Remember this moment Wild fans? I think just about any kid can relate to the experience, the schoolyard where a group of kids get together for a pickup game and they select teams. Some kids feel the ego boost of being selected 1st while others wait and wait with the hope of avoiding being picked last. Same goes for the first round of any draft. With so much energy, speculation and planning that swirls primarily about the first 30 players selected and that’s true of just about major professional team sport that you have a tendency to almost forget that there are 6 more rounds after it. Yet that makes sense that people spend so much time thinking about the 1st round since those players you select in the 1st round have the best chance at becoming a successful NHL’er someday. The endless speculation and opining about who will be picked will finally be rendered mostly moot by the events that will unfold. I know I will likely be wrong in that process. This draft especially has the potential to be as eventful for trades as it does the players being selected.
One thing I think we’ll hear a lot during this first round is the phrase from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, “We have a trade to announce” which is always greeted by anxious cheer just as it was when he announced the trade for Pavol Demitra back in 2006. The trades will no doubt add an extra layer of excitement and anticipation for fans across the league hoping their team makes a move. Experts and people like myself have been speculating on the team’s needs for some time. As I still see it, here are the team’s biggest 3 needs.
1. The Wild need a fast, goal-scoring forward to be a major contributor on its top 6. The team has tried the free agent route as well as trades here to limited success, now its time the team select a player to be that guy. The team played its best hockey by utilizing its speed and as an organization they really lack players who are noted for their ability to finish their chances.
2. The Wild need to draft a blue-chip goaltending prospect to really challenge for that starting role in the future. No offense to Darcy Kuemper, Johan Gustafsson or even Ilya Bryzgalov but the situation with Josh Harding’s battle with Multiple Sclerosis and Niklas Backstrom‘s aging body make it necessary for the team to seriously address its goaltending depth. There are notable free agent goalies available though.
3. The Wild need to draft a big, mean defenseman who can punish opponents with a strong, physical game. Watching the Chicago series, the Wild started off pretty well because the team was playing a physical brand of hockey and taking every opportunity to hit the Blackhawks. Yet as the Wild got beat up, their lack of physical defenseman started to become a problem as Chicago’s bigger forwards could camp out in front of the Wild crease without much difficulty because the team’s defense simply lacked the size and snarl to move them out of the way. The Wild have to be tired of being labeled as ‘soft’ and drafting some ornery, big defenseman can help remove that label to a certain degree.
So what happened on Friday night?
1st Round (18th Overall)
RW – Alex Tuch (USNDT, USHL)
Height: 6’3.5″ Weight: 213lbs Shoots: Right
2013-14 Stats: 61GP 29G 35A = 64pts 72 PIM’s
ISS: 14th Central Scouting: 12th (NA) The Hockey News: 17th
Talent Analysis: Tuch (pronounced “Tuck”) is a classic power forward, with the big body, strength to be a force in and around the crease. He was the big bodied finisher for the United States’ National Development Program team playing on a line along with supreme playmaker Sonny Milano and top-rated 2015 eligible center Jack Eichel where they combined to create a near perfect nightmare for their opponents. The Boston College-commit moves well for a player of his size, and while his first step could use some work he can motor pretty well around the ice. Tuch uses his strength to muscle opposing skaters off the puck and he plays a physical brand of hockey each night. He has great hands around the net, but he also has a very powerful and heavy shot when given the opportunity to let it loose. Tuch was rated by ISS as the toughest player available in this year’s draft which no doubt will come in handy against the plethora of big bodied forwards to be found in the always tough Western Conference. He did have a disappointing performance at the most recent U-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, but he’s the kind of guy who can be a beast near the blue paint that can use his big frame to not only scree goaltenders but possesses the deft hands to redirect shots effectively as well. Tuch is ok defensively, but is best suited as a top 6 forward. If you want a little on Tuch’s draft trajectory, he did enjoy a nice rise in the NHL Central Scouting rankings going from 21st in their mid-term assessment to 12th in their final rankings.
Bottom Line: Tuch is a power forward that can readily fit into the top 6, and the fact he’s a right handed shot is another big bonus for the Wild who lack forwards who can shoot the puck from that side of the ice. He might be 2-3 years away from being an impact player with the Wild, but he gives Minnesota a legit power forward option in the future. Whether he’ll be able to also create some scoring opportunities on his own will be a question he’ll answer over the next few years. Its good he’s going to a quality college program (Boston College) to develop those skills.
My Thoughts: I don’t hate this pick, since his finishing ability is such that it addresses the need for a lack of finishers in the team’s prospect pool. However, I was hoping the team would add a faster player to the mix since I feels the team is at its best when its playing more of speed-driven game. I think they might regret not taking Robby Fabbri and or Jared McCann when he was available at 18th. Fabbri is a very effective scorer, is tenacious on the puck and he can flat out fly too. McCann was ISS’s top rated skater available and he combined offensive skills with a defensively responsible game which fits the Wild perfectly. Tuch to me is more one-dimensional, more of a top 6 or bust kind of guy. I think speed and scoring can help make the Wild far more dangerous and difficult to play against while Tuch will have the benefit of working with some skilled playmakers (Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, etc) I think he only slows the team down overall and that makes Minnesota a bit easier to play even if he might physically overpower opponents from time to time. The Wild have drafted power forwards in the draft before; James Sheppard and Colten Gillies and how did that turn out? I don’t hate this pick completely, but I think the clearly valued size and strength over speed, true finishing ability and creativity. I thought the Wild were ready to really embrace the high-end skill Fabbri, McCann, Jakub Vrana (yes, Vrana was gone by the time we made our selection but I thought he was more in line with the direction I saw best fit the team) could’ve provided, but I am guessing after their experience against Chicago where they were a bit overpowered they felt the need to sign more of a power forward. No pun intended, but the Wild have a sizeable collection of bigger forwards in its prospect pool now. Tyler Graovac (6’5″), Kurtis Gabriel (6’2″), Mario Lucia (6’2″), and Adam Gilmour (6’3″) which now Tuch adds to this fold, but perhaps the team might be kicking themselves for passing on adding more speed and arguably more skill at #18.
Other Draft Thoughts
The trades certainly did not wait for the start of the draft to begin. The Wild’s old Northwest Division nemesis, the Vancouver Canucks did not waste any time reshaping themselves by dealing away Ryan Kesler to the Ducks and Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning in two pre-draft deals. The Ducks become rather scary with Kesler joining an already super potent duo in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The Ducks sent Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino to the Canucks to make up for that loss along with a 2nd round pick which will help offset the loss of Garrison. The Nashville Predators then surprised some by dealing goal-mouth sniper Patric Hornqvist and pesky forward Nick Spaling for James Neal. So the Western Conference arms race is in full swing. You have to wonder if moves like this will only encourage the Wild to try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ by making some upgrades of their own.
Lastly, and this one I have to admit made me laugh in the car as I was driving home listening to the final few picks of the draft on NHL Home Ice radio on XM. The New York Islanders traded up to select Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th Overall pick. I was joking with my wife on the way down to the Twin Cities that Ho-Sang would be an ‘ideal’ pick for the dysfunctional Islanders who might take a chance he’ll be a home run and not worry about the possible damage he could do to the locker room with an inflated ego. I am sure Ho-Sang believes the Islanders drafted the best player in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now it will be up to him to prove it. That sound you just heard was probably Islanders’ captain pulling a Zach LaVine and saying “F%ck me” at Ho-Sang’s selection.
Just as a note to my readers, I will be making my way up to Canada on a family vacation tomorrow so I will not have complete coverage of the rest of the Wild’s selections until I arrive later tomorrow evening. I will do my best to provide as much depth as I can to make up for my tardiness in posting it.