WILD: On the bright side, Minnesota could win big at NHL draft lottery
ST. PAUL On Dec. 13, the Minnesota Wild flew to Winnipeg with the best record in hockey, looking to extend their franchise-record road winning streak to eight games and fully confident they would be playing meaningful hockey games in mid-April. O...
On Dec. 13, the Minnesota Wild flew to Winnipeg with the best record in hockey, looking to extend their franchise-record road winning streak to eight games and fully confident they would be playing meaningful hockey games in mid-April.
On Sunday, March 25, they flew home from Washington, having lost for the 34rd time in 45 games and officially knowing they would miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
"We're about as good an example as you'll ever see of a team that had a great start and didn't finish right," center Matt Cullen said.
But there could be a prize waiting for the Wild at the bottom of their slide.
They currently have the fourth-worst record in the NHL, meaning if the season ended now, they would pick no lower than fifth and would be one of five teams with a chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the league's April 10 draft lottery. And the pick -- which would be at least the Wild's highest since 2005 -- could give them the chance to land the kind of explosive scorer that hasn't come through their system since they took Marian Gaborik third overall in 2000.
The 2012 draft class is a top-heavy group with a handful of players who could be franchise cornerstones. At the top of that list are a pair of 18-year-old Russian forwards currently playing major junior hockey in Canada. There's Nail Yakupov, who has been atop TSN's prospect rankings for months and has been called a smaller Alex Ovechkin by TSN's Bob McKenzie. And there's Mikhail Grigorenko,
an MVP finalist in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after scoring 85 points this season.
Canadian defenseman Ryan Murray was third in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings of North American skaters, trailing only Yakupov and Grigorenko, and Swedish power forward Filip Forsberg was the top-ranked European skater.
This year is also different because of what a departure it represents from where the Wild typically have drafted. Despite making the playoffs just three times in 11 seasons, they've only picked in the top five twice: in 2000, when they took Gaborik, and in 2005, when they picked Benoit Pouliot fourth overall after a league-wide lottery followed the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.
Mostly, they've been one of the last teams out of the playoffs, which has meant they've been one of the teams with the slimmest chances of winning the lottery. As a result, they've picked too low following non-playoff seasons to take stars such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, among others.
General manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr have won widespread praise around the league, though, for their first three drafts, which could deliver a handful of impressive prospects to the organization by next season. Fletcher and Flahr have never picked higher than eighth, but their targets could include the top of the draft class this year.
The Wild had the fourth-fewest points in the NHL on Monday morning, but they are just a point ahead of Edmonton and Montreal in the league standings. Both the Oilers and Canadiens have played one more game than the Wild, but they've both played well lately, posting 13 and 11 points in their past 10 games, respectively. Considering all seven of the Wild's remaining games are against teams who would be in the playoffs if the season ended now, they could finish with the second-worst record in the league.
Coach Mike Yeo said Sunday he wasn't concerned with the lottery, praising the way the front office has stocked the system and saying "there will be time for disappointment at the end of the season.
"Right now, I want to win some hockey games. I want to keep building for next season," he said.
When the ping-pong balls settle on April 10, though, the Wild could find themselves in position to add a tremendous building block.
Distributed by MCT Information Services