The upgrading of the Minnesota Wild continued on Thursday with the announcement that Judd Brackett had been hired as the franchise's new director of amateur scouting. Brackett, of course, had previously filled that role with the Vancouver Canucks and done an enviable job. But the organization couldn't get on the same page and he recently became a free agent.
Minnesota's future has a lot of upside and the Wild is still a team in transition. Bill Guerin is the new GM and the hockey world awaits the arrival of highly-coveted prospect Kirill Kaprizov from Russia.
In Brackett, Minnesota gets another highly-touted asset, albeit one whose skills are all about stickhandling around a draft board, not the actual ice itself. So what does the hiring mean for the Wild?
To begin with, Minnesota needs more security down the middle for the future. Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu are nearing the ends of their NHL careers and most of Minnesota's best future forwards are left wingers, from Kaprizov to Adam Beckman, Matthew Boldy and Vladimir Firstov.
The organization's best future pivot option right now is Alexander Khovanov, who just finished a sizzling junior career with QMJHL Moncton, albeit one interrupted by both hepatitis and a benign bone tumor on his leg. Khovanov will play for Ak Bars in the KHL next season to get reps, but his combination of skill and passion is alluring. Having said that, it wasn't long ago some of us assumed Joel Eriksson-Ek and Luke Kunin would be battling for top-six center duty in Minnesota and that hasn't come to pass.
So an option besides Khovanov is only prudent. While we don't know when the Wild will pick in the 2020 draft yet, it's either first overall (in which case they'll take left winger Alexis Lafreniere because he's the best player in the class by far) or outside the top 10. There will likely be some center prospects in that range (anyone from Anton Lundell and Dylan Holloway to undersized talents such as Mavrik Bourque and Seth Jarvis), but it will be up to Brackett and his new scouting staff to determine if any of them are the best course of action. Obviously it wouldn't be fair to mandate that Brackett fix this need right away, but it will certainly be on the radar. And if anyone can pick the right kid for the job, it's Brackett.
What is worth noting is that Brackett was never afraid of slight players during his Vancouver days. The question mark surrounding Elias Pettersson in his draft year was his skinny frame, but clearly 'Petey' has thrived in the NHL so far. And 5-foot-10 Quinn Hughes - potential Calder Trophy winner this season - weighed 173 pounds when the Canucks snapped him up seventh overall in 2018.
Another important aspect of the Brackett hire is how he gels with the rest of the hockey department. It will be interesting to see if he brings in any scouts to join the department (Minnesota let go of some well before hiring Brackett), but from what I can glean, the fit between Brackett and the folks already in place is a good one.
I have to imagine scouting philosophy was a big part of the conversation when Guerin was interviewing Brackett, but it's funny how Minnesota's recent drafts had one similarity to Vancouver's slates under Brackett: digging for late-round gems in the USHL.
Brackett knows the USHL very well and once worked for the erstwhile Indiana Ice. Some of his best steals in the draft for the Canucks included Brock Boeser late in the first round (don't let Boeser's stardom fool you: plenty of unknowing pundits in Canada were dubious of his bona fides at the time), Adam Gaudette in the fifth and most recently, Aidan McDonough in the seventh.
Similarly, Minnesota's seventh-rounder in 2018 was Sam Hentges, who put up nearly a point per game as a sophomore at St. Cloud State after being drafted out of USHL Tri-City. The year before that, the Wild's seventh-rounder was Nick Swaney of USHL Waterloo. Swaney has gone on to win two national titles with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and might have won a third straight this season, had the tournament not been cancelled.
Minnesota has been drafting better of late, but with Brackett in the fold, the Wild can keep the party going. This is a team that needs to look to the next generation for sustained success and, if you're a Wild fan, a Stanley Cup run. It's not going to happen overnight, but with Guerin and Brackett up top, the picture is looking much brighter right now.