Jun 21, 2019

Today begins one of the most exciting, if not THE most exciting, two-day stretches of the offseason calendar.


The NHL Entry Draft takes place in Vancouver and begins with Round 1 tonight, followed by Rounds 2-7 tomorrow. Coverage of the draft can be seen on NBCSN tonight and NHL Network tomorrow.


The draft is exciting not only for the trades that can be solidified from the draft floor, but also because every pick is another building block for a championship team. And for more than 200 kids, dreams finally become realities.


Heading into the draft, Minnesota owns eight draft pick, including No. 12 overall. In years past, that slot has seen talents such as Marian Hossa, Alex Tanguay, Marc Staal, Bryan Little and Ryan McDonagh.


Normally it takes a few years for a player to go from a draft pick to an NHL staple and that’s where the AHL comes in. The league is designed to help develop these players and turn them from promising prospects to the stars of tomorrow.


Last season, Iowa suited up a total of nine players who were Minnesota draft picks and an additional eight players who were drafted by another organization. Those 17 players made up half of the Wild’s roster for the 2018-19 season.


The nine Minnesota draft picks (Mason Shaw, Dmitry Sokolov, Louie Belpedio, Luke Kunin, Carson Soucy, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Gustav Bouramman and Kaapo Kahkonen) played a combined 376 games in a Wild sweater. The skaters combined for 141 points (54g, 87a), playing at a .42 point per game pace this season. Of those players, only Soucy, Kunin and Eriksson Ek were not rookies and the latter two played in a combined 37 games at the AHL level, compared to 107 games in the NHL this season. The netminder Kahkonen appeared in 39 games this year and played a major role in getting the Wild into the playoffs by stepping into the crease as a rookie and winning 17 games and setting Iowa’s shutout streak record with 222:22 without a goal allowed.


Draft picks are meant to be the building blocks for the NHL club and that aspect of team building is apparent with the Wild. Kunin, Greenway, Eriksson and Eriksson Ek are all seen as the future of the Wild and will be leaned on to carry heavy minutes and lots of scoring in the years to come for Minnesota.


Drafting is key for NHL clubs, especially for Minnesota. The Wild’s roster consists of 19 out of 23 players who were drafted, including 10 who were drafted in the first round. That does not include the likes of Kunin, Greenway and Ryan Donato, all of whom finished the season with Iowa and were drafted no later than 56th overall.


The AHL has proved itself to excel at developing NHL talent, as 97 percent of NHL players are AHL graduates. And as those players move on to the NHL, AHL teams have to fill out their respective rosters. So while some players may not have their names called at the NHL Entry Draft, it does not mean they will not have successful hockey careers.


A prime example of this was one of Iowa’s leading scorers: Gerry Mayhew. Mayhew was not drafted when he was in college and signed an AHL contract with the Wild. His game continually developed until he exploded for a 27-goal, 60-point season with Iowa and added nine goals and 11 points in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He was rewarded by signing a two-year, two-way contract with Minnesota, his first NHL deal.


This past season, Iowa had 11 players who went undrafted and signed with the Wild, and those players contributed a combined 93 goals and 167 assists for 260 points in 579 games. Three of the Wild’s top-five scorers this season (Mayhew, Brennan Menell and Sam Anas) all joined the Wild as undrafted free agents and have since become vital skaters in Minnesota’s system.


GM Paul Fenton has a saying, “a Minnesota Stanley Cup runs through Iowa.” The foundation of a championship is built in the AHL, as players develop into major role players. Those types of players come from the draft, but also the diamonds in the rough following those two days.


The NHL Entry Draft is an exciting time for fans and players alike. And it all happens tonight.

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