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Wild Won't Rush Top 10 Prospects

Tuesday, 08.12.2014 / 9:53 AM / Minnesota Wild | Features
By Adam Kimelman  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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Wild Won\'t Rush Top 10 Prospects
The arrival of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter has enabled the Minnesota Wild to give top prospects such as Matt Dumba time to develop at lower levels rather than rushing them to the NHL.


The change in fortune for the Minnesota Wild came in the summer of 2012 when the franchise signed forward Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to long-term contracts.

Those moves certainly helped the present and short-term future of the Wild, who won a Stanley Cup Playoff series last spring for the first time in 11 years. However, it also helped in a long-term way because it meant that instead of needing to force younger players into key roles, the Wild could add them as complementary parts or leave them to develop longer at lower levels.

"We have a deeper group," Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr told NHL.com. "We're not forced to put in guys. We can let them can earn it, and when they're ready their play will dictate when they can get on the team. That's obviously a much healthier way to do business in the NHL. The NHL is a tough jump for any young person; to get the confidence playing pro hockey at the American league level first is the best way to do it."

Here's a look at the Wild's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Matt Dumba, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 7), 2012 draft

Last season: 26 GP, 8-16-24, plus-31, Portland, WHL

Dumba made the Wild's opening-night roster for the second straight season, and in 2013-14 the 20-year-old got into 13 games. But he couldn't get into the lineup consistently and the Wild released him to play for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He had one assist and a plus-4 rating in seven games, but part of that lack of output is because he was sick for most of the tournament. The 6-foot, 183-pound defender finished the season with Portland and the Winterhawks went 25-1-0 after his arrival and advanced to the WHL finals.

He'll start his professional career this season, and it could be on a full-time basis with the Wild.

"He's got the mindset that he's coming [to training camp] to make the team," Flahr said. "We're at a point now where we have a number of guys vying for a couple spots. If we feel he's best to play in Iowa [American Hockey League] for a little bit to get his game going or get ice time, especially if he's not going to play significant minuets with us, he'll be in Iowa for a little bit. … We're anxious to see him. He has lots of confidence and lots of drive. That's part of what makes him what he is. He loves the game. He plays the game with lots of passion. He's a very driven kid and a real character kid and we're happy to have him."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Christian Folin, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 31, 2014

Last season: 41 GP, 6-14-20, UMass-Lowell, Hockey East

The Wild signed Folin 6-foot-3, 215-pounds) after two college seasons and got the 23-year-old into their lineup for one game late last season. He had an assist and was a plus-3 in 19:26 of ice time and never looked out of place. He'll likely be in the Wild's lineup opening night.

"He's your prototypical late bloomer," Flahr said. "He's a big, strong kid, plays a two-way game. A very mature game. … He's a guy that we're very excited about. He's big and strong, and if you ask him that's a big reason why he's improved so much, his strength and his mobility. He's got a big shot and he can defend, he moves the puck efficiently."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Gustav Olofsson, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 46) 2013 draft

Last season: 30 GP, 4-4-8, Colorado College, NCHC

The Wild was so pleased with Olofsson's first collegiate season, as well as his strong showing for Sweden at the 2014 WJC, that they signed the 19-year-old to an entry-level contract. He got into eight AHL games late in the season and didn't look out of place.

"He's a guy that we feel has a chance to be a special player," Flahr said. "He's a little [Jonas] Brodin-like as far as his mobility and his hockey sense, his ability to defend and his ability to get pucks out of trouble. … His hockey sense is pretty elite, and his skating is terrific. He got into a number of games at the end of the year and from Game 1 to Games 3 and 4 you could see him take off. He has to get significantly stronger (6-4, 191), put weight on, which we all know. But his ability to think the game at a high level should make that transition fairly easy.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Brett Bulmer, RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 39), 2010 draft

Last season: 43 GP, 11-8-19, Iowa, AHL

The only knock on the 22-year-old have been injuries that have slowed his development; last season it was a shoulder injury that limited him. However, he played well enough to earn five NHL games, and there's hope for more this season.

"He's battled a number of significant injuries that have held him back a little bit, but at the same time he got his game going [last season] prior to injuries," Flahr said. "He got into a couple [NHL] games and showed well for himself. He's a power forward, got some energy, some grit. He's not fun to play against. He's got good speed, good size (6-4, 212). We envision him being a quality third-line player. His injuries have probably cost him a year on the development curve. We expect him to come into camp and challenge for a spot, and if he doesn't make it be a call-up guy right away."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

5. Tyler Graovac, C

How acquired: 7th round (No. 191), 2011 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 13-12-25, Iowa, AHL

The Wild views Graovac as a growth stock, and the 21-year-old forward started paying dividends in the second half of last season, his first in the AHL. He had five goals and nine points in his first 29 games, but eight goals and 16 points in his final 35.

"He's a guy that we're really excited about long term," Flahr said. "The American league was an adjustment for him but by the second half of the year he was arguably our best player in Iowa. You see his size (6-5, 200) and his mobility and his hands and his hockey sense; he's an exciting prospect. He's just going to need time to get stronger, learn to play on both sides of the puck a little bit. He's one of the guys that when you watch he stands out down there."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Alex Tuch, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 18), 2014 draft

Last season: 61 GP, 29-34-63 USA U-18, USHL

The Wild is looking forward to seeing the 6-4, 213-pound forward make the jump to college hockey this season at Boston College, and hopefully play for the United States at the 2015 WJC.

"You see the package," Flahr said. "He's got a little ways to go, but with his size and strength, his ability to skate, his hands, his shot, it's all NHL caliber. … Where he can get the next couple of years is pretty exciting. You've got to be patient with bigger guys like that, he'll need time to develop, but he's got all the physical tools to be a power forward at the next level. Those guys are hard to get."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Johan Gustafsson, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 159), 2010 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 12-20-4, 2.98 GAA, .903 SVP, Iowa AHL

No goaltender in the Minnesota organization had an easy time in 2013-14, and Gustafsson, in his first North American season, wasn't immune. However, the 22-year-old progressed well enough that the team is looking forward to seeing the 6-2, 199-pound goalie again as the No. 1 in the AHL.

"The good thing for [Gustafsson] is he's played pro hockey in Sweden and played in big games and big tournaments," Flahr said. "What we like about him is he's a gamer. He has things to work on just like any young goalie but the one thing he is, is highly competitive. He's going to get a good chance to run with it in Iowa this year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

8. Mario Lucia, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 60), 2011 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 16-15-31, Notre Dame, Hockey East

The Wild is taking the long view with the 20-year-old, who has solid bloodlines -- his father, Don Lucia, is the longtime coach at the University of Minnesota -- to go with obvious skill.

"When we drafted him we knew he was a longer-term project," Flahr said. "He had the skill and the size (6-3, 195); what he needed to do was work on growing into his body and getting stronger, and he's slowly doing that. At Notre Dame he's had some success and put some numbers on the board. He's still a work in progress. He came to development camp and showed where he's at. He's made big strides physically, but whether it's one more year or two more years at Notre Dame, we have high hopes for him."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

9. Zack Mitchell, RW

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 4, 2014

Last season: 67 GP, 31-52-83, plus-52, Guelph, OHL

The 21-year-old forward went unselected in the NHL Draft, but the Wild didn't wait for last season to end to give Mitchell a contract. A key part of one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League, Mitchell's strong play carried through the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, where was second among all players with 30 points and tied for third with 12 goals in 20 games, and into the Memorial Cup, where he had five points in four games.

"He's a terrific special-teams player, both on the penalty kill and the power play," Flahr said. "He's highly intelligent. He's getting significantly stronger over the years. He came to development camp and he's in very good shape (6-foot, 185). He brings a lot of confidence. He can come into the American league and right away be a significant player for us. He's going to have to get quicker and adjust to the pace of the pro game, but the way he thinks the game is impressive."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Kurtis Gabriel, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 81), 2013 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 16-35-51, Owen Sound OHL

The Wild likes the mix of size (6-4, 214), skill and toughness the 21-year-old brings to the table. After a strong season in junior, he had two goals and two assists in eight AHL games.

"He'll be a bottom-six forward," Flahr said. "His size, his toughness … he's going to have a chance to be a useful NHL player. He'll get full time into the American league this year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17


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