Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 5/23/12
ST. PAUL, Minn. The Minnesota Wild have been eager to get their young prospects to Minnesota in preparation for what they hope is an impactful offseason, but the prospects have had some unfinished business this spring. Minnesota will possibly have as many as seven key young players turning pro this season and many will have a chance to help the Wild at the NHL level. Most of them have been getting "big stage" experience the past month, though, including playing in the IIHF World Championships. Top prospect Mikael Granlund has been playing for his native Finland along with Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu. The Swedish team includes defenseman Jonas Brodin, last year's top pick, and forward Johan Larsson, a 2010 second-round selection. "You can't say enough about what that experience means to those guys," Wild coach Mike Yeo said last weekend. "They're playing quality minutes on a big stage against some of the top players in the world. So confidence-wise for those guys to come into camp now it's going to be huge." Meanwhile, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips are still playing for their junior team in Canada. The two combined to help the Saint John Sea Dogs win the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and are now playing in the Memorial Cup, a four-team tournament consisting of the winners of each of Canada's top junior leagues. Even Matt Hackett, another top prospect who has already started his Wild career, was the third goaltender for Canada in the World Championships but didn't see action. With so many players receiving unique opportunities to keep playing into the summer, it further validates the belief around hockey that Minnesota has one of the best groups of young prospects in the game. Now the Wild wait to see when, and if, those players will be headed to Minnesota. The World Championships added one minor delay when it came to Granlund. The No. 9 overall selection in the 2010 draft by the Wild, Granlund had to sign before June 1 or Minnesota would lose his rights and he would go back into the draft pool. The team couldn't sign him during the tournament, but Granlund, who was rated as the No. 2 overall prospect attached to an NHL team in March by The Hockey News, signed Wednesday morning. "He really worked at getting stronger and putting on weight," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in March. "He's very driven and focused to be an NHL player." Minnesota is still hopeful to sign goaltender Johan Gustafsson as well. Gustafsson, a 2010 sixth-round pick, has been playing in his native Sweden and reportedly would return even if he signs a pro contract because of the Wild's depth at the position. Coyle, Phillips, Brodin and Larsson have already signed professional contracts. The urgency there is getting them prepared to battle for NHL roster spots in training camp. "The quicker they can get over here, get acquainted with the city, our staff, even the facility and start training, the better," Yeo said. "Making sure that they're, A, comfortable when they come to camp and, B, just in the best physical shape to give them the best chance to come in here and show what they can do." The experience in the World Championships has been a good one for the Wild participants. Competing against players sometimes much older than them was just another step for Granlund, Brodin and Sweden. Granlund had a goal and four assists in 10 games for Finland, which lost, 3-2, to the Czech Republic in the third-place game. Russia won the gold medal with a 6-2 victory against Slovakia. Brodin had one goal, was a plus-1 and averaged 17 minutes, 11 seconds a game, often being matched against other team's top lines for Sweden, which lost 4-3 to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Larsson, who was named Rookie of the Year in the Swedish Elite League and also captained the national team to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships, had two assists while playing all seven games. "It's really good," Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson said of the experience. "Those guys are knocking on the door. Some have already arrived. You need the right veterans and right chemistry mix to bring those guys along. If we can do those things, we'll have success." Koivu is one of those veterans as he proved at the World Championships. He tied for eighth in the tournament in scoring with three goals and eight assists. He had the game-winning goal against France in the play-in games and had a game-tying goal in a 3-2 win against the U.S.A. in the quarterfinals, sending the Americans home. "Really happy," Yeo said of his players in the World Championships. "Disappointed Sweden lost out because I thought those kids were getting some really good experience. Really happy to see Mikko and Mikael Granlund, the job they're doing. I know what that means for their country over there. To see Mikko score the tying goal the last game, I know a lot of Americans a lot of U.S. citizens aren't happy with that victory, but personally I'm really happy for him because I know what it means to him." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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