The depth of young players collected by Chuck Fletcher during his five years as the Minnesota Wild general manager will be on full display during the 2014-15 season. The NHL roster is loaded with young talent that just propelled the team to an impressive regular season with two strong playoffs series. Relying on a roster in Saint Paul of 20-somethings, the Baby Wild squad was starved for scoring and dynamic talent during their inaugural season in Des Moines, Iowa.
Minnesota Wild to Feature Skilled NHL & AHL Rosters for 2014-15 Season
The Iowa Wild fans will be rewarded for their loyalty this fall though as limited roster space in Saint Paul will mean extended AHL careers for the next wave of top tier prospects hand selected by Fletcher and his right hand man Brent Flahr. I am excited for what will await the fans at the Wells Fargo Arena this fall. This Baby Wild roster will be infused with excitement and talent for head coach Kurt Kleinendorst to mold and shape into a Calder Cup contender.
The remaining prospects drafted during the Risebrough/Lemaire era of Wild hockey have now become free agents at the AHL level specifically Tyler Cuma, Carson McMillian, Kris Foucalt, Josh Caron, and Kyle Medvec. Sure Marco Scandella has elevated his play turning his best season as a pro last year brightening up a dark and dismal outlook on the previous regimes daft track record but the damage was done mortgaging picks for veteran fill in types on the NHL roster.
This season will mark the arrival of Fletcher/Flahr era prospects that will require AHL time before they get a sniff of the Xcel Energy Center unlike Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, and Erik Haula. With presumably five of the six starting spots in the defensive corps already spoken for at the NHL level, highlighted by the signing of top NCAA free agent Christian Folin who I believe will make the opening night roster and not look back from there.
The Wild’s top defensive prospects Mathew Dumba and Gustav Olofsson will be the top pairing in Iowa. This pair will be able learn and grow their chemistry playing top pairing minutes against the best the AHL has to offer. Dumba is going to be an instant fan favorite with his aggressive offensive play and emotionally charged brand of hockey. In Olofsson I think the fans will be pleased with his ability to eliminate opponents with his size and skill defensively which was missing in Iowa.
— Minnesota Wild (@PONDcast) March 25, 2014
I am in the camp that believes Darcy Kuemper’s time in Iowa is finished as he proved during the stretch run and playoffs for the Wild that he is their netminder of the future and capable of at minimum a time share in Saint Paul with either Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding. That means Johan Gustafsson will be depended on to take what he learned this past season in Des Moines and elevate his play as the Baby Wild’s #1 goalie. I am hoping John Curry is retained but with him being a free agent he could have other suitors this summer. Gustafsson in his first professional season scuffled a bit but he definitely didn’t receive a ton of goal support or help from his defensive corps last season in Iowa.
A compelling storyline to follow will be Wild lightning rod fan favorite Jason Zucker who will be returning from a season ending surgery to his quad and a less than impressive first full year of professional hockey. Zucker is tough to truly diagnose as a prospect because he has flashed top tier ability with his speed and goal scorer mentality only to fall out of favor for his lack of two way ability. Zucker is also a prime candidate at all times to be the centerpiece of any deal Fletcher has cooking. Zucker could very well start out the season in Iowa and play and important role for the Baby Wild as he looks to regain his form and favor with the coaching staff and front office.
Scoring and Size in the Forwards Group Sunk the Iowa Wild Required a Remedy
Fletcher recently addressed a gap in the skilled forward prospect depth by signing two Canadian Juniors free agents Brady Brassart and Zach Mitchell once the open period began. Iowa fans got to see Brassart for 9 games after his season ended with the Calgary Hitmen while Mitchell’s Guelph Storm season included an extended Memorial Cup run that saw him score highlight reel goals and make a hit that caused him to be suspended. Both of these young forwards proved to be prolific scorer for their respective juniors teams despite not being drafted and should provide much need skill to the Baby Wild next season. An interesting development is the depth added by Fletcher and Flahr to the Wild’s prospect ranks has been the size/skill combination forwards that had been completely missing from the lineup in the NHL and AHL. Now though Zach Phillips, Raphael Bussieres, Kurtis Gabriel, Tyler Graovac, and Brent Bulmer will all be in the lineup for the Baby Wild. Also still in the NCAA ranks are the big and talented Mario Lucia, Adam Gilmour, and Avery Peterson. Tough decision await the current group of restricted and unrestricted free agents from last year’s Iowa team on both sides of the bargaining table. I think a strong argument can be made for several players to be retained most specifically John Curry, Jon Blum, McMillian, Foucalt, and Cuma. Each of those guys might seek opportunities elsewhere though especially Blum and Cuma as I doubt either gets tendered a one way deal so it might mark the end of the road for them in the Wild’s organization.
My Passion for Hockey Writing Rooted in Prospect Development
Honestly my roots of covering the Minnesota Wild stem from their prospect development camps. I gravitate towards the young prospect and their development. The path from the draft or trade to the Excel Energy Center has always been captivating for me. What a great way to reach out to the fan base and motivate their young prospects. http://www.hockeyprospect.com/minnesota-wild-prospects-brent-flahr/ This year I will make my prospect pilgrimage to Des Moines to catch the Baby Wild in person and I have faith they will not disappoint. We are on the verge of the best hockey at both levels for the Wild organization in the next 5 years and the players the fan get to see kill themselves every night at Wells Fargo Arena will be the future stars on display.
— Tony Dean (MNWild) (@TonyDeanTHW) May 2, 2014