When the Montreal Canadiens were rolling in their Original Six days, they did so on the strength of a lot of homegrown talent from the province of Quebec. Decades later, you would think the expansion Minnesota Wild would have followed that template in stocking its shelves.
Not so much.
In fact, in the past three drafts, Minnesota has selected just one native son – center Chris Hickey of St. Paul, taken with the Wild’s final pick in 2006, 192nd overall. And the amount of Minnesotans on the roster right now? Zero.
Perhaps a GM change can reverse this trend, because otherwise the Wild is losing out on a natural advantage.
One name being floated around for Doug Risebrough’s old job is player agent Neil Sheehy, who grew up in International Falls, Minn., and boasts a client-roster heavy on NHLers from the Gopher State.
Now don’t expect Sheehy to bring Zach Parise, Kyle Okposo or Matt Niskanen along with him if he gets the job, but considering the young talent Sheehy has mined (add Jack Hillen, Chris Porter and Ryan Carter to that list, too) already, it’s not hard to see what top-end talent has been untapped as of yet by the Wild.
Case in point: the 2008 draft, where the Wild took Quebec-born defender Marco Scandella with the 55th selection. The next pick? Edina, Minn., speedster Danny Kristo, who played for Team USA in this year’s world juniors. If the Wild was drafting by position, they could have gone for Eastview High’s Corey Fienhage, who fell to Buffalo in the third round (81st overall) and was the exact same size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) as Scandella when the two were selected.
In the first round, Minnesota was skunked by Anaheim when the Ducks took Minnetonka defenseman Jake Gardiner before the Wild had a shot, but it wouldn’t have been a stretch to go for Roseau blueliner Aaron Ness instead of Tyler Cuma of the Ottawa 67’s. Instead, Ness went to the Isles early in the second round.
Perhaps the Wild brass felt a little snakebitten when its 2004 first-rounder, A.J. Thelen, didn’t pan out. Drafted 12th overall and ahead of players such as Drew Stafford (Wisconsin born and a Sheehy client), Alexander Radulov and Travis Zajac, Thelen was a homegrown golden boy who crashed out, getting jettisoned from the Michigan State Spartans and eventually ending up unsigned by the Wild and playing in the ECHL.
But that was merely one bad situation.
Heading into this summer’s draft, Minnesota holds the 12th position and will have several options to keep things local. The most obvious is University of Minnesota star Jordan Schroeder, a skilled and fearless undersized right winger. The Wild could also trade down and select Eden Prairie defenseman and reigning state Mr. Hockey winner Nick Leddy, or pray he slides to the second round. Other second-round options include bullish power forward Zach Budish or scoring machine Ben Hanowski; both Minnesota high schoolers.
Sheehy will have to prove himself in the interview process, but this year’s new agents-turned-GMs shouldn’t dissuade Minnesota: While Brian Lawton struggled in Tampa, Mike Gillis flourished in Vancouver.
If there’s a better candidate, of course the Wild should choose that person. But if you need a tiebreaker, why not go with the guy who grew up there and knows what Minnesota hockey is all about?
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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