ST. PAUL, MN— The Minnesota Wild held their annual pre-draft luncheon Friday morning to discuss possible draft situations, strategy, and to announce the team’s schedule for the summer months.
The topic of interest is the NHL Entry draft, which will be held in Los Angeles, California on Friday, June 25.
"We are ready to go and are looking forward to a great week in L.A," said Wild GM Chuck Fletcher.
The second-year GM also laid out his plan and strategy to the media on Friday about his take on the draft and how the Wild must take advantage of the ninth overall pick after a disappointing season that led to Minnesota’s second consecutive year of missing the postseason.
“Last year was very disappointing for us, but the good thing —and the only good thing is that you get a high draft pick,” said Fletcher.
Minnesota currently holds five picks in the top 100 (9,39,56,69,99) in this year’s entry draft, but that could change if the conditions are right.
The GM said they have to be flexible, and sometimes you have to be willing to give up a pick to move up for a good player or trade down for another pick to get the player you want.
Minnesota's overall goal is to add depth and grow its young core, which is the forefront of growing a championship team in the NHL.
"If you're not drafting two future NHL players [in each draft] you're falling behind," said Fletcher.
"We want to be competitive in the future, but we are always working on adding talent for the future because if you don't in this system, you're in trouble."
As far as cap space goes, Minnesota has the flexibility to be able to make moves if the right circumstances align, which is an important philosophy to Chuck.
“Some teams have to shed $12 million in cap space just to be allowed to play hockey games next year in the NHL."
As far as spending money is concerned, Fletcher said that owner Craig Leipold has given him the ability to spend what he wants, but as Chuck cautioned, he does not want to spend up to the cap because that does not give him the flexibility to make moves.
"Flexibility is always important, but the goal is not to spend every cap dollar —it's to spend cap dollars wisely."
As far as this year’s draft goes, it seems the emphasis will be on offense.
“Long-term, we have to add offensive talent to our talent pool,” Fletcher said. "We need to find some solutions at center and need to add a little more depth up front."
Minnesota could use that depth as well as they continue to transition to the new aggressive offensive style of play.
Many reports have the Wild taking Minnesota native Nick Bjugstad, a center from Blaine high school, as their first round pick.
He is a big kid, standing 6'4" and weighing 200 lbs. He would add size and skill to a position Minnesota needs to improve.
Other reports have Minnesota taking Jeff Skinner, a winger from the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. He is smaller at 5'10" but , according to NHL's Central Scouting, makes up for it with great hands and a sniper shot.
Skinner had a 50-goal season this year and was second in the OHL points behind No. 2 overall ranked Taylor Hall.
College free agents and the European markets are recent areas Fletcher and his scouting team has begun to tap into, and to Chuck, college free agents are like free draft picks.
The trade market is also another avenue the management staff is looking to use to improve the team.
A few names have been circulating, including Brent Burns, Josh Harding, and Nick Shultz, however Fletcher denied any attempt at trading Brent Burns.
“We are not trying to trade Burns,” he said.
"We like our team, we like our players. We feel we need to add to certain areas to make our team stronger, and to do that, you may have to make a trade."
Chuck also emphasized the ability to use free agency to build depth, and that if it takes 12 months to find a player, he is willing to wait.
"We are not trying to move any player on our team right now."
For Shultz and Harding respectively, their futures are more up in the air. Although teams do not go out looking to trade their players, if something makes sense to improve your team, you’ll take it, and the Wild could get some good returns in this market.
Washington knows it needs defenseman, and with both teams loaded with young and skilled offensive talent, it would not surprise me if any one of those teams are mentioned in a deal.
Do not expect Minnesota to make a move until after the draft, or even when the free agency market opens on July 1.
With eight picks in this year’s draft and cap space, expect Minnesota to be active In the market as GM Chuck Fletcher looks to balance being competitive now and building in the future.
"We will patiently and methodically build this team...and we will find a piece or two this summer, and we will draft some good players next...and we will be in a better position this September 1 versus last September 1."
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