Can Minnesota’s No. 1-Ranked Farm System Deliver This Time Around?

The State of Hockey is buzzing with prospect hype. The Minnesota Wild placed No. 1 in Hockey Prospecting’s post-draft organizational rankings released on Tuesday. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler had Minnesota ranked third in February but may rise after taking the Los Angeles Kings’ (No. 2) first-round pick plus their seventh-best prospect in Brock Faber.

The last time the Wild had this kind of hype for their prospects was a decade ago. In 2012, Minnesota boasted several high-end youngsters. There was Mikael Granlund, who was ranked No. 1 overall by Corey Pronman in 2011, ahead of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Johansen, Sean Couturier, and everyone else. And that wasn’t all.

Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker were all top 100 prospects. Behind them were solid names like Johan Larsson, Zack Phillips, and goalie Darcy Kuemper. In 2012, the pool got another boost with No. 7 overall pick Matt Dumba. That collection of prospects reportedly attracted Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency.

You know what happened next. A decade later, a new batch of prospects was poised to join Kirill Kaprizov to lead Minnesota to a Stanley Cup. The question now is: How can this prospect pool succeed where the last one didn’t?

To answer this, we have to be specific about what the failures of that 2012 wave were. In some ways, Minnesota didn’t fail at all. They had an impressive hit rate among their top prospects. Brodin, Coyle, Dumba, Granlund, Scandella, and Dumba are all 500-plus game veterans. Larsson will join them next year. Kuemper’s next game will be his 300th, and he has a Stanley Cup as a starter. Phillips is the only major prospect who didn’t pan out from that era.

But stars power the top teams, and well, there weren’t any stars in this batch. Granlund got the closest, with 0.69 points per game in a Wild sweater. Everyone else? Good players, for sure. Someone like Brodin controls the game defensively. But any stars among the group? nope

The good news is that the wild are already off to a great start in preventing the mistakes of prospect pools past. Minnesota’s scouting process back then wasn’t conducive to taking swings on star-caliber players. Tools like Hockey Prospecting weren’t publicly available or widely embraced back then, but using historical data shows none of these players were exceedingly likely to become stars.

Granlund was clearly the best of the bunch. He had a 48% chance of becoming a star among those eight top prospects. After him was Phillips at 26%, then Dumba at 20%. Everyone else was under 15%.

We don’t know how much analytics have seened into the Wild’s scouting department in the post-Chuck Fletcher era, but Hockey Prospecting loves this pool much, much more. That 2012 prospect crop had three players whose odds of stardom peaked at 20% or more. The 2022 version has seven players currently at 20% or higher.

Furthermore, Minnesota has a murderer’s row of star prospects in Matt Boldy (79%), Marco Rossi (75%), Danila Yurov (71%), and Calen Addison (65%). All four of them are, statistically, better prospects than Granlund ever was. That’s very important, as instead of relying on one guy to make or break their future, the Wild can hope that three of them will turn into what they’re “supposed” to be.

If nothing else, Boldy already seems well on his way to stardom. His rookie season saw him put up 26 goals and 68 points (over an 82-game pace) as a 20-year-old. By the eye test, Boldy is magic. He can dangle through traffic, make difficult passes look easy, and protect the puck with his 6’4″ frame. If this holds up, this prospect pool is already one star ahead of its 2012 counterpart.

So the stuff that’s in Minnesota’s control, they’ve done well with. That’s not enough, though. They have to get some luck out of this. The 2012 group didn’t get that. We talked about Minnesota losing the 48-52 coinflip on stardom with Granlund. There was more to it than that.

For instance, Dumba was well on the way to stardom in 2018. He scored 14 goals and 50 points in 2017-18 and 12 goals (and 22 points) in 32 games the following season. That was thwarted when a pectoral injury apparently took the elite power out of his shot. He’s since put up just 19 goals and 72 points in his past 177 games.

Minnesota seems lucky to have avoided a similar situation with Rossi’s myocarditis. He’s made a strong comeback and is primed to take an NHL spot. Can they avoid similarly devastating injuries and/or illness going forward?

Another aspect of luck is having low-probability players developing into stars. Sometimes a player like Coyle (14% star probability at his draft) and Zucker develop into star players when you don’t necessarily expect it. If Minnesota gets a star out of, say, Jack Peart (12%), Adam Beckman (8%), or Hunter Haight (6%), then that would make up for a highly-touted prospect falling short.

Lastly, the Wild didn’t get results at the most crucial position: goalie. You can’t say Kuemper didn’t pan out, necessarily, since he boasts a career .918 save percentage and a ring. But he didn’t work out in Minnesota. The Wild are going to need Jesper Wallstedt to make it as an above-average goalie, and not with another team, either.

Wild fans have been burned before jumping on the prospect hype train. Sadly, there aren’t any guarantees that will be different this time. But that doesn’t mean the situations aren’t different. Minnesota’s done excellent work when it comes to excellent at the things they can control. The rest is up to the players themselves and the Hockey Gods.

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