The What Ifs: What if Doug Risebrough Did Everything Right?
Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsJune 2000: NHL Entry Draft, Calgary, Alberta: Not much to do here, except a minor late-round tweak. The Wild take Marian Gaborik in the first round, Nick Schultz in the second round, and Henrik Lundqvist as a surprise pick in the fourth round.
January 2001: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Typical expansion team. It’s a mess. Whatever, you’re thinking about the future.
June 2001: NHL Entry Draft, Sunrise, Florida: After an unimpressive first year, the Wild again have a high pick. You sit back as the Wild select Mikko Koivu with the sixth overall pick. In the second round, you suggest the Wild take Jason Pominville, and in the third round, Patrick Sharp.
January 2002: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Patrick Sharp and Jason Pominville, playing in the NHL as teenagers, are surprising the NHL as the Wild are without Marian Gaborik, who is out with a groin injury. However, Henrik Lundqvist struggles to adjust to the North American game.
June 2002: NHL Entry Draft, Toronto, Ontario: The Wild have the 8th overall pick in the draft. Despite their quick start, Sharp and Pominville faded late, and Lundqvist never got his game going. Risebrough has a raging desire to draft Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but you’ve convinced him to take Alexander Semin. In the second round, the Wild take Duncan Keith, and Frans Nielsen in the third.
January 2003: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Pierre-Marc Bouchard is on his way to a Calder Trophy campaign with the Sabres. Sharp and Pominville are nearly invisible for the Wild. Lundqvist continues to struggle. Gaborik is lighting up the NHL with 30 goals in the first 40 games.
June 2003: NHL Entry Draft, Nashville, Tennessee: With a draft this deep, you are content to let the Wild take Brent Burns with the 20th overall pick. In the second round, you convince Risebrough to trade Patrick Sharp to move up and pick Shea Weber and David Backes. In the fourth round, the Wild pick unknown Dustin Byfuglien.
January 2004: Saint Paul, Minnesota: The Wild have one of the best young corps of talent in the NHL. While Pominville is by now largely seen as a one-hit-wonder, Patrick Sharp looks better than ever and is on his way to starring with the Predators. Semin and Gaborik have excellent chemistry with Backes, who has converted to center.
June 2004: NHL Entry Draft, Raleigh, North Carolina: Risebrough has a big head and refuses to select anyone not named A.J. Thelen in this draft. You resign yourself to the selection of Clayton Stoner in the second round, but also convince Risebrough to also take Alexander Edler, and then Pekka Rinne in the fourth round.
January 2005: The NHL is still locked out. Henrik Lundqvist looks phenomenal playing back home in Sweden. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, reigning Hart Trophy winner, gets in a fistfight with Alex Burrows, because Alex Burrows.
June 2005: NHL Entry Draft, Ottawa, Ontario: You beg Risebrough to pick Anze Kopitar. After checking the progress of A.J. Thelen, he relents. In the second round, you select Kris Letang.
January 2006: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Mikko Koivu has arrived and rejuvenated Jason Pominville on the second line. The young defensive core of Shea Weber, Brent Burns (moved from wing), Duncan Keith, and Nick Schultz are proving to be one of the best defenses in the NHL. Lundqvist looks awful in net, and has been replaced by Pekka Rinne. Benoit Pouliot is well on his way to a standout rookie campaign.
June 2006: NHL Entry Draft: Vancouver, British Columbia: The Wild have the 9th and 17th picks in the draft and choose Claude Giroux and Nick Foligno. In the second round, the Wild take Milan Lucic. Deep in the draft, you convince Risebrough to take a flier on Leo Komarov and Scott Darling. Lundqvist traded to the Rangers for Future Considerations.
January 2007: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Semin and Backes are struggling and find themselves on the third line. Giroux and Foligno are playing great on the first line with fellow rookie Anze Kopitar. Gaborik is out with another groin injury. Henrik Lundqvist looks amazing in New York. The Wild defense is a mess. Brent Burns moved back to wing to make room for Dustin Byfulglien.
June 2007: NHL Entry Draft: Columbus, Ohio: You have successfully lobbied to get the Wild to trade down to the second round, gaining another first rounder in 2008. In the second round, you choose P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn.
January 2008: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Subban moved to wing, Burns back to defense. Jamie Benn is playing wing with Koivu and looks really good doing so. Pominville spends half the season in Lemaire’s doghouse. Lundqvist appears to be on his way to another Vezina.
June 2008: NHL Entry Draft: Ottawa, Ontario: This one is a no-brainer. You get Risebrough to draft Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle.
January 2009: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Subban is back on defense, and Burns is back on the wing. Erik Karlsson struggles mightily, and Risebrough trades him to Ottawa for a third round pick. Risebrough also trades Eberle to Colorado for a first round pick. You approve of this move. Subban is too much for Nick Schultz to handle as a partner, and he has a nervous breakdown mid-season and retires from hockey to tend to a tulip farm in Saskatchewan. Byfuglien promoted from 7th defenseman to 6th.
June 2009: NHL Entry Draft: Montreal, Quebec: New GM Chuck Fletcher has taken over the Wild. You have been retained because it’s obvious that you knew what you were talking about and the old regime was rushing players to the NHL. Again with 2 picks in the first round, you select Matt Duchene and Nick Leddy. Against your objections, Nick Leddy is immediately traded for Cam Barker. In the later rounds, you select Mike Hoffman, Anders Lee, and Erik Haula.
January 2010: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Gaborik is gone via free agency. Matt Duchene is impressive centering Giroux and Foligno. Anze Kopitar is nearly invisible. He and Pominville are together on the fourth line. Semin and Backes are on the third line, and Lucic, Koivu and Benn anchor the rest of the Wild offense. Letang looks awesome with Weber, Keith and Burns form a very capable second pair. Subban is wreaking havoc with his partner on the third pair. Karlsson appears to be a steal for the Senators, as he is their emerging star player.
June 2010: NHL Entry Draft: Los Angeles, California: You convince Fletcher to trade down in the first and up in the second. You secure Vladimir Tarasenko and Justin Faulk. You also select John Klingberg with a later pick.
January 2011: Saint Paul, Minnesota: Weber gone via free agency, the Wild’s defense is comprised of Letang-Burns; Keith-Subban; and Edler-Byfuglien. The offense doesn’t look terrible as few changes are made as the younger players are finally allowed to develop in the minors or juniors.
June 2011: NHL Entry Draft: Saint Paul, Minnesota: You are content to let Fletcher take Jonas Brodin with the 5th overall pick, but convince Fletcher to take Brandon Saad in the second round and Johnny Gaudreau in the third.
January 2012: Saint Paul, MN: Pominville has left via free agency, and Subban dealt to the Canadiens for a first round pick. Kopitar, a complete bust, is traded to the Kings for a second round pick. The rest of the defense looks solid, and the offense is coming around. Pekka Rinne continues to be ok, but not great. You trade for Devan Dubnyk as a backup.
June 2012: NHL Entry Draft: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: This draft is your legacy. With two first round picks, the Wild take Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg.
It’s time to step away, because we’re now too close to see any future steals in the drafts over the next couple years. You tell Fletcher to go with his gut. Before you take a high-paying job with the NBC Sports as an analyst, you look at the team you’ve assembled over the years:
Benn – Koivu – Lucic
Semin – Backes – Foligno
Hoffman – Duchene – Giroux
Lee – Nielsen – Komarov
(With Haula, Tarasenko, Saad, Gaudreau and Galchenyuk in the pipeline)
Letang – Burns
Keith – Byfuglien
Faulk – Edler
(With Klingberg and Brodin still developing)
Rinne / Dubnyk
The Wild are a middling team. Nothing special, since development (of players you know should be stars) was fumbled. Now, if you could only have one more chance to go back in time and teach Risebrough how to develop players. Or maybe even if you played all your cards right, the Wild would still be a perennial Wild Card team.
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