The exciting and sometimes infuriating reality of the draft is how different teams view the same players. It’s common to hear a GM say “we didn’t expect him to be available when we picked,” and sometimes it’s true, but sometimes it’s just bluster. The other side of the coin is that some players are highly coveted by multiple teams, but only one can ultimately select him. One great example came in 2001, when Minnesota was picking right before Montreal.
Tom Lynn, who was the assistant GM of the Wild at the time and is now a player agent/family advisor, has penned a very fun book entitled “How to Bake an NHL Franchise From Scratch: The First Era of the Minnesota Wild.” Lynn was part of the team from the very start and his book has a lot of cool insider stories.
For instance, leading up to the 2001 draft, the Wild had a bullseye centered on center Mikko Koivu, third on the team’s secret list (This was the Ilya Kovalchuk/Jason Spezza draft). But the Wild picked sixth and there was a rumor that Montreal, which had the seventh selection, would trade up if the Habs thought someone ahead of them would take Saku Koivu’s big little brother.
The subterfuge began before the draft, with Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough trying to throw off competitors by talking to them and the press about a different type of player:
“Doug even went so far as to discuss at length how important goaltending was to the long-term success of the franchise,” Lynn wrote. “Only a few of us knew the real plan.”
Given that Pascal Leclaire and Dan Blackburn were hot prospects at the time, this was a credible smokescreen.
After Kovalchuk and Spezza went, Lynn’s theory about Tampa Bay GM Rick Dudley going with a skill guy paid off, as the Lightning selected Alexander Svitov. Florida took Stephen Weiss next and that’s when things got real for the Wild. As Lynn explains:
“The team we always felt was most likely to take Koivu was Anaheim, picking just before the Wild. I stared straight at my computer screen, trying not to move a muscle…As the Florida group made its way down to the podium, Anaheim GM Pierre Gauthier smiled and turned to Doug and said ‘It’s going to be the little guy.’ “
The Ducks took Stanislav Chistov. That gave Minnesota Koivu, much to the franchise’s delight.
“The Montreal Canadiens staff next to us erupted,” Lynn wrote. “Fists slammed the table, French curse words were mumbled and glares were exchanged. The Wild’s ruse had worked and the Montreal staff was none too happy about it.”
The Habs ended up with defenseman Mike Komisarek instead and the big American did have some pretty good seasons with Montreal before leaving for Toronto. But a Koivu Brothers tag-team would have been pretty hot.
As it turns out, the Ducks can both giveth and taketh away. Even though Anaheim cleared the path for Koivu to Minnesota, the Ducks once again had the pick directly in front of Minnesota in 2003, where the Wild ended up taking Brent Burns, a bit of a wild card pick at the time that paid off. The player Minnesota was hoping would slide one more spot to them?