Ahoy from Los Angeles, where I’ve heard that not only is the grass is really greener, but it’s also warm, wet and wild. Well, I have only been here for a few hours, but what little grass I’ve seen, it looks about the same shade of green as any well-manicured lawn in the Twin Cities or the surrounding suburbs. And I have seen very little water since our plane landed, save for the slow trickle of the fountain in our motel we’re shacked up in. It’s warmer, wetter and wilder at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells near as I can tell.
I am traveling along with Wild PR guru Aaron Sickman, and video whiz, Travis Brillowski. With the three of us here, I can’t see why the Wild.com’s draft coverage won’t be the best in the history of sport. There might even be an ESPN SportCentury episode on it, assuming we can inform ESPN that hockey is still alive and well.
Wild assistant coach Dave Barr, Wild scouts Brian Hunter and Ernie Vargas and Boston Bruins scout Mike McGraw (you probably know him better as the diminutive mustached analyst on KSTC during the State Hockey tournament) were all on our flight. I also had a seat next to a guy who looked a lot like Chris Judd, who is J.Lo’s ex husband, but I didn’t ask if it was him or not. I’m guessing not. We all sat through a two hour flight delay, which gave us time to watch the U.S. pull out a stunning victory over Algeria in football, and the longest match in tennis history, which was still going at our time of departure. Last I saw, it was 43-43 in the fifth set, and now I see it’s still not over! Unbelievable!
Enough about my travels. Let’s get to the reason why we are on the Golden Coast, and that’s for Friday and Saturday’s NHL Draft. Before I delve in, I want to remind you that the “View from the Lighthouse” will be continuously updated throughout the next four days, and if you want to get breaking news sent immediately to your email, you should subscribe to the Lighthouse’s RSS feed. It’s really quite simple, and it might just make your day. I don’t know, you might not have a lot going on in your life. And I promise, the lame attempts at humor will cease for the most part after this post.
As you probably can imagine, it’s impossible for me to walk down the street more than five feet without someone saying, “Glen, you’re the smartest guy I know. Who are the Wild going to take in the NHL Entry Draft?”
I explain them that it’s not my job to tell the Wild brass what they should do, but I did tell General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr that if either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin fall down to number nine, the Wild should scoop them up. To me, either player is a low-risk, high-reward pick.
There’s a small to large chance that neither of those two will be available available when Gary Bettman walks out to a chorus of cheers to say that the Minnesota Wild is now on the clock.
Unlike some, I’m not going to pretend I know who the Wild should take, because frankly…no, quite frankly…I have never seen any of them play, other than some high school games featuring Nick Bjugstad, Derek Forbort, Brock Nelson and Tyler Pitlick. I can’t tell you that the Wild should take or pass on a guy like Jeff Skinner (as an example), because all I know of him is what I’ve read (pure goal scorer, not a great skater), and I suspect a lot of what I’ve read is from people who haven’t watched him nearly as much as the scouts who will be in La La Land this weekend.
That said, there are players I would love to see the Wild nab. Emerson Etem and Nino Neiderreiter both appear to be offensive studs that would provide pure goal-scoring, and they have some great hockey names from a marketing and nicknaming standpoint (“Two E” and “El Nino” are the first to come to mind). It also sounds like the Wild couldn’t go wrong with Finnish star Mikael Granlund or Russia’s Alex Burmistrov.
For some reason, my gut tells me Burmistrov, but I’m also expecting the Wild to move somewhere other than ninth in the first round. From what I can gather, it sounds like the five best players are two forwards Hall and Seguin, followed by defensemen Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley. After that, it seems like there are a glut of very skilled forwards (Etem, Neiderreiter, Granlund, Burmistrov, Skinner, Brett Connolly, Ryan Johansen and Bjugstad and two other defenseman (Forbort and Mark Pysyk). I would think that the Wild could trade down and one or more of those guys would still be available.
If Fowler, Gudbranson and Gormley are gone, I can’t imagine the Wild will go the defensive route if they stay at the ninth pick. Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr have both said they will take the top player left on their “list,” and they are drafting for two to four years from now, and not this year. But I’d be surprised if a defenseman other than those big three is rated much higher than one of those forwards. Even though the Wild’s pick likely won’t wear the iron range red for a couple years, the Wild prospect pool needs some scoring, and not just the big club. That’s why I’m banking on a forward taken at ninth.
There’s one important thing to remember when I say that — I’m an idiot, and once in my eight years working for the Wild have I accurately predicted the Wild’s selection. That was A.J. Thelen in 2004. That pick is often blasted, but you may recall that every ranking list and mock draft also had Thelen going to Minnesota at #12 overall. The guy had a brilliant freshman campaign at Michigan State, which prompted his high stock. Sometimes, guys don’t pan out.
Whoever the Wild ends up picking, I will venture to say this will be a very interesting weekend as far as how next year’s roster will look. There could be some major changes, or some not-so-major changes. But Fletcher has never shown a fear of making deals to improve the club, and I would expect he won’t change his philosophy this weekend as teams look to dump salary to get under the salary cap.
Tomorrow, Travis and I plan to scope out the goings-on, and hopefully secure some good stuff leading up to the Draft. I will keep you posted on any news I hear, but remember I’m not in the rumor game, so don’t expect me to hop on that “Kovalchuk to Minnesota for two second round picks” train.