Many of the Minnesota Wild’s prospects recently participated in the 2013 NHL Prospects Tournament. The tournament took place in Traverse City, Michigan and the tournament ran from September 5th through September 9th.
The clubs involved in the tournament were divided into two divisions. The Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues made up the Gordie Howe division. The Ted Lindsay Division consisted of the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Rangers.
The Detroit Red Wings were this year’s tournament champions defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 to claim the title. The Minnesota Wild had limited success in this year’s tournament standings where they finished in eighth place after losing their last game to the New York Rangers. Despite the organization’s struggles in the standings, there were some positives that came from the play of the club’s young talent.
About the Tournament in Traverse City
All of the organizations that were involved in the tournament had the opportunity to get a better look at their young players. The teams in the Traverse City tournament were made up of recent draft picks as well as players invited to participate. The players in the tournament were around the same age so it allowed each team to do some evaluation of their young talent in comparison to their peers.
Another added perk of the tournament is that it took place prior to the opening of training camps. This allowed the prospects a chance to prove themselves to their clubs in hopes of getting an invitation to camp. The NHL clubs were also eager to assess the development of their youngsters and decide where to assign them for the upcoming hockey season.
The tournament is also helpful for many of the NHL’s minor league affiliates. Many AHL clubs had personnel in attendance, and in several cases, some were directly participating in the events. The Minnesota Wild’s team in Traverse City was coached by Kurt Kleinendorst who is the current head coach of the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s new AHL affiliate. In working with these players, Klienendorst gained some first-hand knowledge of Minnesota’s prospects, many of whom will spend some time in Iowa during the next few seasons.
The tournament is structured so the divisional foes meet in a round-robin format. The clubs’ overall records after playing these divisional games determine the division standings. After the division standings are established there are cross-divisional games to determine the overall tournament standings.
The Detroit Red Wings are the annual host organization for the NHL Prospects Tournament but this year marked the first time that the Red Wings won the tournament. As a result of the lockout-shortened season the tournament did not take place last year. The last time it took place was in 2011 when the Buffalo Sabres won the tournament. The Minnesota Wild won the tournament in 2010 when the club outscored their opposition fifteen to seven and went undefeated in the tournament.
Minnesota Wild in the 2013 Tournament
This year, Minnesota’s team in the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City featured several players who were recently selected by the club. These players included forwards Erik Haula, Brett Bulmer, Raphael Bussieres, Kurtis Gabriel, Tyler Graovac, and Zack Phillips, defensemen Mathew Dumba, and Dylan Labbe, as well as goaltenders Alexandre Belanger and Johan Gustafsson. The Wild roster was filled with their recent draft picks as well as players that were invited by the club to participate in the tournament.
Minnesota’s team of prospects struggled at the tournament going winless in four games played. They lost their first game in regulation against the Detroit Red Wings by a 3-1 margin and their second game in overtime to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-2. The Wild lost their final game within the Gordie Howe Division in a shootout against the Dallas Stars by a score of 2-1. This ranked the Wild last in the Howe Division so they met the New York Rangers’ prospects in the final game of the tournament. They were defeated by the Rangers’ by a score of 5-2 in a cross-divisional game that was played for seventh place.
Despite their lack of success in the overall standings, there were many positives that came out of the tournament for the Wild. Forwards Raphael Bussieres and Tyler Graovac each had two points in the tournament for Minnesota.
Bussieres was drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2012. Over his career in the QMJHL, Bussieres has one hundred sixty-eight points in two hundred and twenty-six games. This puts Bussieres at 0.74 points per game which is very respectable in the QMJHL. He scored two goals for the Wild in the tournament.
Graovac tallied a goal and an assist for the Wild in the tournament. Graovac was taken by the Wild in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. In two hundred and twenty-eight games in the OHL, Graovac has one hundred and thirty points which is good for 0.57 points per game.
Another bright spot for the Minnesota Wild in the Traverse City Tournament was defenseman Mathew Dumba. Dumba did not put up big numbers in the tournament where he finished with just one assist. However, he showcased his defensive game playing in many key situations for his club. There were times when he displayed his puck-moving abilities but overall he took on more of a defensive role at the tournament.
There were some who criticized Dumba for needing to work on his defensive game. His effort at the tournament showed that he has a developing defensive skill-set. His play made an impression on many including GM Chuck Fletcher and it may contribute towards his ultimate goal of finding a permanent spot in the NHL.
Finally, another bright spot for the Minnesota Wild was the play of young goaltender Johan Gustafsson. Gustafsson saw plenty of action at the tournament where he played more than one hundred and eighty-five minutes. Despite his club’s winless record, Gustafsson posted a 2.26 GAA as well as a .929 save percentage.
Gustafsson was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In thirty-three games last season for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League, Gustafsson posted a 1.70 GAA and a 0.933 save percentage. His strong play last season coupled with his performance in Traverse City has many analysts pegging him to compete with goaltender Darcy Kuemper for playing time in Iowa this coming season.
[See Also: Prospects Leave Traverse City Winless]
Wild Prospects Hope to Take the Next Step
While the Minnesota Wild had a losing record at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, there were many positives taken from the experience. The Wild personnel had an early opportunity to evaluate their young talent in preparation for training camp. There was some separation that occurred at the tournament among the prospects but will it be enough for GM Chuck Fletcher to extend an invitation to any of his young players to attend training camp?
The tournament marked the beginning of the new NHL season for many clubs who had the opportunity to participate and analyze their young talent. Training camp will begin in this week in the NHL. As Minnesota further analyzes the talent pool, it will be interesting to see how things progress for the Wild’s youngsters. There will be opportunity going forward so it is up to the prospects to continue to play hard and distinguish themselves so they can earn a more permanent position in the NHL.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW