Wild GM Chuck Fletcher
With the 2012 NHL entry draft quickly approaching, it is time to look at the biggest needs the Minnesota Wild will look to fill in the draft.
One major point that everyone who knows anything about the Wild will say they need to address, is scoring. The truth of the matter, though, is that in theory they should have more than enough offensive firepower next season with the addition of players like Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Zack Phillips.
While it is not certain that Coyle or Phillips will break camp with the Wild, it is certain they are going to be great offensive players in the near future. Just look at what they did during the QMJHL playoffs. In 17 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs, Coyle posted 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points, while Phillips had nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points.
Consider this fact: Mikhail Grigorenko, who many consider to be one of the top three prospects in the upcoming draft and a player who can immediately play in the NHL, tallied 40 goals and 45 assists for 85 points during the regular season. Phillips played in one more game during the regular season and notched 30 goals and 50 assists for 80 points.
Coyle played in only 23 regular-season games, but amassed 38 points (15 goals and 23 assists). If you factor in what Phillips and Coyle can contribute, offense might not be as desperately needed as Wild fans seem to think.
So with it appearing as though the Wild will be fairly well set at forward for the foreseeable future (all four of those players mentioned were born in 1992), let's take a look at the blue line and see how the Wild look to be there.
If you don't include the two current unrestricted free agents (Kurtis Foster and Mike Lundin), there are still eight defensemen under contract for next year, with three restricted free agents (Justin Falk, Kris Fredheim, Chay Genoway) as well, and it appears the Wild look good on defense.
Clayton Stoner just signed a two-year contract extension three days ago, while Tom Gilbert and Nate Prosser both have two years left on their current deals.
The players with just the upcoming year left are Tyler Cuma, Steven Kampfer, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.
You can find six serviceable NHL defensemen among those seven, but many think that the Wild's 2011 first-round draft pick, Jonas Brodin, will be playing in a Wild sweater next season.
It is very possible to think that the Wild will be breaking camp with those eight defensemen on the roster so, injuries aside, the Wild look to be set at defense. It is also important to note that Cuma, Kampfer, Scandella and Spurgeon will all be restricted free agents after the season, making it much easier to re-sign them next year.
What that all really means is that the Wild are in need of finding goaltenders in the upcoming draft. They only have three under contract for next season in Niklas Backstrom, Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper.
Re-signing unrestricted free agent Josh Harding will be very difficult for the Wild to do, but it is something the Wild should make a very serious effort to get done.
While Hackett is certainly capable of being a No. 2 goaltender in the NHL, having a tandem of Backstrom and Harding would be much better.
As for the future, it is certainly realistic to believe the Wild will not bring back Backstrom following next season, as his salary is huge. After the way he carried the team for much of the season, he will be expecting a hefty pay raise.
What is the Wild's biggest draft need?
However, there is a huge issue with the Wild drafting a goalie, in the fact that the top ranked goalie in the upcoming draft isn't currently slated to come off the board until late in the first round, and the Wild hold the seventh overall pick.
The best possible scenario would be the Wild trading down in the first round, with a possible trade partner being the Columbus Blue Jackets, considering they have the Los Angeles Kings' first-round pick and the first pick of the second round. The Blue Jackets have holes all over their lineup, and having two top-10 picks could easily get their late first-round pick and either the 45th pick overall (which the Blue Jackets received in a trade) or the 62nd overall pick of the draft.
With the youth movement in full effect in Minnesota, the Wild need to find a goalie or two in this upcoming draft if they want to continue to develop homegrown talent and have a chance at becoming a perennial playoff contender.