Like the thousands of hopeful prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the 19th Century, NHL teams hope they can find NHL prospect gold in the later rounds of the draft. Its the dream story of finding a franchise cornerstone somewhere beyond the 4th round and like prospectors some teams seem to have more luck than others. Clubs like Detroit seem to not just fine serviceable players in the later rounds but players that are key contributors like Darren Helm (5th round, 132nd Overall 2005), Jonathan Ericsson (9th round, 291st Overall 2002), but most notably Henrik Zetterberg (7th round, 210th Overall 1999) and Pavel Datsyuk (6th round, 171st Overall 1998). The result of these late round steals was the fact the Red Wings didn't have to overspend in free agency and the team had a pipeline of quality talent to fill out the roster. It doesn't have to come up with gold every year, but even a few times can help out a franchise a ton. A similar story can said of the Nashville Predators who also seem to have uncanny luck in the late rounds. The Predators certainly do not carry the same profile as the Red Wings, but they too have found lots of quality talent beyond the 3rd round. Gabriel Bourque (5th round, 132nd Overall 2009), Craig Smith (4th round, 98th Overall 2009), Anders Lindback (7th round, 207th Overall 2008), Patric Hornqvist (7th round, 230th Overall 2005), Matt Hendricks (5th round, 131st Overall 2000), Martin Erat (7th round, 191st Overall 1999) and franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne (8th round, 258th Overall 2004). The Predators, a team always under its own salary cap need to make the late rounds count and they have. So what do the scouts of these teams seem to know that other teams don't?
Will J.C. Lipon be this year's big draft sleeper?
Its certainly something the rest of the league's teams would love to replicate. Did teams like Detroit and Nashville look for characteristics where they see how a player would fit in for them and hence why they seem to have more success than simply taking "the best player available" which is a cliche you hear over and over again on draft day. Will a player like J.C. Lipon, who had been passed over twice in previous draft prove to be a great late round steal? For two years I called on the Minnesota Wild to draft Nate Schmidt in a few mock draft articles. After being passed over in two drafts he became one of the most sought after free agents coming out of college. I wonder if the Wild had wished they spent a late round pick on the St. Cloud-native. So what players could be potential late-round sleepers this time around?
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For all of these articles I thought a long time about what I felt the team's organizational strengths and weaknesses were. Especially after limping into the playoffs with one of the best collections of talent in franchise history the examination wasn't easy. I really found myself conflicted over what I felt the Wild needed the most. I have my own personal preference, but I understand the team may think otherwise. So the biggest needs from an organization perspective for the Wild are the following 3 things.
1. The team needs a physical (i.e. mean) stay at home defenseman to make it more difficult for opposing teams in our zone and give our blueline a much needed edge to its game.
2. The team needs speedy forwards with decent finishing ability. I have been saying that for years, but in my opinion the team has still not addressed this problem and hopefully after this year's experience they will feel they cannot ignore it any longer.
3. The team needs another quality goaltending prospect to keep their pool of good young goaltending prospects deep. The team traded away Matt Hackett, but still has Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson but could use another quality puckstopper.
The Wild have the following picks in this year's draft.
I have looked at numerous websites and scouting publications to put together a Top 5 list of players that I think would fit the Wild's needs the best. So using information I have gathered from International Scouting Services, NHL Central Scouting, the Hockey News, and Hockey Prospect.com I hope to provide you a quality analysis. Between the 3 articles where I focused on defenseman, forwards and goaltenders respectively I've identified 15 players for the Wild to strongly consider when they go to make their first pick. But what about the later rounds? I have picked out 7 more players that I feel can be draft sleepers and late round steals if the Wild take the chance to select them. Let's begin.
1. RD, Mason Geertsen (Vancouver, WHL) Height: 6'3" Weight: 199lbs Shoots: Left
ISS rank: 109th The Hockey News' rank: 74th NHL Central Scouting's (NA) rank: 59th
2012-13 Stats: 73GP 2G 12A = 14pts 130 PIM's -28
Talent Analysis: Mason Geertsen is a no-nonsense physical stay at home defenseman who makes opponents take into account where he is on the ice, especially in the middle of the ice and near the crease. Geertsen keeps things very simple with the puck and does not have a lot of offensive tools to his game but he can make a good crisp first pass out of the zone consistently and he moves well. His plus and minus totals really are a reflection of the very weak Vancouver team he was traded too, but he was one of that squads few bright spots. Geertsen certainly benefitted from the increased opportunities he had with the Giants than he did with the star studded Edmonton Oil Kings. For an organization that could use more edge to its blueline, Geertsen would be a nice addition.
2. LW, Anton Slepyshev (Ufa, KHL) Height: 6'2" Weight: 194lbs Shoots: Right
ISS rank: 119th The Hockey News' rank: N/A NHL Central Scouting (Euro) rank: 20th
2012-13 Stats: 11GP 4G 2A = 6pts 2 PIM's +3
Talent Analysis: Slepyshev was the highest profile player last year to be passed over in the draft, but he has a lot of physical tools you want in any NHL player. He has good size, is a tremendous skater, has decent hands and finishing ability and he has a reasonable physical game too. The 'Russian Factor' is obviously a major reason GM's were scared to announce his name on draft day but his skillset could make for a big home run if you're willing to risk a later round pick on him. Slepyshev is not just a reckless hitting offensive minded forward, as he has a sound defensive game too and uses his frame to protect the puck effectively in the offensive zone. His style of play naturally gets underneath the skin of his opponents and does not mind mucking and grinding along the boards to dig out pucks. In my opinion there is a lot to like about this kid, who also gets praised for a solid work ethic.
3. RW, Nick Baptiste (Sudbury, OHL) Height: 6'1" Weight: 189lbs Shoots: Right
ISS rank: 48th The Hockey News' rank: 63rd NHL Central Scouting's (NA) rank: 61st
2012-13 Stats: 66GP 21G 27A = 48pts 44 PIM's -1
Talent Analysis: Blazing speed and a relentless motor is what the scouts consistently rave about this kid. After having a good 2nd half to the season Baptiste rose on the draft charts, going from 105th at the NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings to 61st. Baptiste's wheels are what get him noticed but he's also started to show he has some good finish as well. His defensive game is still a work in progress but he brings the effort necessary to develop this part of his game to make him a terrific two-way winger. He may be more of an instinctual player than others available in this draft, but his competitive drive and skillset make him an attractive later round selection.
4. C, Peter Quenneville (Dubuque, USHL) Height: 5'11" Weight: 183lbs Shoots: Right
ISS rank: 134th The Hockey News' rank: N/A NHL Central Scouting's (NA) rank: 130th
2012-13 Stats: 63GP 33G 37A = 70pts 18 PIM's +29
Talent Analysis: Like Slepyshev, Peter Quenneville was a player that was passed up in last year's draft. Quenneville has a skill that simply cannot be taught, that knack for being able to bury the biscuit. A deadly shooter who proved time after time he could beat goaltenders with his wicked release the Edmonton, Alberta-native is readying himself for his next challenge in NCAA hockey with Quinnipiac. Quenneville has great hockey sense of knowing where he needs to be on the ice to score and he's now utilizing that hockey IQ in the defensive zone where he demonstrated the knack for intercepting passes and working his way into passing and shooting lanes. While he certainly could stand to add bulk to his frame he has too many of the skills the Wild need to pass up on him in the later rounds if they have a chance to draft him.
5. LD, Mitchell Wheaton (Kelowna, WHL) Height: 6'4" Weight: 228lbs Shoots: Right
ISS rank: 66th The Hockey News' rank: 82nd NHL Central Scouting's (NA) rank: 69th
2012-13 Stats: 39GP 1G 7A = 8pts 27 PIM's +20
Talent Analysis: Mitchell Wheaton has an imposing frame, but has good mobility to go along with it. A shoulder injury limited the big blueliner to just 39 games but he had played well for an organization that has been good at cranking out quality NHL defenseman. He plays a simple, stay at home game and is never guilty of overhandling the puck. He has a good shot, but must speed up his ability to release it. He plays a physical style, but is not a dirty player. He still has a ways to go, but the potential and frame are there for an NHL team to hone and become a solid depth stay-at-home defenseman for years to come.
6. RW, Sven Andrighetto (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) Height: 5'10" Weight: 175lbs Shoots: Left
ISS rank: 147th The Hockey News' rank: 76th NHL Central Scouting's (NA) rank: N/A
2012-13 Stats: 53GP 31G 67A = 98pts 45 PIM's +25
Talent Analysis: On a team that was all about offense, this Swiss-born player was the star for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Andgrighetto is a smaller player who possesses outstanding quickness and a scorers touch. He had a great performance at the World Junior Championships, and along with his strong QMJHL season has proven he perhaps should have have been passed over in last year's draft. He can handle the puck as if it was on a string and make plays at high speed. Andrighetto is very elusive and while you may think that sounds like a perimeter player you'd be wrong. He loves to crash the crease and go to the tough areas of the ice to score and dig out pucks. While he certainly would have to work on his defensive game as well as adding strength to his smallish-frame, he's a dynamic offensive talent, with outstanding speed and quickness plus finishing ability. Scouts noted how whenever he was on the ice he always seemed to make his teammates look better which sounds like the kind of player the Wild could use.
7. C, Viktor Crus-Rydberg (Lingkopings Jr., Swe-Jr.) Height: 5'11" Weight: 190lbs Shoots: Right
ISS rank: 76th The Hockey News' rank: 91st NHL Central Scouting (Euro) rank: 14th
2012-13 Stats: 35GP 12G 23A = 35pts 24 PIM's +10
Talent Analysis: Crus-Rydberg is a player who can play a skilled offensive game but be defensively responsible. The talented centerman sounds a lot like a poor-man's Johan Larsson who is comfortable and capable on the power play as he is on the penalty kill. Like Larsson, he combines solid defensive play with an uncanny ability to light the lamp when his team needs a goal. He is a fluid skater and has no real flaws in his game. He battles each and every shift and I think he's the kind of player any team can use let alone the Wild.