“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
While Charles Dickens lived in a different century and age, his words still carry tremendous meaning in the modern day. Dickens’ quote seems to apply to the 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild and their tale of two seasons. By December 10, 2011, the Wild had stormed their way up the Western Conference rankings as they had amassed 20 wins despite having one of the most anemic offenses in the NHL. Things looked so promising for the Wild in the first third of the season and a return to the playoffs seemed all but certain for a group of players that banded together under impressive rookie head coach Mike Yeo.
However, after a rash of injuries that decimated the Minnesota lineup, the Wild embarked on an 8 game losing streak into late December and haven’t been able to snap out of the funk since. The Wild’s drop in the standings was beyond meteoric as the team is now in the bottom 4 of the NHL standings and sitting in the Western Conference cellar at spot number 13. Such a drop in the standings can’t help but garner the interest of NHL fans as many could view the team’s lackadaisical finish as a ploy to get a more comfortable seat at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
As long as the Wild continue their drop in the standings, their chances of getting the number 1 overall pick increase as well. While Minnesota could continue their free-fall, the Columbus Blue Jackets look to be the front runner for the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes. Yakupov currently has 69 points (31 Goals, 38 Assists) in 42 games for the Sarnia Sting and is undoubtedly the consensus number 1 overall pick at this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
The native of Tatarstan possesses great hockey skills and any professional hockey team would be blessed to have the forward, but are the Wild actually holding their breath for Nail by trying to tank their season?
In short, the Wild are probably not holding out hope for getting the number 1 overall pick and choosing Yakupov. However, any team in the NHL could use Yakupov’s services as the forward is widely viewed as a franchise player and a cornerstone for an up and coming team.
The Minnesota Wild are definitely an up and coming team and are loaded with offensive talent, so it is unlikely that the team is tanking to have a shot at drafting Yakupov. Here are some reasons why Yakupov will probably wind up donning a different sweater:
3.) Team Philosophy – Assuming that Mike Yeo keeps his head coaching job and remains as the Wild’s coach, the team will continue to follow a system where two-way play is stressed. The Wild do not have an official scoring star, but their captain, Mikko Koivu, is the epitome of the player that fits perfectly into Mike Yeo’s system. Koivu is a dominant center who is very sound defensively and is not afraid to dish out the puck to his teammates. Minnesota has a good group of forwards when healthy, but the team relies on balanced scoring and team contributions to get them through contests. This is not to say that a bonafide scoring star won’t bend the philosophy somewhat, but Mike Yeo’s system does not depend on one player to shoulder the offensive load.
2.) Prospect Pool Loaded With Offensive Talent – The Minnesota Wild are stockpiled with offensive talent that is itching to make it to the NHL level. Prospects such as Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Mikael Granlund, and Johan Larsson are all talented forwards that will figure into Minnesota’s long term future. Adding a dominant right winger such as Yakupov to the fold certainly wouldn’t hurt at all, but Minnesota will probably look elsewhere on draft day and Chuck Fletcher probably won’t be too upset if the Wild aren’t able to land the number 1 overall pick and Yakupov as a result. Yakupov is too talented to pass up at number 1 overall at this year’s draft, but the Wild are simply stocked in the offensive department and probably aren’t fishing for this year’s top selection.
1.) Mikael Granlund – Mikael Granlund will probably be the next best center in Minnesota since Mikko Koivu. The Wild have already seen the type of skill sets that Granlund possesses and the organization has already gathered enough young talent for Granlund to play with in Minnesota. Granlund is the type of player that a franchise could build around and the selection of Yakupov would just clutter Minnesota with cornerstone-type players. The young Finnish center has excellent leadership qualities and can be an excellent addition to team captain Mikko Koivu. Granlund is the future of the Minnesota organization and selecting Yakupov can possibly have an adverse effect on the way that the young Minnesota prospects view their future or role in St. Paul.
If the Wild do end up getting the number 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, they could choose Nail Yakupov. Letting the right winger fall to another team at number 2 would be a blessing for that team and Chuck Fletcher would probably take everything into account if he had the first selection at this year’s draft.
There are very few teams, if any, that would pass up on the chance to draft a talent such as Yakupov, but the Minnesota Wild have glaring problems on defense that need to be considered first. After the departure of Brent Burns, the team was getting contributions from their d-men that mitigated the loss of Minnesota’s power-play quarterback. However, when the Wild began their tailspin, it was evident that not having Burns was a great loss for a team that was offensively starved to begin with.
The Wild will probably have a high draft pick this year and if it isn’t the number 1 overall pick, then the team should aim at drafting a d-man such as Griffin Reinhart, Matthew Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, or Ryan Murray. Jared Spurgeon has panned out quite well for the Wild and Marco Scandella will only continue to get better. With prospects such as Jonas Brodin waiting for a tryout with the Wild, an addition of one of the draft’s premier defensemen will only bolster the Wild’s defensive depth.
Minnesota’s young guns are coming very soon. Chuck Fletcher will most likely give Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund a shot at making the Wild’s roster out of training camp and there are high expectations for all of the aforementioned players.
In closing, the Wild should not be disappointed if they do not acquire the number 1 overall pick at this year’s draft. Being in the top 5 ensures the organization that they can draft a solid defenseman and if Chuck Fletcher isn’t ready to commit on a d-man, he could have his pick of Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg, or Radek Faksa. The Wild have gathered enough offensive firepower for the future and the organization should focus on drafting a d-man to secure it’s defensive depth.
The Wild have much to look forward to in 2012-2013, but the 2012 NHL Entry Draft should see the team add another weapon to its already stacked talent pool.
In his third year with The Hockey Writers, Toli covers all things related to the New York Islanders. Focusing on the Islanders, the NHL Draft & draft-eligible prospect goalies, and hockey history, Toli can be contacted on Facebook by searching/messaging Toli Metter and on twitter by searching @ToliMetterTHW.