Olympic break allows a moment to really focus on the Wild’s young prospects

Zack Phillips

The Olympics have provided plenty of excitement so far for fans all across the State of Hockey.  Whether its former Warroad Warriors star T.J. Oshie putting on a clinic in a shootout to defeat Russia in perhaps the biggest showdown between the two nations since 1980 'Miracle on Ice' game in Lake Placid.  Or how about the performance of the women's team which has a number of players from the State of Hockey or having played at the University of Minnesota.  With many of these Olympic hockey games being played in the early morning thanks to the wonderful (sarcasm) time difference, it gives fans an opportunity to focus on some of the other levels of hockey.  It might be high school hockey as the girls teams around the state punch their tickets to the State Tournament, whereas the boys are just about to begin the section playoffs.  There is American League Hockey, college hockey not to mention youth hockey in the midst of their playoffs as well.  

Mathew Dumba

In my gameday articles, I regularly provide updates on the Iowa Wild as well as other Wild prospects but I figured I'd take an opportunity during the lull in the NHL season to talk a bit more expansively on the franchise's pool of young talent.  If we've learned anything about the Minnesota Wild through the first 2/3rds of the 2013-14 season is that its young players have been a huge source of strength and have kept the team in the playoff picture as injuries piled up during December and January.  So here is a player by player breakdown of the Wild's prospect pool.  

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Dylan Labbe

D – Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ Labbe is doing his best while playing on one of the bottom feeders of the QMJHL.  Shawinigan won the Memorial Cup two seasons ago, so now they're paying the price for that memorable run to major junior hockey's ultimate prize.  Labbe is an offensively inclined defenseman who possesses a heavy shot and can be very dangerous on the power play.  The 6'2" left-hand shooting defenseman has 3 of his eight goals on the man advantage and he is nearing his career high in points.  He's currently the 5th leading scorer for the Cataractes.  He does need to work on being more responsible in his own end and while some may point to the fact he's -29 as evidence of this; most of that is a side effect of being on a team that regularly gets beat by 3 or 4 goals per game.  Labbe isn't afraid to shoot the puck as he's 2nd on the Cataractes in shots on goal with a 117 to his credit.  He's a defenseman with some offensive upside and it would be interesting to see how he'd do on a better team.  I think he's likely going to spend the next two seasons in the 'Q' before turning where we can see what his chances are at the next level.  (4th round, 107th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats:  54GP  8G 16A = 24pts  16 PIM's  -29

Kurtis Gabriel

RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The rugged power forward is a fitness fanatic who wirks out with Gary Roberts in the offseason and the superior strength and outstanding effort was a big reason he was selected to be his team's alternate captain.  Gabriel will likely never be a big scorer at the next level but he will be a relentless wrecking ball for the 4th line.  The Newmarket, Ontario-native will likely reach his development plateau sooner than some of the other Wild prospects and will likely get his start in Iowa as early as this spring depending on how far the Attack go in the playoffs.  Gabriel certainly has the attitude to succeed, the question is effort and desire enough to overcome the fact he's not particularly skilled.  (3rd round, 81st Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats: 47GP  10G  25A = 35pts  79 PIM's  +7

John Draeger

D – John Draeger (Michigan State, Big 10) ~ The former Shattuck-St. Mary's standout is playing on Michigan State's top pairing along side senior Jake Chelios.  Draeger battled a lower body injury during the 1st half of the season and the Spartans struggled at both ends of the ice.  Michigan State has improved a little but they still sit in 5th out of the six-team Big 10 Conference.  Draeger is a mobile stay at home defenseman with little offensive potential.  The sophomore is reasonably physical but could stand to play with more of an edge.  Draeger will most likely play out his remaining two college seasons and then the Wild will know if they have a player that can contribute or being asset that can help out its minor league affiliates.  (3rd Round, 68th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats:  17GP  0G 6A = 6pts   12 PIM's

Nolan DeJong

D – Nolan De Jong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ It has been a solid debut for the Freshman from British Columbia.  DeJong normally plays on the Wolverines' 2nd or 3rd defensive pair.  DeJong is a two way defenseman with a limited offensive upside.  He has good lateral agility that makes him an ideal shutdown defenseman and can make a good first pass out of the zone that coaches' covet.  The Wolverines should be good enough to make into the NCAA tournament where DeJong should get some quality minutes in some high pressure games.  The Wolverines are going to be graduating a few of their defenseman which should mean DeJong will play a bigger role next season.  I think DeJong is at least a 3-4 year project for the Wild.  (7th Round, 197th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats: 24GP  0G 5A = 5pts  12 PIM's

Anthony Hamburg

F – Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ The Junior has had a quiet season with R.I.T. in the Atlantic Hockey Conference.  Hamburg has typically been a Friday night scratch and then utilized on Saturday where he usually centers the 4th line.  He has had the opportunity to play on the Tigers' 2nd line at wing on a few occasions this season.  R.I.T. has been offensively challenged much of the season and they currently sit in 10th place (out of 12 teams) in the Atlantic.  Hamburg prides himself on being a gritty forward whose skillset is ideally suited to playing on the 3rd or 4th lines.  He is the only NHL drafted player R.I.T. has.  I know this might invite some serious criticism, but I think barring some unforseen outburst Hamburg's NHL prospects are pretty slim.  (7th Round, 193rd Overall in 2009)

2013-14 Stats: 22GP  2G 0A = 2pts  4 PIM's

Mathew Dumba

D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ Dumba had a rough World Junior Championships with a Team Canada entry that failed to earn a medal.  The Calgary, Alberta-native looked rusty like one may expect from a player who was a healthy scratch as often as he was with the Wild.  The lack of playing time was not ideal for Dumba, and because of his age options available either meant he was going to return to junior or probably be a regular healthy scratch in Minnesota.  The Wild opted to loan him to Portland who had acquired his rights from Red Deer.  Initially Dumba started off red hot, chipping in a few multipoint games, but then the offense dried up.  The Winterhawks were already a very good team before Dumba arrived.  Dumba possesses tremendous skill, but we haven't really seen the offensive part of his game nearly as much as we did before we drafted him.  I know he had to work on his defensive game but did you really draft him to be a stay-at-home defenseman?  He looks like a player who is trying to re-invent his game because of what he percieves are the team's wants.  I think the Wild want him to play the high risk, high reward game and let the rest of their blueline be the responsible one.  Hopefully being in Portland will give Dumba a long playoff run; maybe even one that takes him to the Memorial Cup.  He could be with the Wild as early as next season, but unless they're entirely satisfied with his game I suggest he learns the professional ropes in Iowa first.  Will the Wild be patient enough to wait?  (1st Round, 7th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats: 14GP  2G 9A = 11pts  15 PIM's  +19

Alexandre Belanger

G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ If you like the game of Adam Wilcox or Alex Stalock I think you'd like the game of his hybrid style goaltender.  Like the aforementioned South St. Paul-raised goaltenders, Belanger plays an athletic style that is part old school stand up as well as more traditional butterfly.  Rouyn-Noranda has a high octane offense and defense is secondary meaning Belanger finds himself in odd-man chances a lot more than other goaltenders in the 'Q'.  Belanger carries the goaltending load for the Huskies and manages to make enough saves to earn wins even though that often means facing 30+ shots per game.  The Sherbrooke, Quebec-native is 5th in the QMJHL in wins and it will interesting to see how far he can help carry them in the playoffs.  I think he's an interesting project for the Wild, especially since Minnesota embraces a style of play more predicated on defending than what he's played under at Rouyn-Noranda.  (7th Round, 200th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats:  44GP  (26W-14L-2OTL-1SOL)  3.18GAA  .883%SP  1SO

Louie Nanne

F – Louie Nanne (Sioux Falls, USHL) ~ I think the best way to describe Loie Nanne's season has been tense and strained.  He started off the season hurt and thus he did not make the University of Minnesota squad which prompted him to de-commit.  Pretty bold move from the grandson of a Minnesota hockey legend.  Nanne would go and play for Sioux Falls of the USHL as well as committing to play for R.P.I. next year.  Sioux Falls is currently in 4th place in the Western Conference, but Nanne hasn't managed to contribute much.  In fact he was goal less through his first 17 games with the Stampede before finally lighting the lamp on Feb. 7th.  Unless Nanne starts producing more offense soon then I think you have to question how viable a prospect he is.   On the bright side, he's a long term project so there is no rush to see him turn his game around but it would nice to see some signs of positivity in his game before the season is over.  (7th Round, 188th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats: 23GP  2G 3A = 5pts  8 PIM's  -8

Adam Gilmour

F – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ Gilmour started the season playing on Boston College's top line with Bill Arnold and Johnny "Hockey" Gaudreau.  However he'd then drop down to center the Eagles' 4th line where he has remained the rest of the season.  Gilmour has equated himself well, demonstrating clutch scoring ability as he's tallied 3 game winning goals out of his six total, including the winner against arch rival Boston University.  Gilmour combines size and speed, at 6'3", 193lbs and his right handed shot is another reason for fans to really want to keep an eye on him.  I think Gilmour has at least two more college seasons ahead of him and it will be interesting to see how well as he does as those aforementioned teammates move on to the pros.  (4th Round, 98th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats: 31GP  6G 9A = 15pts  10 PIM's

Carson Soucy

D – Carson Soucy (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ Carson Soucy is having an eventful freshman season with the UMD Bulldogs.  Playing on UMD's top defensive pairing with Andy Welinsky is a huge nod of confidence by Bulldogs bench boss Scott Sandelin and Wild fans should consider that a pretty nice endorsement.  UMD is sitting in 5th in the NCHC where Soucy plays the role of a big, stay-at-home blueliner.  He could stand to improve his quickness and add a bit more muscle to his 6'4" frame, but he is playing respectable hockey against the oppositions top lines game after game.  Soucy doesn't mind throwing his body around and while he'll never be a big point producer he kind of reminds me of Willie Mitchell.  I think Soucy plays at least another 2 seasons with UMD and only if he's really dominating would you see him go pro early.  Wild fans have wanted Minnesota to draft or develop a big, mean defenseman and Soucy might just be that guy.  (5th Round, 137th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats: 26GP  0G 5A = 5pts  52 PIM's

Nick Seeler

D – Nick Seeler (Nebraska-Omaha, NCHC) ~ As a freshman, Seeler struggled to get ice time last season, being a scratch for about half of Nebraska-Omaha's games.  This season he's been a regular fixture on the 2nd defensive pairing for the Mavericks.  The Mavericks have been a bit inconsistent this season, but still sit in 3rd in the NCHC.  Seeler has a fiesty side that has made him no stranger to the penalty box, when he'd rather be on the scoresheet for points.  The former Eden Prairie star is 3rd amongst Mavericks defenseman in scoring and logs most of his minutes with Anaheim draft pick Jaycob Megna.  Seeler skates well and reasonable puck handler / mover but it still hasn't quite translated to big points yet.  I think Seeler will finish out his next two seasons in Nebraska-Omaha and then the Wild can evaluate just how ready he is to contribute at the professional level.  Next year should be a huge year for Seeler otherwise you have to wonder whether Minnesota struck out once again by selecting a local kid.  (5th Round, 131st Overall in 2011)

2013-14 Stats: 28GP  4G 5A = 9pts  49 PIM's

Gustav Olofsson

D – Gustav Olofsson (Colorado College, NCHC) ~ The Wild's top pick from 2013 has had an interesting season so far.  It started ot with a bang as he blasted home a goal in his first collegiate game.  After that it got a bit rocky, as his team would suffer loss after loss.  Olofsson would get an "upper body" injury that would keep him out for most of December but he would play for Sweden at the World Junior Championships.  The spindly defenseman had a goal and 5 points in 7 games played.  Olofsson would return to Colorado College despite rumors that he may defect to play junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks who have his junior rights.  Olofsson's presence hasn't helped the Tigers too much who sit in 7th place in the NCHC.  The Boras, Sweden-native has intriguing two way ability and it will be interesting if he can catch fire later in his freshman season.  (2nd round, 46th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats:  22GP  4G 3A = 7pts  8 PIM's

Mario Lucia

LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ Lucia is the Wild's most intriguing skilled forward that has yet to turn pro as he's been having a solid sophomore season.  At nearly 6'3", he uses his lanky frame to protect the puck and to dangle around defenders.  The former Wayzata star leads the Fighting Irish in goals and is 2nd on the team in points.  7 out of his 15 goals have come on the man advantage.  He has been spending a lot on what would be Notre Dame's 3rd line.  He still has to work on his defensive game, and I think he would be well-served to work on his first few stride quickness which will help him create space from defenders.  I think he best projects as a Top 6 forward.  Lucia is a bright spot for a team that has had its share of stumbles since joining Hockey East.  I think Lucia will end up playing one more season with Notre Dame and then turn pro.  I think he's at least two years away.  (2nd Round, 60th Overall in 2011)

2013-14 Stats: 31GP  15G 12A = 27pts  10 PIM's

Steve Michalek

G – Steve Michalek (Havard, ECAC) ~ The Junior has had some major ups and downs since the Wild drafted him out high school back in 2011.  He initally took on the starting role during his freshman year at Harvard.  Then everything got rocky in his sophomore year as he was busted as part of a cheating scandal where he was suspended for the rest of the college hockey season.  He would try to keep his game sharp in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.  Michalek returned to Harvard and has struggled to get starts, but he has provided quality minutes for the Crimson.  The Hartford, Connecticut-native is very efficient in his movement from post to post and has a terrific glove too.  Rebound control has been significantly improved from a year ago and continues to be a work in progress.  If Michalek can finish his collegiate-career with solid play and free of anymore incidents to make one question his character he still should be considered an intersting goaltending prospect.  (6th Round, 161st Overall in 2011)

2013-14 Stats:  14GP (4W-5L-2T)  2.28GAA  .927%SP  2SO

Daniel Gunnarsson

D – Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, SHL) ~ The lanky defenseman is helping Lulea have another strong season.  Gunnarsson is a two way defenseman who still hasn't really broken out offensively despite possessing some impressive puck skills.  He has a decent shot and I think he has the skill to be dangerous on the power play pinching on the back door.  The 6'4" blueliner is having his 2nd best season statistically in Sweden's top league.  He is very mobile, but he is not a physical player.  I would like to see how well he does in North America and will be interesting to see if the Wild can get Gunnarsson to agree to an apprenticeship in Iowa.  (5th Round, 128th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats: 45GP  2G 11A = 13pts  10 PIM's  Even

Cristoph Bertschy

F – Christoph Bertschy (SC Bern, NLA) ~ He is only 19 years old but he is in his 3rd season playing in Swizerland's top league which is a testament to his talents.  Bertschy is a fiesty but skilled forward who is close to having his best season he's had in the Swiss National League.   Right now, he's already at his 2nd best performance since 2011-12 when he had 8G 8A in 31 games.   SC Bern is currently out of the playoff window in the national league and they are not a high octane team offensively and would no doubt appreciate Bertschy helping them light the lamp a bit more frequently.  (6th Round, 158th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats: 33GP  6G 6A = 12pts  10 PIM's  -9

Raphael Bussieres

RW – Raphael Bussieres (Iowa, AHL) ~ It has been an interesting foray into professional hockey for Raphael Bussieres.  Bussieres plays a gritty two-way game with a splash of skill that can suddenly appear to manifest itself for a big play.  The former Baie-Comeau star plays a game kind of reminiscent of Cal Clutterbuck.  He loves to dish out hits and his hustle endears himself to fans.  He hasn't put up a lot of points but he does possess a laser of a shot, but I'm sure officials wish he would take more chances to use it.  Bussieres has good speed and solid frame that make him ideal bottom-6 forward.  I think he's 2 years away from being ready to really challenge for a spot on the team.  (2nd Round, 46th Overall in 2012)

2013-14 Stats:  39GP  4G 12A = 16pts  37 PIM's  -3

Tyler Graovac

C – Tyler Graovac (Iowa, AHL) ~  It has been a defininte period of adjustment for one of the top scoring forwards in the OHL last year.  Graovac, a big bodied power forward has been used on Iowa's Top 6.  The Brampton, Ontario-native s a great stick handler who uses his big frame to protect the puck well as he likes to move in close for scoring chances.  He still needs to add strength to his 6'4", 205lbs-frame.  His defensive game as well as his quickness could use some work as well.  What you have to keep in mind when looking at Graovac is that it was only last season that he was used in a go-to offensive role.  I think he is still a long-term project, who is likely one or two seasons from having a real shot to be in the mix for a spot on the big club.  (7th Round, 191st Overall in 2011)

2013-14 Stats:  36GP  6G 5A = 11pts  20 PIM's  -9

Erik Haula

C – Erik Haula (Iowa, AHL) ~ I have to admit I felt a bit odd putting Erik Haula into this article.  Haula has impressed fans, coaches and team brass with his outstanding hustle and versatility with his solid play on Minnesota's 4th line.  With the break, Haula returned to play for Iowa.  Haula went from a 4th liner in Minnesota to 1st liner with Iowa.  Haula's arrival has been pretty profound so far as he's had 3 goals and 3 assists in 2 games.  I think Haula is a very intriguing prospect because of his ability to play just about anywhere.  He has speed, great skill and he's defensibly responsible.  One place I hope the big club gives him a try, is on the power play.  With Iowa, 5 of his 12 goals have come on the man advantage.  I think Haula has great potential and his ability to play so many roles makes his prospects for being able to stay with the Wild that much better.  (7th Round, 182nd Overall in 2009)

2013-14 Stats:  27GP  12G 12A = 24pts  12 PIM's  +2  

Johan Gustafsson

G – Johan Gustafsson (Iowa, AHL) ~ Gustafsson arrived with some glowing credentials out of Sweden's top professional league where he was an absolute wall for Lulea.  After earning a shutout in his North American professional debut, the results have been mixed so far.  The injuries and medical issues with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding respectively has meant Gustafsson has been given the lion's share of starts with Iowa.  Gustafsson at times can seem impenetrable, but he's also been known to give up a soft goal or two and in close games that has cost the Wild some games this season.  His glove is excellent, his movement in his crease is efficient, and his rebound is good but will have to be even better if he wants to be an effective NHL'er.  I think its good that he's getting a lof of work with Iowa this season and that way he can get used to playing the angles on smaller North American rinks.  I still think he's at least a full season away before he can realistically challenge for a spot between the pipes for the Wild.  (6th Round, 159th Overall in 2010)

2013-14 Stats:  23GP  (8W-11L-2OTL)  3.10GAA  .903%SP  1SO

Zack Phillips

C – Zack Phillips (Iowa, AHL) ~ It has been a slow and steady start to the professional game for Zack Phillips.  In major junior, Phillips was a scoring machine with the St. John Sea Dogs.  That has not translated at the professional level as Phillips has only managed a rather modest level of offensive production.  While Phillips still has tremendous hands which he can use to dangle around defenders and distribute the puck effectively his skating still remains a major concern.   3 of Phillips goals have come on the power play and while he has a tendency to score in the clutch for Iowa, but you'd expect him to be more of an offensive leader considering the lack of offensively gifted players on the Wild's AHL affiliate.  I would say his progress has been slow and unless he's able to make some significant improvement to his skating then I think he'd be hard pressed to make the Wild as currently he seems to be a Top 6 or bust kind of player.  (1st Round, 28th Overall in 2011)

2013-14 Stats:  49GP  9G 14A = 23pts  10 PIM's  -12 

Brett Bulmer

RW – Brett Bulmer (Iowa, AHL) ~  It has been another frustrating season wracked with another severe injury.  This time its a knee injury which derailed what looked like a promising start to the season.  Bulmer was drafted to be that big bodied wrecking ball that teams love to have on their 3rd line but Bulmer has shown he he's not just a one-dimensional hitting machine.  He has decent hands and only until this weekend he was leading the Iowa Wild in goals scored this season.  3 of his 10 goals this season came on the power play which is a testament to his versatility.  However its tough to really know what the Wild have in Bulmer just yet because he hasn't been able to stay healthy for the course of an entire season since he's turned pro.  He still has great potential, but there are precious few spots for him to realisitically challenge for.  The window of opportunity for Bulmer is closing and while the Wild like Bulmer's game you wonder if he has the durability to be that physical force if he's been unable to play full seasons at the AHL level.  (2nd Round, 39th Overall in 2010)

2013-14 Stats:  25GP  10G 5A = 15pts  24 PIM's  -3

Avery Peterson

F – Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS) ~  It has been an incredible senior season thus far for Avery Peterson as he tries to lead his team through the minefield that is Section 7AA.  Peterson is a skilled power forward who has made strides to improve his skating since he was drafted last summer.  He has that coveted combination strength on his skates and soft hands that are equally adept at setting up linemates as they were at finishing in and around the net.  The 6'3" forward comitted to play college hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha late last summer.  The future Maverick has 9 power play goals out of the 35 he's scored this season.  Defensively, Peterson is ok but will have to improve that part of his game in order to earn prime minutes at the next level.  According to FollowthePuck.com, Peterson is their favorite to win the coveted Mr. Hockey Award given to the state's best High School player.  Peterson obviously a long-term project for the Wild but one that is showing promise so far.  (6th Round, 167th Overall in 2013)

2013-14 Stats:  25GP  35G 30A = 65pts  8 PIM's  +2

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

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