One of the hallmarks of Doug Risebrough’s not-so-illustrious tenure as GM of the Minnesota Wild was bring first round prospects directly to the NHL, with diminishing returns as this process went on. Things worked out well early with Marian Gaborik making an impact right away, and Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Brent Burns managing to develop at the NHL level. However, most Minnesota Wild fans are understandably cautious about this process due to the spectacular failure of James Sheppard, and the disappointment of watching the already-limited Colton Gilles having his development completely stunted on the bench.
In fact, perhaps the biggest difference between DR and Chuck Fletcher’s philosophies rests in how they progress their prospects to the NHL. In the three years since Chuck Fletcher became GM, only one of the players drafted have played in more than 9 NHL games. And with 12 games to his name, Matt Hackett is hardly a seasoned veteran. Fletcher has committed to a patient approach to prospect development.
But you knew that.
However, this is the first season Wild fans will witness the fruit of this good drafting and patience. Mikael Granlund will almost certainly play with the Wild this season, and while it’s possible to see Hackett, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Brett Bulmer, and Johan Larsson up on the big club, they’ll face stiff competition for roster spots, and the organization will no doubt want to remain patient with them.
However, if the Wild want to make some noise in the Western Conference this year, they should throw patience out the window for one Jonas “Bacon” Brodin.
Even in the wake of adding Ryan Suter, an all-situation, minute-munching defenseman, the Wild defense still leaves something to be desired. Not to say it’s a bad defense, as it finished middle of the pack last year in Goals Allowed without Suter on the team. However, it still has major flaws to it. The biggest flaw is a problem Chuck Fletcher has been trying to solve since he traded Kim Jonsson away: They couldn’t keep the puck out of their zone.
And no doubt, Suter and Gilbert should help that. Both of them can eat minutes and move the puck, which will help, and Spurgeon is certainly capable of moving the puck. This is an area that should definitely improve this year.
But the problem most resonant to this year’s team has to do with the way the depth chart is laid out. Suter is a bona fide #1 defenseman who can do some of everything, but after that, there’s not a lot of high-end guys. Gilbert is, like I said earlier, a puck-mover, but he’s not known for his defensive chops, and would appear to be better suited to a second pairing role. Spurgeon has come to be a dependable option on the blue line, with his solid skill and smart positional defense. However, his size is always going to be limit what he can do with his skill, and he struggled to run the power play last year. Scandella is a guy who certainly has the tools to become a high-end defenseman, but he’s too raw for him to be counted on in that role this year. And then you have Clayton Stoner, a good defensive guy; Justin Falk, who is a guy with size and skill, as well as Nate Prosser, a capable two-way kind of guy. But those three are depth-type guys.
The Wild, as currently constructed, don’t have a guy other than Suter who can give top-pairing production from the blue line.
But, like everything else, things on the blue line will be better once you throw “Bacon” on it. Jonas Brodin has spent two years in Sweden’s Elitserien, impressing just about every scout with his Hockey IQ on both sides of the ice, as well as his ability to compete with men. He’s been part of championship teams in the Elitserien as well as the World Junior Championships. He got rave reviews from his NHL teammates at the World Championships this year. He would add another person who can control the game through puck possession, puck moving, and positional defense. He has the potential to be another high-end defenseman. Perhaps not a top-pairing contribution, but another top-4 guy on the team would help a lot.
Now, I’ll concede that this might not work. He is 6’2”, but he’s slight, he’ll only be 20, and there will probably be times where he’ll need to adjust to the NHL, despite his pro experience and poise. However, I don’t this the potential risk outweighs the potential reward. With the Wild so close to the cap, and in need of another impact defender, Brodin will be their only chance to add another impact blue liner (I love Dumba, but I’d be shocked if he was A) Ready to make the team and B) Ready to make an impact in the NHL). With his skills, experience, and hockey sense, I feel that Brodin’s downside will equate to about the same amount of production a replacement-level guy like Nate Prosser will give you, with the upside to provide the Wild with much, much more. Worst case scenario, they can send Brodin down after 9 games if he doesn’t look ready without so much as burning a year on his entry-level deal.
Hopefully Fletcher gives us plenty of opportunity to let the X extol the virtues of Bacon.