Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 5/30/12
The Minnesota Wild were so excited to announce the signing of Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund last week that they wanted to make the addition of their long-awaited top prospect special. They had Granlund offer the news himself via recorded video with a greeting to the fans. The video first hit the team's website before any press release or news conference. Minnesota also announced the first 64 people Granlund wears No. 64 to buy seasons tickets would receive an autographed Granlund jersey. The excitement of finally bringing in one of the top young players in the game was well-deserved and well-promoted. More important, the signing signals a new beginning for a struggling franchise. Chuck Fletcher replaced Doug Risebrough as the Wild general manager in May 2009, taking over a team that had just missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Fletcher inherited an organization that was devoid of top-end talent in the farm system and lacked key pieces at the NHL level. Most team executives loathe using the term rebuilding, but Fletcher knew he had a project on his hands. It's been three years, but now Fletcher and his staff are seeing the fruits of their labor. "The fact that we had early success shows that we have a pretty good core of players," Fletcher said of the Wild leading the NHL in mid-December before a second-half collapse. "And I think with these young guys coming in, and besides Mikael we have five other forwards and potentially one defenseman in Jonas Brodin turning pro next year, I think what they do is they improve us a lot in our depth. Some of them will be able to make the NHL and contribute right away and maybe more of them will need time in Houston to develop. Whether its October, or the spring or even the following year, at some point we're going to have a lot of good, young talent infused into our lineup, which will make it stronger and deeper." Granlund is the key piece, but he is by no means a savior. Minnesota has other highly regarded young players on the way possibly as soon as this season. Granlund is just the most well-known attraction and the last to sign a pro contract from the Wild's next generation. "Frankly, we don't want to rush young players into the NHL," Fletcher said. "We want to make sure we give them every opportunity to be successful when they get here. And I think if you look at our track record with every player over the last few seasons, we've been very careful not to rush their development. It seemed to make a lot of sense for Mikael to spend one more season in Finland." Other top prospects like Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Jonas Brodin and Johan Larsson were already under contract, though they played in Canada and Sweden this past season. Other players such as Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker and Matt Hackett gained professional experience playing with Minnesota and the minor-league Houston Aeros. All of them will be expected to at least compete for NHL jobs in training camp, quite the change from previous seasons. As recently as last year, the Wild had one of the worst organizations in hockey in terms of prospects with The Hockey News ranking Minnesota 29th in that category. This February, the Wild were seventh and Granlund was the No. 2 overall prospect. The change, the rebuilding, has come the past two summers. In 2010, the Wild added Granlund in the first round and had a major haul in the second round, choosing Bulmer, Larsson and Zucker. Last summer, Fletcher added Coyle (the 14th-rated prospect) and a first-round draft pick that he used on Phillips in a trade with San Jose. Minnesota also selected Brodin 10th overall in the draft. They've participated in Minnesota's development camp in the past with the expectation they would return to their junior team or home country. All will participate this season and none is expected to leave afterward. "Certainly, we don't want a team full of rookies next year, but youth can be a real weapon in this league," coach Mike Yeo said at his season-ending press conference. "First of all, young guys are coming in and they seem to develop quicker. They're skills, I think, are at a point at an earlier age know where they can come in and be effective. But as much as anything else, young guys are playing to prove themselves. Young guys bring enthusiasm and love for the game and that type of stuff during an 82-game season can have a real positive effect on the entire group." Fletcher has been careful to avoid putting all of his hopes in the hands of 19- and 20-year-olds. In this case, it will be hard to resist the temptation. At the very least, Fletcher and the Wild are starting to see the end to the rebuilding project with Granlund's signing. "We're just excited he's going to join our organization next year and help the Wild get to bigger and higher levels over the coming seasons," Fletcher said. "We're not counting on all these young players to come in and turn our team around. Again, we're happy with our core. We're going to look at adding some NHL talent this summer if we can. And to the extent that the young guys can come in and help out, that would be great. But at a minimum I think our depth will be significantly better." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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