It's difficult to search for positives when a team misses the Stanley Cup Playoffs four years in a row, but the Minnesota Wild were at least able to stock their prospect pool during those frustrating times.
Led by general manager Chuck Fletcher, the Wild, who ended their postseason drought in April, have collected a group of talented, young players who will be expected to have an impact in the NHL in the near future.
Some of Minnesota's young talent already enjoys life in the NHL. Defenseman Jonas Brodin, the Wild's first-round pick (No. 10) at the 2011 NHL Draft, had 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 45 games last season and led NHL rookies by averaging 23:12 of ice time per game. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Forward Charlie Coyle, who was acquired at that same draft in the trade that sent Brent Burns to the San Jose Sharks, made the jump to the NHL from the collegiate and junior levels and had eight goals and six assists in 37 games. The 21-year-old is aiming to be a top-six forward again.
Mikael Granlund, the Wild's first-round selection (No. 9) in 2010, also broke into the League and had two goals and six assists in 27 games. Brodin, Coyle and Granlund are expected to have even bigger impacts in Minnesota this season. With a strong training camp, Granlund, 21, could be the No. 2 center.
The Wild did not possess a first-round pick at the 2013 NHL Draft after Fletcher traded it to the Buffalo Sabres before the trade deadline in exchange for veteran wing Jason Pominville. However, there are other young players are on the way.
Here's a look at Minnesota's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Mathew Dumba, D: At 6 feet, 180 pounds, the 19-year-old plays a physical game and can hit with the best of them. A Calgary native, Dumba completed his third season of junior hockey in 2012-13 and had 16 goals, 26 assists and 80 penalty in 62 games for the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League. He spent the end of last season with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League and skated as a "Black Ace" for the Wild during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dumba was Minnesota's first-round pick (No. 7) at the 2012 NHL Draft.
"In the coming years, the NHL's where I want to be and I'll do whatever it takes to do that," Dumba said during development camp in July. "But at the same time, I know there's a process and that comes with time.
"I think they know there's that internal belief that I'm going to push myself, and so do I. I have that confidence in myself that each day that I go to the gym or step on the ice, I'm doing that to get better, working towards my goal of being in the National Hockey League this year."
2. Gustav Olofsson, D: The Wild's first pick in the 2013 draft (No. 46), Olofsson had two goals, 21 assists and 59 penalty minutes in 63 games last season for the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League. Olofsson (6-foot-3, 191 pounds) turns 19 Dec. 1 and is attempting to model his game after Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Olofsson will play for Colorado College next season.
"Jonas Brodin … just his fluidness and how he skates really stood out to me. That's how I'd like to play," Olofsson told the Wild website. "A two-way defenseman with string skating ability and good hockey sense."
3. Zack Phillips, C: A first-round draft choice (No. 28) in 2011, Phillips got his first taste of professional hockey last season in the AHL. In 71 games for Houston, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound center had eight goals and 19 assists. He also had one assist in five Calder Cup Playoff games.
With a year of pro hockey under his belt, Phillips, who had 80 points (30 goals) in 60 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs in his final junior season in 2011-12, is ready to make a bigger impact, whether it be in Minnesota or for the Iowa Wild, the club's new AHL affiliate.
"Next year, I'm going to go in with more confidence," Phillips, 20, said. "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."
4. Johan Gustafsson, G: The 21-year-old completed his second season with Lulea HF of the Elitserien in Sweden, posting a 1.70 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 33 appearances in 2012-13. Ready to tackle the North American game, Gustafsson (6-foot-2, 202 pounds), a seventh-round pick from 2010 (No. 159), is expected to play with Iowa in the AHL.
"One thing about this kid is he's played in a lot of big games already for a young goalie," assistant general manager Brent Flahr said.
5. Mario Lucia, LW: The son of University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia, the 19-year-old recently completed his first season at the collegiate level. In 32 games for Notre Dame, Lucia (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) had 12 goals and 11 assists. A second-round pick (No. 60) in 2011, he will return to Notre Dame this season.
6. Raphael Bussieres, LW: Signed an entry-level contract with the Wild in May after scoring 29 goals and 39 assists with a plus-27 rating in 60 games for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, his third season with the club. Minnesota's second-round pick (No. 46) in 2012, Bussieres (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) could return to junior for one more season, but his goal is to play at the professional level.
"I've lived my whole life and played juniors in Quebec, now my pro team is in the United States," Bussieres, 19, said. "It's fun. I learned my English from hockey. I want to play for the Wild or for Iowa. That's my goal."
7. Erik Haula, LW: A seventh-round draft choice (No. 182) in 2009, Haula has moved up Minnesota's prospect chart because of his hard work and production at the University of Minnesota. Over his final two seasons with the Golden Gophers, Haula (5-foot-11, 192 pounds) had 100 points (36 goals) in 80 games.
Haula, 22, turned pro at the end of last season; he had a goal and an assist in five playoff games for Houston) and signed an entry-level contract in April. He is expected to start next season with Iowa.
"If you look at him from even two years ago, his physique, his physical maturity, he's grown a lot," Flahr said. "Obviously he's produced at the college level and been very good, and that experience in Houston for him was extremely valuable for him."
8. Kurtis Gabriel, RW: A power forward (6-foot-4, 214 pounds), Gabriel was selected in the third round (No. 81) of the 2013 draft, but he's already 20, which means he can battle for a roster spot in Iowa next season. Gabriel, who had 13 goals, 15 assists and 100 penalty minutes in 67 games for the Owen Sound Attack (Ontario Hockey League) last season, was a physical presence at Wild development camp this summer and impressed team brass.
"I think a lot of people will tell you that I'm a really hard-working guy," Gabriel said after being drafted. "The way I came up really instilled that in me. I think some other guys come up the easy way, and I've come up the hard way. I know how to work hard and that's what I'm going to build my career on."
9. Darcy Kuemper, G: The 23-year-old impressed during his brief stint in Minnesota last season, when he had a 2.08 GAA and .916 save percentage in six regular-season appearances. The Wild's sixth-round pick (No. 161) in 2009, Kuemper (6-foot-5, 207 pounds) boasted a 1.88 GAA and .934 save percentage in 21 games at Houston. He will battle Josh Harding for the backup job in Minnesota but likely will head to Iowa and share the goaltending duties with Gustafsson.
10. Tyler Cuma, D: Projected to be a top-four NHL defenseman when the Wild selected him in the first round (No. 23) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Cuma has appeared in one NHL game since turning pro in 2010. With Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Keith Ballard, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Jonathon Blum, Nate Prosser and Dumba all in the mix on Minnesota's blue line, Cuma (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) is likely headed back to the AHL after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Wild on July 30. This could be a make-or-break season for the 23-year-old.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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