ranked 73rd by the Hockey News)
(4th Round – 99th Overall)
D – Taylor Aronson ~ Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 196lbs Shoots: Right
CSS Final ranking: 88th (NA) ISS ranking: 97th The Hockey News‘ ranking: N/R
2009-10 Stats: 71GP 5G 25A = 30pts 65 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: At just over 6’0″ tall, Taylor Aronson may not sound all that daunting of a defenseman, but what he really is the defender that drives the opposition’s forwards nuts because he is going to make them pay a physical price for whatever they get. A mean player who loves to dish out the big hit, Aronson is flat out tenacious and his physical style is well suited for the NHL. Aronson is a great skater, but is highly intelligent and doesn’t let his want to hit get so carried away he gets caught out of position. In many ways, the descriptions the scouts provide Aronson, make him sound an awful lot like Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall who is of similar size and build. He has steadily gained confidence over the course of this season and has the ability to be an effective puck mover as well as being able to chip in a little offensively as well. Minnesota has not really ever had a punishing defenseman, and none of its current defensive prospects would be described as those who are hitting machines like Aronson is.
What if he is gone?: While I have centered the focus of this draft on acquiring skilled, offensively-gifted forwards I think its important the Wild continue to restock its depth at defense even though it is the one area where you could say the team is a bit deep in prospects. Here are two defenseman who fit the paradigm I’ve provided if Aronson is unavailable at 99th Overall.
Nikita Zaytsev (Novosibirsk, KHL) – I am not a big fan of drafting Russian players currently playing in their mother country since I think it is very difficult to get them to come to North America to develop an NHL game and not staying home and making more money during those early pro years. Zaytsev plays a very similar style of game to Taylor Aronson, as a mobile stay-at-home blueliner who loves to hit. He does not hesitate to move into shooting lanes to block shots but is very slow to react to fakes and has very little offensive portions of his game. My biggest fear is that he’d never come to North America. (ranked 125th by ISS, ranked 13th (Euro) by CSS, and not rated by the Hockey News)
John Ramage (Wisconsin, WCHA) – If you want to describe John Ramage, it’s safe and steady. A solid skater, who rarely ever seems to be caught out of position Ramage is your quiet, unassuming stay-at-home defenseman who likes to hit and play a non-flashy game. The son of former NHL’er Rob Ramage, his son looked very solid for Team USA at the U-20 World Junior Championships and looked just as good at the college level. You will never get a lot of offense out of him, but he is intensely focused on shutting the other team down and he does a marvelous job in that regard. He went undrafted last season, but that will not happen a second time. (ranked 83rd by ISS, ranked 131st (NA) by CSS, and 89th by the Hockey News)
(5th Round – 129th Overall)
LW – Josh Shalla ~ Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 194lbs Shoots: Left
CSS Final ranking: 84th (NA) ISS ranking: 131st The Hockey News‘ ranking: N/R
2009-10 Stats: 68GP 32G 33A = 55pts 62 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: The best way to describe Josh Shalla is as the kid who never stays down, the kid who will just keep battling and battling until he finds success. A player who has focused much of his energies on improving his skating, his hard work really started to pay off by having a breakout season with the Spirit as the team’s 2nd leading scorer. Shalla has great hands and on-ice intelligence that allows him to find the open man quickly and effectively. The Whitby, Ontario-native has a good understanding of where to be on the ice, and has a terrific shot and can be a threat to score from all over the offensive zone. His efforts to improve his skating have reaped big rewards but it also has placed a very skilled player, with an outstanding work ethic in this place where the Wild can get a late-round steal.
What if he is gone?: Josh Shalla sounds like a great story, and a great opportunity for the Wild to continue to build with skill and forwards with offensive ability. There is little doubt a player like Shalla would not take his opportunity for granted and it would be great to see the Wild give him that chance but if he is already picked then the Wild should consider these two options.
Zachary Hyman (Hamilton, CCHL) – A bigger (6’2″, 195lbs) forward out of Ontario’s Jr.A program, Zachary Hyman is a dynamic scoring machine. Already committed to play at prestigious Princeton (ECAC) next fall, Hyman is has terrific speed, work ethic and great hands around the net that has made him a pure goal scorer at every level he has ever played at. He loves to take the puck to the net and roof it over goaltender ala John LeClair could make him an intriguing Top 9 forward prospect. (ranked 120th by ISS, not ranked by CSS, and not ranked by the Hockey News)
Jonathan Johansson (Frolunda, Sweden Jr. Elite) – A very intriguing prospect since he has a 1991 birthday, but he is more of your prototypical 1st round calibre type of specimen at 6’3″, 188lbs center. A bigger player who moves well, and is a natural forechecker he is very aggressive and loves to dish out hits. He has good offensive potential as he likes to shoot off the rush and without the puck he consitantly moves towards the net to fire home rebounds and would be a great steal after going undrafted last year. (ranked 145th by ISS, ranked 15th (Euro) by CSS, and not ranked by the Hockey News)
(6th Round – 159th Overall)
C – Pathrik Vesterholm ~ Malmo Redhawks (Sweden Jr. Elite)
Height: 5’11” Weight: 176lbs Shoots: ??
CSS Final ranking: 134th (Euro) ISS ranking: 157th The Hockey News‘ ranking: 98th
2009-10 Stats: 39GP 22G 24A = 46pts 18 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: Another interesting story as he has a twin brother Pontus that he plays on the same line in similar fashion to the Sedin twins. Yet most scouts would agree the Vesterholm twins (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as nicely) are not nearly as gifted but are solid players in their own right. Pathrik is a very gifted playmaking center, who has good quick hands to set up his teammates. He also possesses tremendous speed and has a good first step to get up to top speed in a hurry. Sort of like Henrik Sedin, Pathrik could be a more effective goal scorer if he’d simply shoot the puck more as he has a very accurate and quickly released wrist shot. He is not the most defensively responsible player, but if the Wild draft him they will acquire a great playmaker with excellent offensive awareness which would be a true coup in the 6th round similar to their selection of Erik Haula last year (when they selected him in the 7th round).
What if he is gone?: With the mock draft I have focused most of my selections on finding skilled offensive players who have more of a goal scoring emphasis, and the selection of Vesterholm would be a nice set up man to the collection of snipers I’ve already picked. Yet if he’s already been selected, here are two players who will continue the trend of adding offense flash to the Wild’s prospect pool.
Jason Clark (Shattuck-St.Mary’s, USHS-MN) – Another Shattuck product who combines size (just under 6’2″, 180lbs), skill as well as some sandpaper to his game Jason Clark is just a very well rounded forward. Clark has very quick hands and uses them effectively as he has a wicked wrist shot. He likes to throw his body around, and plays with an edge along the boards. He may not be the top end skill of some of the other draftees but he could serve to push some of the other similarly sized grinding forward prospects like Cody Almond and Carson McMillan. (ranked 152nd by ISS, ranked 81st by CSS, and not ranked by the Hockey News)
Brendan Shinnimin (Tri-City, WHL) – Admittedly, Shinnimin is a small (almost 5’10”) center but he is an outstanding playmaker for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. While he needs to add strength, his lightning quick hands make him very effective on faceoffs and is never outworked on the ice. The Winnipeg, Manitoba-native has a heavy shot and can light the lamp on his own. With his slight frame he will have to add strength to play at the NHL level but players like Shinnimin are too proficient of scorers to be ignored. (ranked 174th by ISS, not ranked by CSS or the Hockey News)
(7th Round – 189th Overall)
D – Nate Schmidt ~ Fargo Force (USHL)
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 195lbs Shoots:
CSS Final ranking: N/A ISS ranking: 185th The Hockey News‘ ranking: N/A
2009-10 Stats: 57GP 14G 23A = 37pts 81 PIM’s
Why do we select him?: I know for some Wild fans, selecting a Minnesotan is important and depending on who you talk to almost required by State of Hockey law. I for one am not a big believer in that, but to perhaps throw them a bone and give the Wild a dynamic offensive defensman talent I put St. Cloud-native Nate Schmidt in my mock draft last year. He did not get selected, so I put him back in after he had a solid season with the Fargo Force of the USHL. The soon to be Minnesota Golden Gopher combines a great skating two-way defenseman who not only loves to hit but possesses a cannon of a slap shot. The former St. Cloud Cathedral star projects in many ways to be a sort of poor man’s Keith Ballard who has a similar skillset and body type. While highly touted defenseman that have gone to the University of Minnesota have not quite delivered as promised as of late (i.e. Nick Leddy, Aaron Ness) the Gophers allowed Schmidt to hone his game a bit longer at the Jr. A level and by all accounts he acquitted himself quite well. Going the college route will give time for Schmidt to further refine his game, while continuing to add to his strength which should hopefully make him a viable pro prospect in a few seasons.
What if he is gone?: I think it would be extremely unlikely that Nate Schmidt would not be available when we make our last selection but I will toss out two more defensive prospects that may have a bit more offense to their game while keeping the paradigm I’ve provided in mind.
Zach Trotman (Lake Superior State, CCHA) – A big (6’3″, 195lbs), mobile defenseman who plays a rugged physical style the stay at home blueliner is a prospect with a lot of potential. A 1990 birthday he’s a bit older and possesses a heavy right handed shot. Has a great first pass out of the zone and is the kind of project defenseman that is perfectly suited to season his game at the college level. (ranked 191st by ISS, not rated by CSS or the Hockey News)
Jeremie Blain (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL) – Jeremie Blain is a very intriguing prospect defenseman who could turn out to be a terrific late round steal or fade away quickly. Intriguing size at over 6’2″, Blain is not a smooth skater with a short and choppy stride but moves the puck effectively. The Longueuil, Quebec-native likes to get involved physically and showed some good offensive ability making him a nice two-way defenseman with an NHL-style frame. (ranked 156th by ISS, ranked 127th by CSS, but not ranked by the Hockey News)
Well, that wraps this mock draft up. I did my best to address all three areas while placing the majority of the focus on restocking the teams forwards with skilled players who have shown offensive ability. You may agree or disagree with my approach and that’s just fine. Please share your opinions by leaving a comment and if you have any other questions about how I went about making this mock draft feel free to ask me.