The Wild should take the best player available in the second round, but then use their seven other picks to address defensive depth and goaltending.
For right now, the team has a lot of young forwards with plenty of upside (Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, etc.) but does not really have a solid defensive pairing behind Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin and is in serious trouble when it comes to goaltending.
Longtime starter Niklas Backstrom is a free agent, and even if he is re-signed, which is a distinct possibility, he’s 35 and is not a long-term solution in net.
At the other end of the spectrum, Darcy Kuemper, 23, is awfully green. As the No. 161 overall selection in 2009, he probably was not expected to play in the NHL so early.
Finally, Josh Harding has multiple sclerosis, and there is no telling if the man who backed up Backstrom for his entire career is healthy enough to take over as a full-time starter.
Many great goaltenders are found in the later rounds, including Tomas Vokoun (who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury, a former No. 1 overall pick), Tim Thomas and Evgeni Nabokov to name a few.
Minnesota’s draft strategy should be to get a glut of large defensemen in the middle rounds, hoping that one breaks out and makes the team later on down the road, and then grab a few goaltenders in the later rounds that it can develop into the netminder of the future.
There is a large defenseman waiting to hear his name called with the No. 46 overall pick who, after a year in the minors, is ready to come up and lock down a spot on the No. 2 pairing next season.
This isn’t extremely vital, given that Marco Scandella, Justin Falk or even Matt Dumba could be that guy in 2014. Still, it would be a nice bonus.
Minnesota kills it with its mid-round selections.
Maybe the Wild snag a goaltender that will be ready to take over as the No. 1 starter in the near future. Maybe they grab a solid depth defenseman or even another forward to add to the third line. Any of those scenarios will work.
Finally, the Wild grab a goaltender or two in the latter rounds who may require a full four years in college, extended time in junior or even a lengthy stint in the minors but is able to spend his prime years in Minnesota as the No. 1 goaltender.
This obviously does not solve an immediate need, but in the meantime, the Wild can use a tandem of Backstrom and another veteran, perhaps mixing in Kuemper in later years as he matures and enters his prime. Then they can finally turn over the reins to a goaltender who has spent plenty of time marinating in the college, junior or the minor leagues.
In short, the best-case scenario is that this draft yields depth players (and maybe a future goaltender) for the Wild. They’ve already got high-end guys like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Suter and Brodin. What they need in this draft are guys to back them up.
The Wild have a history of whiffing on first-round draft choices (Benoit Pouliot, A.J. Thelen, James Sheppard, etc.), but they won’t be expected to get a franchise player in this year’s draft now that the No. 16 pick is in Buffalo’s possession.
Therefore, creating a nightmare scenario is rather difficult.
Minnesota would have to get nothing out of its mid-round selections. Nobody is expecting another Cal Clutterbuck (No. 72 overall, 2006) this year…although that would be nice. Instead, the people want depth.
The worst Minnesota can do here is draft a whole bunch of players who struggle in college, junior or minor league hockey and are out of the game by the time the 2017 draft rolls around. Essentially, nobody it picks in the middle rounds contributes anything to the big league club and all the scouting and preparation is for naught.
The late-round selections are interesting only because every once and a while you get a Dustin Byfuglien (No. 245 overall), Joe Pavelski (No. 205 overall) or Pavel Datsyuk (No. 171 overall) when you select a position player and, as mentioned before, many great goaltenders have come out of the later rounds.
It’s not necessarily anything to lose sleep over if the Wild don’t get the next Datsyuk or Vokoun in the latter rounds (they probably won’t), but if all the players they draft end up petering out quickly, there is some cause for concern.
After all, somebody’s probably going to find someone in the late 100s who will contribute to their team. Why not the Wild?
The draft is the lifeblood of all small-market teams.
While the Wild may have splurged on Parise and Suter, this is not a way to build a sustainable franchise. The way to capitalize on that spending is to surround those two stars, as well as guys like Koivu and Clutterbuck, with young talent.
Newcomers to the league are cheaper, more durable and can build chemistry together—three vital elements for a winning recipe.
This year’s draft is all about depth, depth, depth. If the names called this year end up on the back of a Wild sweater in three years, becoming the gritty glue guys of the future, Minnesota’s scouting and player development department has done its job.
And, hey, if the Wild land their franchise goaltender with their final pick, that’s just a sweet, sweet cherry on top.