All things considered, the Minnesota Wild had a pretty solid draft day.
First and foremost, they absolutely hustled the New York Islanders. I mean a complete swindle. That is, of course, what a good organization does—prey on the weak—and the Wild have gone from a so-so organization banking on the fans’ joy that hockey had returned to one of the best in the league.
Getting Nino Niederreiter, the No. 5 overall pick in 2010, for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-rounder is larceny. Plain and simple.
Secondly, the Wild addressed defensive depth. They have Mathew Dumba (!) and Tyler Cuma (?) in the waiting but used four of their seven picks, including their second-rounder, on blueliners.
The top defensive pairing is pretty squared away, but there is still some question as to who will play behind Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Minnesota at least put a few more bodies on the depth chart with this year’s pickings.
Finally, while the team addressed defensive depth, it is surprising that it did not add more goaltenders. Alexandre Belanger, who was chosen with the Wild’s last pick at No. 200 in the seventh round, could eventually surface four or five years down the road—netminders tend to do that—but he was the only one selected by Minnesota on Sunday.
Chasing El Nino
If you had asked me three years ago when Niederreiter went No. 5 overall if the Islanders would have already given up on their top prospect—a man who came into the organization with more hype than anyone except John Tavares—I would have said you were nuts.
Islanders fans raved about the then-18-year-old from Switzerland. They thought he was going to join Tavares and Kyle Okposo in saving the franchise!
Leave it to the same organization that signed Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract and is still buying out Alexei Yashin to screw this one up.
First, the Islanders brought Niederreiter up way too early: long before he was ready for NHL hockey and the team was ready to compete. Then, in a year when they make the playoffs, they decide to leave him in the minors even though he was putting up solid numbers (28 goals, 22 assists and 38 PIM).
Disgruntled, Nino requested a trade, essentially saying, “Get me the eff out of here!” and Fletcher pounced.
Hats off to the Wild for this one.
After years of botching first-round pick after first-round pick (Benoit Pouliot, A.J. Thelen, James Sheppard, etc.), they took the backdoor route: Screw drafting, let’s just hustle the imbecilic Islanders.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Clutterbuck will be missed because he’s a fan favorite and lost a pick in a deep draft where they already didn’t have a first-round selection due to the Jason Pominville trade, but it’s a small price for adding yet another prospect in his early 20s.
Niederreiter will not be forced into action because the team already has veteran guys like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Pominville, as well as other prospects like Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, to divvy up the scoring.
He can grow with the guys while learning from the veterans, allowing him to develop at his own pace and eventually become a top-six prospect.
You could call it, ahem, the perfect storm for El Nino.
Defense Wins Championships
Two of the team’s best players, Suter and Brodin, are paired on Minnesota’s blue line.
They are going to play big minutes (especially Suter) and lock down in their own zone. Neither are high-end scorers, but that is unnecessary with all the offensive firepower they have with their forwards.
My guess is that the Wild would like to see Marco Scandella, who was recently re-signed to a two-year, $2.05 million deal, paired with Dumba behind Suter and Brodin, but that all depends on how ready both those players are.
In the meantime, they will probably have to make due with Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Tom Gilbert (if he is not bought out).
Justin Falk was dealt to the New York Rangers for Benn Ferriero and a 2014 sixth-rounder, so he is out of the picture, but he did not look to be part of the future in Minnesota anyway.
By drafting four defensemen, including Colorado College bound Gustav Olofsson with the No. 46 pick, Minnesota has given itself options down the road in case its current prospects do not pan out.
What about Goaltending?
Shortly before the draft, Minnesota locked Niklas Backstrom down for three years, $10.25 million, essentially assuring it has a starting goaltender for next season.
Backstrom, 35, is aging and will need a partner in the immediate future. That means the Wild will likely have to go with an older free agent who is ready to play now or Josh Harding, 29, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis.
In the pipeline, Minnesota has Darcy Kuemper, who received some playing time in the playoffs after Backstrom got injured but does not look NHL-ready just yet. Jonah Gustavsson is currently playing in his native Sweden and could have a shot a few years down the road, but neither prospect is a sure thing.
Perhaps the Wild are committed to those guys, or perhaps they did not see any netminders they liked when selecting on Sunday. Either way, they are going to have to address goaltending, both for the present and the future, sooner than later.
In general, the Wild pretty much killed it on draft day. They got a potential top-six forward for pennies on the dollar and added depth on the blue line.
It was a bit surprising that they did not take more goaltenders, but in the end after a day like that, there is not going to be too much complaining among hockey fans in the Twin Cities.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.