Monday, June 27, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Wild Provide Reasons for Hope, Excitement ... Just Not This Year

There are many ways to rebuild, reload, or just flat-out get started on something. For some sports organizations, a complete tear-down is required before anything else can be built. A good example in the present-day NHL is what is happening in Edmonton.

Others can build through their organization so effectively that they are simply reloading whenever someone leaves or retires. The Detroit Red Wings are a shining NHL example of this.

For the Minnesota Wild, the opportunity to do what Detroit has done simply hasn't existed. They've never been good enough to draw the kind of respect the Wings get. It's a respect that makes players want to sign there for less money, and it's a respect that drew guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen into insanely long-term contracts to stay there.

They've also never been bad enough to do what Edmonton has done, which has included having the No. 1 overall pick in the last two NHL Entry Drafts. They've been really bad in Edmonton, and it's helped them get their team into a spot where fans are genuinely excited about the future.

Wild fans have little to be excited about after another non-playoff year and another year where they weren't bad enough to be a factor in the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Chuck Fletcher has been forced to get creative in re-building organizational depth.

He was able to take a big step towards that goal over the weekend at the NHL Draft, swinging a huge deal involving defenseman Brent Burns that netted the Wild an accomplished young forward in Devin Setoguchi, along with two top prospects.

When you look at the team's depth chart for the upcoming season, it isn't terribly impressive, to be blunt. The expectation is that youngsters like Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, and maybe even much-maligned James Sheppard will vie for big minutes. On defense, Burns doesn't leave a bare cupboard, but someone (Marek Zidlicky?) needs to step into Burns' role as the top offensive defenseman. Perhaps this opens a door for Jared Spurgeon to become a consistent presence on the power play.

Down the line, guys like Mikael Granlund (pictured above), Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Tyler Cuma, and Jonas Brodin will help. But none of these guys should be looked at as answers for the 2011-12 questions. They are future cornerstone players, but they don't provide hope for the present.

They provide hope for the future.

Granlund could be a star ... the kind of player you build a Cup run around. Larsson and Bulmer were great finds outside the first round. Fletcher has signed young free agents like Justin Fontaine and Chay Genoway to help with the depth in the short-term.

There is plenty of reason to have hope that this franchise is headed in the right direction after years of questionable direction.

Just don't look for much this year. The Wild will probably not be all that good, frustrating fans who haven't heard -- or choose not to understand what they year -- about this new direction. It's up to Fletcher, Craig Leipold, Mike Yeo, and others to make this abundantly clear.

To be good in the future, the franchise has to go through some pain now. That doesn't mean they'll lose 55 games, or have the worst record in the league, or anything remotely that bad.

It just means a playoff spot might be too much to ask for right now. And that's the last thing some fans want to hear.

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