ST. PAUL, Minn. The Minnesota Wild's young prospects are talked about often, the skill and excitement players such as Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle might soon bring to the NHL.
The most discussed of those prospects are the forwards Minnesota and its fans hope light the lamp in the NHL with more frequency than has been seen from the Wild in recent seasons. Recognizing the lack of skilled forwards in the organization, general manager Chuck Fletcher went about changing the direction of the team and dramatically altered the organization's depth in a period of little over a year.
But somewhat overshadowed was Fletcher's attempt to help the back end as well.
Despite being the 10th pick in the draft last season, Jonas Brodin has been gone about his development in semi-obscurity. Even on draft night, his moment in the spotlight was fleeting. Soon after the smooth-skating defenseman was picked by the Wild, Fletcher pulled off the biggest trade of the evening, acquiring forward Devin Setoguchi, the rights to Coyle and a second first-round pick that was used on center Zack Phillips for defenseman Brent Burns.
Brodin, just 17 when he was drafted, then went back to his native Sweden to continue his maturation. Now 19, he always had his sights set on making the NHL this season and his development may be as crucial to Minnesota's future as that of the highly touted forwards who garner the headlines.
"The year was fantastic," Brodin said last week while participating in the Wild's development camp for the second time. "It's unbelievable. Besides a great season for me, and I think I developed good.
"I've been a little bit stronger. I work on my shot every day. I think I get better in every match."
Brodin showed his progress at the camp. Known as a strong skater, he became very steady on the defensive end while playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League last season. He had eight assists and a plus-6 rating in 49 regular-season games. He added two goals in the playoffs.
The 6-foot-1, 166-pound defenseman didn't go completely unnoticed, though. In February, The Hockey News ranked Brodin the 12th-best prospect in the NHL and the fourth-best defenseman. On Minnesota's impressive list, he was second behind Granlund, even ranked ahead of Coyle.
Brodin also represented Sweden at both the World Championships and World Junior Championships. He scored once in seven games playing with the older players. He had four assists while helping Sweden -- with fellow Wild prospects Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson -- to the gold medal in the world juniors. Brodin had four assists on the way to winning gold.
"He's got close to 80 games this year, I think, so he's really developing," Fletcher said in April at his season-ending press conference. "The big thing for him is the strength . . . He's a young man with great promise, and I don't want to rush anybody. No one's development's going to be hurt by taking a little extra time to get here. I've seen the opposite, but typically no one's ever been hurt by developing too much. So, we'll do the right thing for them, but if they can earn it and they can play here, they will."
That was before Minnesota added standout defenseman Ryan Suter to lead a young blue line. Brodin knows his chances of breaking with the Wild this season took a hit with the Suter signing, but that hasn't changed his goals.
Brodin returned to Sweden this week after the development camp, and he will continue his training before returning in the fall with plans to make the NHL roster. Whether he winds up in Minnesota or in the minors with the Houston Aeros, Brodin wants to stay in the country this season.
"Yeah, my goal is to take a spot in Minnesota," Brodin said. "I come over for the camp and we'll see what happens. . . . It's good to fight for the spots. It's good for the development of the other players."
Defenseman Mathew Dumba was selected in the first round this season as Minnesota continued reshaping its talent on the blue line. Most of the analysts expected the Wild to select a defenseman because of the forward depth in the system, but Brodin started the emphasis last year.
Dumba is another young defenseman hoping to break through to the NHL level this season. With Suter and others ahead of them, Brodin and Dumba will likely be given more development time.
In April, Fletcher wasn't sure if Brodin might be best served returning to Sweden.
"Maybe the one decision we have to make is on Brodin," Fletcher said. "If he doesn't start the year here, is he better served going to Farjestads or going to Houston, that type of decision. I think with Brodin it's going to depend on his strength. I know he's preparing this summer to come and make our team. That's where his head's at."
Which leads to the question of where Brodin will be when the Wild start their season.
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