Over the last couple of seasons, the Minnesota Wild have received high praise from many National Hockey League experts regarding its farm system and the job General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr have done in restocking the Wild's cupboards for the future.
Names like Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, among others, have been pinpointed as major reasons why Zach Parise and Ryan Suter joined the Wild last summer -- young players poised to keep Minnesota in contention for many years.
When talking about the 2011 NHL Draft -- held right here in the State of Hockey -- many Wild fans remember the selection of Brodin among the first dozen selections. Others will remember the trade of popular defenseman Brent Burns and the return of players, including Coyle.
But many forget the Wild also got an extra first round pick on that trade -- one they used to select talented forward Zack Phillips from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
And although fans may forget about the center man with great hands and a slick stick, Flahr and the folks certainly haven't.
Phillips played his first professional season last year with the Houston Aeros, playing in 71 games and scoring eight goals and 27 assists.
While those numbers may not jump out at you, remember, Phillips is a guy who scored 30 goals and 80 points in 60 games in his final season of junior hockey. Still only 20 years old and finally adjusted to the pro game, Phillips appears primed for a breakout season this fall with either Minnesota or in Des Moines with the Iowa Wild.
"Next year, I'm going to go in with more confidence," Phillips said of his new veteran status. "It makes it a lot easier to stick to your game. It should be an easier year and I'm excited to get it started."
In the eyes of most scouts, his skating ability was one of the things that pushed him down the draft board, allowing the Wild to scoop him up with the 28th overall selection. It's an aspect of his game that Phillips says he is always working to improve.
But he also has a special set of skills that Flahr says set him apart.
"He is a guy who was a highly skilled junior and a very productive junior," Flahr said. "You watch him and his hands, vision and instincts in the offensive zone can't be taught.
"We knew when we drafted him that he had a long ways to go physically, getting stronger, faster, quicker. In doing that, his skating would improve."
Phillips has finally found a comfort level when coming to Development Camp in early July. The 2013 edition was his third with the Wild, and that familiarity with how the staff, his teammates and the coaches has allowed him to soak up more during his week in Saint Paul.
"It's easier to come in knowing what to expect," Phillips said. "It's easier to play your game, being more comfortable and knowing what's coming."
Phillips will be amongst a handful of young players expected to contend for the final couple of roster spots with the Wild this fall. His plan: Keep it as simple as possible.
But even if he does end up back in the AHL, Flahr said that's just fine. In fact, he said Phillips is right in line with where he and the personnel staff thought he would be.
"We knew he would probably have to spend two or three years in the American league and develop, like a lot of players have to do," Flahr said. "Not every player can be Brodin and step in at 19. When we drafted him, we expected it would take some time. Hopefully his skill will get him here and he'll be a point producer at the NHL level."
Producing points is what Phillips has always been good at, and he said that is what the key will be as he strives to make the final jump to the Wild's roster -- whenever that is.
"They drafted me for a reason," Phillips said. "I just need to play my game and see how it goes."
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