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Updated: January 14th, 2012 3:01pm
Zulgad: Another reminder of Doug Risebrough's first-round failures

Zulgad: Another reminder of Doug Risebrough's first-round failures

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by Judd Zulgad

There has been plenty of discussion in recent months about how bright the future appears to be for the Minnesota Wild.

The franchise had six prospects participating in the recently completed World Junior Championships. That list included forwards Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle of Team USA; forward Mikael Granlund of Finland; and defenseman Jonas Brodin, forward Johan Larsson and goalie Johan Gustafsson of gold-medal winning Sweden.

Three of the players from that group -- Zucker, Granlund and Larrson -- were chosen to be captain of their team in the prestigious tournament.

Granlund, who if all goes according to plan, will be in Minnesota next season, was the ninth-overall selection in 2010. Last June, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher used the first of his opening-round selections to grab Brodin 10th overall.

Fletcher also worked a draft-night trade in which he sent defenseman Brent Burns and second-round pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Coyle and a first-round pick that was used on center Zack Phillips.

The acquisition of Coyle was seen by many as the best part of that deal for the Wild. Coyle is a 6-foot-2, 207-pound right winger and is expected to develop into a quality power forward in the NHL.

The fact there is optimism about Fletcher's work in building this team is a good thing considering what former general manager Doug Risebrough left for Fletcher.

Risebrough's ineptitude when it comes to first-round selections became even more clear on Saturday morning when former Wild coach Todd Richards and the Columbus Blue Jackets claimed winger Colton Gillies off waivers.

The Wild had hoped to get Gillies through waivers and send him to its minor-league affiliate in Houston. But it never should have come to that.

Gillies was the 16th overall pick by the Wild in 2007 and can be added to a list of busts that Risebrough and former assistant general manager Tommy Thompson managed to pick for the team.

Risebrough ran the Wild's hockey operation from September 1999 until April 2009.

Having served as an executive with Calgary and Edmonton before his arrival in Minnesota, Risebrough's first four picks for the Wild were very good to decent.

It's hard to give Risebrough too much credit for taking Marian Gaborik third overall in the 2000 draft since it was clear the winger was ultra-talented and headed for some level of stardom.

Risebrough followed that by selecting center Mikko Koivu of Finland third overall in 2001, center Pierre-Marc Bouchard eighth overall in 2002 and Burns 20th overall in 2003.

Koivu was named an All-Star this week and continues to be a very good two-way player, as well as the Wild's captain. Bouchard has been plagued by concussion issues in recent seasons but can play an important role when healthy.

Burns could drive coaches crazy with his up-and-down play, but he was named to the All-Star Game last season and it was hard to deny his skill level.

The problem is that after the 2003 draft, Risebrough went into an epic cold spell when it came to hitting on first-round picks. It is one reason the Wild hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2008 and might be headed for a fourth consecutive quiet spring this year.

Consider this list: defenseman A.J. Thelen, 12th overall in 2004; left winger Benoit Pouliot, fourth overall in 2005; center James Sheppard, ninth overall in 2006; Gillies, 2007; and defenseman Tyler Cuma, 23rd overall in 2008.

It's worth nothing that in the 2008 draft - the last one Risebrough would oversee for the Wild - the team had only four selections. (That's not a good thing.)

As far as that five-year span of Risebrough picks, only Cuma remains property of the Wild. He is with Houston of the American Hockey League.

Cuma has had injury issues and last February tore up his left knee while playing for Houston in a game at the Xcel Energy Center. He finished with four assists in 37 games and this season has a goal and three assists in 31 games.

Considering Cuma hasn't been part of the Wild's revolving door of defenseman this season, it would seem Fletcher and Mike Yeo aren't exactly high on him.

Thelen never played a game for the Wild; Pouliot spent time with the franchise from 2006-10 before being dealt to Montreal; Sheppard fractured his patella in an ATV accident in September 2010 and was shipped to San Jose last offseason; and now Gillies will take his unrealized potential to Columbus.

Fletcher is not without blame when it comes to the Wild's extremely rough history of first-round picks before 2010. He took defenseman Nick Leddy of Eden Prairie 16th overall in 2009 and then proceeded to deal him to the Chicago Blackhawks the next February for defenseman Cam Barker, the third-overall selection in the 2004 draft.

Leddy left the University of Minnesota and is in his second season playing on the blue line for the Blackhawks. Barker arrived in Minnesota with two years and $3.1 million left on his deal and provided his new team with next to nothing.

Give Fletcher credit for owning up to his mistake. Barker was placed on waivers by the Wild last June and signed a one-year deal worth $2.25 million with Edmonton in July. Barker suffered ligament damage in his left ankle in November. He could return by the end of this month.

The consolation is that Fletcher did hit on the Leddy pick. He then made a poor decision when he dealt him. That likely will be a lesson learned.

Risebrough's final five first-round picks can't be viewed through similar rose-colored glasses in any way, shape or form. They helped to dig this franchise a hole from which it has yet to emerge. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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