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Updated: June 25th, 2012 8:58am
Myers: Super sizing? Wild seemed determined to get physical in draft

Myers: Super sizing? Wild seemed determined to get physical in draft

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

Before heading to Pittsburgh for the 2012 NHL Draft, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher admitted there's an added layer of pressure and a brighter spotlight when you're the host.

He learned that a year ago, when the draft was held in St. Paul, and Fletcher made a splash in that event's first hour, trading away popular cornerstone defenseman Brent Burns for a solid forward (Devin Setoguchi) and a host of picks and prospects.

Fletcher spent three seasons in Pittsburgh as the Penguins' assistant general manager, but he said about all that would get him this season was the potential for some easier restaurant reservations. He looked forward to being just one of the 29 teams that do not play in the Consol Energy Center and the relative anonymity of building for the future in someone else's rink.

So, while Fletcher and company went about their business, stocking up on big bodies for the future, his old boss from Pittsburgh -- Penguins general manager Ray Shero -- made the somewhat predictable hometown splash.

The biggest buzz on day one was created when the Pens shipped star center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes and got a boatload in return. Staal gets to play with his brother Eric in Raleigh, while Shero and the Penguins got the eighth overall pick and Canes center Brandon Sutter.

But perhaps just as important was the salary cap room freed up with Staal's departure, which some analysts predict immediately enters Pittsburgh into the forthcoming free-agency battle for Zach Parise's services.

It provides another viable option for Parise, alongside presumed front-runners like the Wild and the Detroit Red Wings. Although some have noted that where Parise is a top-billed offensive attraction in New Jersey, and would be the same in Minnesota, he'd play the Chris Bosh third-fiddle role in Detroit (behind Pavel Datsuyk and Henrik Zetterberg) and Pittsburgh (behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin).

With no major trades involving the Wild in Pittsburgh, the draft was about the far-sighted future, with the near-sighted stuff to come in the wee hours this coming Sunday morning, when the free agency free-for-all begins.

From the looks of the Wild's half-dozen draft picks, one could make the assumption that Fletcher and his brain trust thought long and hard about just what went wrong in the team's long, slow tumble from atop the NHL standings to the outside of the playoff picture last season. And it seems they settled on a need to get bigger and tougher, eventually.

One image from that team-wide fade that is seared in the memory of many Wild fans is Zach Bogosian's leveling of Pierre-Marc Bouchard late in a Dec. 13 game in Winnipeg (a 2-1 Jets win, which ended the Wild's season-best seven-game win streak).

Bouchard, who has a history of concussions, missed the next two games, and did not play at all after Jan. 4. The Wild also lost Guillaume Latendresse for much of the season and captain Mikko Koivu for long stretches in January, February and March.

A Google search of top pick Mathew Dumba finds myriad bone-crunching hits along the boards and in the neutral zone, perhaps revealing exactly what the Wild were looking for in the Canadian defenseman, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Tiger Woods.

Second-round pick Raphael Bussieres, from Quebec, stands 6-foot-1 and is most noted by some for a toe-to-toe fight with Dumba in a junior game last season. From there, the picks, at least physically, got even bigger.

In the third round, they grabbed Edina native John Draeger out of Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault. He's 6-2 and expected to toil at least a season or two on the blue line for Michigan State before considering his pro future.

Fourth-rounder Adam Gilmour, a forward, is also 6-2 and is headed from a Massachusetts prep school to Boston College.

In the fifth round, the Wild plucked Daniel Gunnarsson, a Swedish defenseman who stands 6-4.

After grabbing Swiss center Christoph Bertschy in the sixth round, the Wild wrapped things up with a return to Edina -- and perhaps a nod to the NHL's history in Minnesota.

In the seventh round, with their final pick, the Wild secured the rights to Louis Nanne, who will play for the Gophers, is the son of former Gopher Marty Nanne and is the grandson of local hockey legend Lou Nanne, who played for the Gophers and North Stars and was the Stars' coach and general manager.

From Major League Baseball's seemingly endless draft, roughly 10% of those selected will ever actually wear a big-league uniform. The percentages are a little better in hockey -- Fletcher says if you get three NHL players out of any one draft, you're doing very well.

So, realistically, fewer than half of the draft class of 2012 will ever have a home game in St. Paul. But once the free agent frenzy is over in a few weeks, and the Wild roster for 2012-13 has taken shape, one may take time to consider which of these players might sneak into the lineup a season or two from now.

If size alone is any indication, when these rookies eventually do show up at Xcel Energy Center, they'll be hard to miss.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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