Monday, July 18, 2011

Development Camp: Talent in the Pipeline

Looks like the corner has been turned as far as the lack of talent in the Minnesota Wild pipeline, if Sunday's scrimmage to end the Wild's development camp is any indication.

With over 3,200 in the stands at the Xcel Energy Center, the 40-odd invitees put on a show, as the Wild brass watched and saw first hand the results of the scouting staff and the team's recent 'build with youth' philosophy. Some, such as future star Mikael Granlund and Johan Larsson, showed why they were taken as No. 1 picks the last two seasons. Charlie Coyle, who was the add-on in the Brent Burns-Devin Setoguchi trade, also showed why he is the darling of 'Hockey's Future' and other such sites on the Internet.

While the six-day session for the potental NHL'ers of tomorrow was a lot of drill skating and indctrination, there was also fun, with a paintball session, and an obstacle course with JB Spisso, former US Military officer, and his Elite Leadership Training team doing the honors, as they did last season for the big club.

A lot of these young men will never make an NHL roster; but, in the middle of the summer, on the most uncomfortable day ever in St. Paul, they all looked like they had a future on an NHL roster. Someday. The crowds, prodded by free t-shirts for the first 1,000 each day, were the largest ever for the camp scrimmage sessions, which were free and open to all comers who wished to get out of the mid-summer heat.

Granlund showed both days why he is considered the real deal, as he put on a show both Saturday and Sunday, with highlight-reel goals in the end-of-scrimmage shootout. Sunday he also threaded the needle setting up Josh Phillips for a goal in the second half of the day's scrimmage. Larsson, Granlund's linemate (maybe also his linemate with the big club in 2013?) rounded out the most star-studded line this camp has seen in at least five seasons.

In a time when the level of optimism following the recent trades for Setoguchi and Dany Heatley is high, the prowess shown by this crop of Wild rookies and recent additions just pushes that optimism that much more forward. The fact that the rookies are actually of a talent level rarely seen with this organization just elevates that optimism that much more.

Maybe, just maybe, GM Chuck Fletcher has restocked the larder. Now, how much of that talent will rise to the NHL level, that remains to be seen. But, at least for now, optimism reigns supreme in St. Paul. Only time will tell if the decisions made in the last three weeks turn out to be good decisions. But at least Fletcher is making decisions which should hopefully push the Wild back into the playoff mix. Signing late-blooming college-age free agents is something his predecessor would never think of. His predecessor traded draft picks for meaningless washed-up veterans, who were at the end of their careers. Draft picks which are the way teams keep talent coming in to their system. The Wild are starting to correct those mistakes of the past. Trading for end-of-career vets is the way of the past. The future belongs to the young.

And Wild fans can't wait for the future to begin in September.

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