This time last season, there was sense of excitement surrounding the Minnesota Wild.
The team had a new General Manager and was heading into a new era—one of hope and promise, but also one of uncertainty.
Now, one year later, the lay of the land is much more certain and much less encouraging.
With 16 players under contract and just about $10 million in cap space to maneuver with, Minnesota has a lot of needs and not a lot of space to fix these needs, which make this draft weekend an extremely important time for this team.
That being said, General Manager Chuck Fletcher has been adamant about not just making a splash for the sake of making a splash, but making the right moves—the moves that will benefit the Wild the most both now and in the future.
With the Wild being intent on re-signing Mikko Koivu, it would be surprising to see them make any enormous trades on draft day; however, with players like Patrick Sharp, Nathan Horton and Jeff Carter likely being dangled, it may be too tempting for the team to pass up.
With that in mind, here are the five biggest team needs heading into the draft.
1) Immediate Help. It’s time for Wild fans to face the unfortunate truth that there isn’t much hope on the horizon for Minnesota in free agency. With the team needing to re-sign restricted free agents, they will have to turn to trades if they want to make any significant improvements. Names that they have been tied to already are the three aforementioned players and there are other teams that are looking to move players and cap room as well.
The team has already addressed the need for a fighter in the wake of the Derek Boogaard era by picking up Brad Staubitz—now it’s time for them to address more pressing needs.
2) Goal Scoring. Let’s be honest here. If there’s one thing the Wild have needed throughout their entire existence, it’s more goal scoring and that is a need that I would look for the team to address that need in the upcoming draft.
At the number nine pick, the team should have ample chance to address this. With players like Nino Niederreiter, Emerson Etem and Alexander Burmistrov potentially available, the Wild should have a potent goal scorer available to them.
3) Forward Depth. Over the last few drafts, the Wild have picked up absolutely amazing top-end depth on defense. With Tyler Cuma, Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Maxim Noreau, they legitimately have six defensemen that could challenge for an NHL roster spot on most, if not all clubs in the NHL.
At forward, however, not so much.
The players that the Wild have that are expected to challenge for a roster spot at the forward position are Cody Almond, Casey Wellman and Colton Gillies. Slim pickings, to be sure.
This season, however, the Wild have five picks before they made their third pick in last season’s draft—a good omen for a team that desperately needs assets and players that are up and coming in the organization.
4) An Assistant Coach. With the unexpected departure of Assistant Coach Mike Ramsay, a coach who was the heart and soul of the coaching staff, the team is now in the market for a new assistant to step behind the Wild’s bench.
There is certainly a market full of former head coaches from every level and the Wild should have their pick of the litter.
This could actually end up being a good thing for the team as well. Ramsay was never quite comfortable with his spot on the bench in the Richards-era of the Wild and, by reading between the lines, it seemed that he and Richards may have butted heads from time to time as to how to run the team and the bench.
With Richards being a former defenseman, it may benefit the Wild to have another coach with a history at forward and, indeed, the team has hinted that former Wild center Wes Walz may be on the short list for the position.
5) Second Line Center. The Wild have their first line center spot locked up with the under appreciated Mikko Koivu, but one thing that the team has lacked is that center on the second line to provide a capable pivot between Martin Havlat and Guillaume Latendresse.
If healthy, it is hoped that Pierre-Marc Bouchard will fill that hole when next season rolls around, but Bouchard has a spotty history at the center position and it may be beneficial for the Wild to pursue outside solutions for this problem.
This again brings the team’s cap problem to light, as the Wild have a limited amount of cap room to do this and the team may have to rely on either Bouchard or a player who might not be suited or ready for the position.
It is going to be an interesting off season for the Wild and it might not be interesting in a good way. The team has a lot of needs and not a lot of options to solve these needs, but this is no longer an organization that is content with the status quo, which means that it could once again be a season where you’ll want to buy a program every time you get to the Xcel Energy Center just so you can keep up.