Prospect Report: Matt Hackett

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Matt Hackett

Matt Hackett

Born – 3/7/1990
Position –
G
Ht –
6’2”
Wt –
170
Catches –
Right

The Skinny
With the trade of Anton Khudobin last season at the trade deadline, the Wild made no bones about the fact that Hackett is the

Hackett's feistiness is something that fans and scouts like to see.

franchise’s goalie of the future.

Drafted by the franchise in 2009, Hackett has been moved along at a slower pace by the franchise and got his first full-time pro action last season in the AHL, helping lead the Houston Aeros to the Calder Cup finals in his first season in the job.

He showed he was more than capable for the job, posting 23 wins and a 2.37 goals-against average, as well as a .916 save percentage with Houston.

Hackett combines his size with solid positioning and athleticism to make a goaltender that is very suited for the game that the NHL has become. His poise and fundamentals, especially, have made him a mouthwatering prospect in net for Minnesota and have the franchise looking forward to him stepping onto the rink in a Wild sweater.

The biggest thing that Hackett has going for him, however, is his ability to take coaching and learn from it. This willingness to learn gives him a leg up on the competition and will serve him well when he hits the NHL some day.

Hackett gets into the butterfly easily. Sometimes too easily.

This Season
Hackett will be back in Houston, plying his trade this season. He’s likely going to be the guy in net and will probably split time with either Darcy Keumper or Dennis Endras.

Minnesota has the luxury of allowing him to develop slowly and allowing him to gain confidence in his game in Houston, and that’s exactly what will serve him best. Many a goalie has been ruined by being pushed into the NHL too quickly, and that’s exactly what is not going to happen with Hackett.

He’ll be third on the Wild’s depth chart but, God-willing, he won’t have too many call ups to Minnesota this year.

Potential
Hockey’s Future lists Hackett’s career potential as a journey-man #1 goalie that can competently man the net for long stretches of time, while the Hockey News has him listed as a potential starting goaltender.

In order to make it in the NHL, Hackett is going to need to work on his timing more. Oftentimes he goes into the butterfly too quickly, which can sometimes hang him out to dry with the more creative offensive talents (of which there are many in the NHL).

His size and movement, though, are tremendous assets and all things considered, there are worse flaws that you could have than getting into the butterfly too easily.

Cup ‘o Hockey: Wild Sign Fontaine, Concussions are real?

If you didn’t get to watch any hockey last night, man did you miss out. First there was Chicago giving the Canucks a good old-fashioned curbstomping, then there was the improbable comeback by the San Jose Sharks which, I have to admit that this “old man” drifted off during. But, in any event, here’s our morning Cup ‘o Hockey!

  • First, some Wild stuff. The Aeros have advanced to the second round with their sweep of the Peoria Rivermen, and they have signed prized college free agent, Justin Fontaine to a two year deal.
  • Sam Mamudi of marketwatch.com has a good look at the NHL’s new 10-year broadcast deal with NBC. Hint: it might be good for the NHL.
  • Here’s Barry Melrose plying his trade for a UK website, with his thoughts on the early playoff action.
  • Here’s some news. Peter Forsberg is joining his Swedish hometown club, Modo. As an assistant GM.
  • An interesting, yet very Winnipeg-ian look at the newest news from the whole Phoenix/Goldwater saga. But David Shoalts has a look at why *gasp* Winnipeg might not be a viable option for the move of the franchise.
  • Troy Lardie of examiner.com takes an early look at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
  • And finally, apparently there are things called concussions and a few people think the NHL isn’t doing enough to curb them.

Enjoy! Look for our mailbag sometime tomorrow.

Prospect Profile: Carson McMillan

I’ll just give it to you straight: The Houston Aeros lack a certain offensive sparkle this season. Not quite the Bondo gray of last year, but not much better. It’s clear, anyway, that scoring will have to come from everyone for the team to even have a prayer of moving out of the division basement.

Carson McMillan - Photo by Chris Jerina (click photo for more from Chris)

And one guy who has stepped it up so far this season is sophomore winger Carson McMillan. He’s racked up 2 goals and 3 assists in 10 games, which maybe isn’t all that mind-blowing until you realize he only had 8 points in 56 games last year.

Can I get an ‘AMEN’?

Carson was in the same draft class (but 2 rounds behind) Cody Almond, who looked great almost from the start last season and earned a call-up to Minnesota as a result. Even when Almond wasn’t getting on the score sheet, his hockey sense was evident, and in comparison, McMillan seemed a little lackluster.

He often struck me as being a half-step behind at times, aggressive but not particularly smart about it, and prone to the occasional bad penalty. He had come out of Juniors so highly touted, earning more than a point per game in his final year with the Calgary Hitmen, what I was seeing each night for the Aeros just didn’t jive.

But it’s amazing what a year can do for a guy. His positioning is good, he’s not taking untimely penalties, he’s faster and more in-the-play. And it’s showing on the stats sheet as he is in a three-way tie for leading scorer on the team (which, admittedly, isn’t saying a whole lot).

He’s scored in the last two Aeros games and I got to see the most recent one. It was a 2 on 1 with center Warren Peters, who carried the puck in and dished it at the last second over to McMillan, who one-timed it in the net before Texas Stars goalie Richard Bachman could make it across.

After the game, he was quick to deflect credit:

“The goal tonight was all Warren Peters. He made a heck of a fake on the defense and on the goalie and gave me a wide open net, and I thanked him about a hundred times after the goal.”

Sure, but if I had a dollar for every time a couple of Aeros have been in that same situation and the pass was mishandled or overskated or otherwise not capitalized on, I could buy myself some seats on the glass at the X.

So credit where it’s due. The Aeros need someone who can finish, and McMillan finished. Here’s to a lot more of that this season, because this team is going to need it.

And if the Wild can get some decent production out of him, along with the toughness he’s already brought, that’s a big win for a 7th rounder.

The Aeros, the Rookies, and the Clean Slate

Here in a nearly empty Toyota Center, where the Houston Aeros just lost 4-0 to the division leading Chicago Wolves, crews are cleaning the stands and media folks are wrapping up their duties.

The stark contrast of the quiet arena and a clean sheet of ice after the chaos of the game seems to symbolically wipe the slate clean, even after an ugly loss. Only slightly better is before the game, before the gates open, before the music starts, when there’s nothing but fresh ice and the inherent promise that every hockey game holds.

However, at this point in the season, it’s more like, “How will the Aeros lose tonight?” They are firmly at the bottom of the division, 11 points out of playoff contention and only three wins since Valentine’s Day. They’re a fraction below .500, which is really the only marker left to aim for, other than personal goals, like next year‘s contract.

Still, since falling realistically out of contention a few weeks ago, the games have stayed close and interesting. In fact, the predictable answer to the question above was, “By giving up a lead late in the game, and losing in overtime or the shoot out.”

But even that small pleasure seems to have gotten an early start on the off-season, as the team is now losing by greater margins.

All that was left to celebrate tonight was the third period, which featured the professional debut of Wild 2009 6th round draft pick, goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

The game was already 4-0 by the end of the second with Wade Dubielewicz in goal. So, why not let the kid play, right?

As exciting as it is to get that first taste of what a player drafted a year ago can do, when he stepped on to the ice and headed to the wrong net, well, it seemed like an inauspicious start.

But the baby-faced rookie from Saskatoon took a u-turn, headed to the correct net, and after a few reassuring pad taps from his new teammates, spent his first 2 minutes as a pro goalie killing off an Aeros penalty against the best team in the division. He would kill another one later and was officially credited with 4 saves, though it seemed like more.

Part of that low count is somewhat attributable to his good rebound control, and he exhibited a great deal of confidence playing the puck, cutting down opportunities for the Wolves.

He’s a big goalie at 6’4”, 200 lbs and defends his crease accordingly. He also takes up a lot of space, particularly down low where having a little extra leg to extend proved valuable.

There’s certainly an element of needing to get up to the speed of the pros, but without question, there’s huge value in getting this kind of experience to go back to Red Deer with next year and look forward to a pro career in 2011-2012. Further, given Dubielewicz’s weak play of late and Anton Khudobin’s call-up to the Wild for the remainder of the season, it’s likely this won’t be his last time between the pipes during the final two weeks of the Aeros season.

Defenseman Marco Scandella also played, presumably kicking off his professional career in the Wild organization and likely developing his game in Houston next season. Without question, he made his physical presence known, including a solid hit in the first period that resulted in a fight. He didn’t hesitate to answer the bell and held his own in what was mostly a violent hug.

He played well, had 2 shots on goal, and was the only defenseman to not have a negative +/- for the game.

So, as the season fades away, sometimes not quickly enough on nights like this, the quiet post-game sheet of ice–and the fresh enthusiasm of a couple of kids embarking on a dream–reminds us of coming days when the slate will be clean and the season full of promise again.

Darcy Kuemper - Photo by Jason Villanueva

Postcard from Houston: Aeros season underway

I made a promise to take good care of Colton Gillies when he got sent down from the Wild (tear in his eye, according to Mike Russo)… and the kid went and got his nose broken in a collision on Saturday night in Manitoba, only the second game of the season.

So, maybe we shouldn’t plan on any kids billeting at my house, eh?

He’s a tough cookie though and will be fine, though I’m sure will be sporting a birdcage for a while once play resumes on Friday for the home opener in Houston.

But Gillies’ story, combined with Craig Weller and Andy Hilbert being waived down to Houston, has really changed the complexion of this team at the eleventh hour.  The Aeros went from possibly having 3-4 rookie forwards to now having 3-4 forwards with NHL experience bumping guys who had impressed in camp off the bottom of the roster.

Even coach Kevin Constantine freely admits, he just doesn’t know what he has at forward yet, but says the defense might be the best he’s had in Houston, and goaltending is solid.

But if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a Wild fan and want to know how the prospects are doing down here, so here’s a run down:

DSC_0098 Falk hit cscJustin Falk: We’ve seen him the most thus far, since he was in Houston all last season and while I know he’ll land on his feet, he’s rusty to start the season. He had two huge turnovers right in front of the net Friday night and just doesn’t seem to have the noggin clicking at full game speed yet. But he was far and away the most improved player on the Aeros roster last season, so I’m not the least bit worried that he’ll find his game quickly.

In fact, the lanky stay-at-home defenseman scored his first professional goal on Saturday with a deflection off his leg into the net.

< Justin Falk – Photo by Fred Trask

Anton Khudobin: Anton had an excellent camp and played 60  NHL minutes in pre-season. He also got the start in the Aeros first pre-season game, but only played half a game of pre-season. Wade Dubielewicz played the full second pre-season game and was the starter for the Aeros first regular season game last Friday.

But with back-to-back games and not having done enough to force Constantine to play him again Saturday, Dubielewicz backed up Khudobin, who allowed only two goals on 25 shots and secured the first goal of the season.

There was potentially (and still might be eventually) a goalie dilemma, as Barry Brust is in the mix, too, but re-injured the foot that cut his season in half last year. But until he’s healthy, Khudobin and Dubielewicz are the tenders in Houston.

Carson McMillan: I haven’t seen a lot of him yet, but I’ll be honest, he looked out of place in the pre-season game against the Texas Stars, and he hasn’t played in either of the regular season games yet.

You always hate to judge a guy coming out of juniors too quickly. It took Falk half the season, maybe more, to look comfortable last year. So, let’s just keep an eye on him as the season moves forward.

Cody Almond: I don’t believe he’s played at all. He came down late after recuperating from an injury sustained during the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and has yet to get in a game for Houston. So again, he’s a guy we’ll have to touch base on later.

Maxim Noreau: Max seems to have picked up right where he left off. Crazy knack for scoring off shots from the high slot. I would expect him to continue to be one of the top scoring defensemen in the AHL this year, both even strength and on the power play.

Clayton Stoner: A guy whose expiration date is rapidly approaching, but is just a rock for Houston and never seems to get his due at the next level. But he plays, and always has played, with a ton of grit and tenacity.

He was even better last season wearing the captain’s ‘C’ and would quietly take the team on his shoulders at times when they lacked focus. And this season, he’s been no different. Hitting, fighting, and defending as well as ever.

Petr Kalus: I’d forgotten how fast he is during his year back in Europe. He’s fast and he’s got great hands and he plays a (sometimes excessively) gritty game, but he’s still got no finish.

I’m hoping, however, that like usual, when I write something about a guy, he goes out and does the exact opposite next game. Petr, if you get a hat trick on Friday, you so owe me.

Danny Irmen: It feels like Irms has been playing for Houston for 10 years. He’s just such a reliable, hard-working, responsible player, I think his contribution is overlooked. The question has always been his speed at the NHL level, but all I can tell you is how he is in the AHL. And he’s just steady eddie down here. I don’t see that changing, in either direction.

DSC_0122 MK MF cscMatt Kassian: There’s plenty off toughness in Houston, but Kassian is the heavyweight and could fill Derek Boogaard’s sizable shoes when his contract is up this season (not to say that he will). He’s not so big that guys wouldn’t fight him, but he’s taken on some pretty bad dudes in the AHL and never embarrassed himself. I think the key for him will be getting the big body and feet moving fast enough for the NHL.

< Matt Kassian – Photo by Fred Trask

Brandon Rogers: Brandon was a free agent signing who looked to be an emerging talent on the blue line when he was signed summer before last, but he had a rough year statistically and will look for a bounce back this season.

He’s a smart player with good passing and he can rack up the assists. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him with Noreau among the top scoring defensemen this season.

So, there are your prospects I’d consider prominent, but if you want a more broad view of the Aeros on the whole, what their season is shaping up like, at least on paper, check out my article at ProHockeyNews.com.

Wild's Most "Rugged" and other News

SI has recently posted a list of the NHL’s “Most Rugged” players and one of Wild Nation’s personal favorite hockey blogs, Puck Daddy, has responded with their revised list, of which Wild winger Owen Nolan was one.

All of this got me thinking.  The Wild has never really been the epitome of a “rugged” team, save for the playoffs two years ago when they had the Four Horsemen (Derek Boogaard, Aaron Voros, Todd Fedoruk and Chris Simon) on their roster.  But last season, who could have been considered the Wild’s “Most Rugged” players?  After some serious thought, here’s what I came up with:

5) Brent Burns - From his gap-toothed smile to his perpetual almost-beard, rugged is certainly a word that is befitting of the Wild’s brightest star on the blueline.  Burnsie does it all.  He hits, he scores, he plays good defense; and let’s be honest.  The man played the last six weeks of his season with a concussion.  That’s rugged.

4) Stephane Veilleux – The reisdent red-headed stepchild of the Wild has always been one to mix it up with anyone at any time.  He’s played through broken bones on his face on multiple occasions and is always front and center when the Wild’s checking line comes into the discussion.  One of the best checking line players the Wild has had, Veilleux will try to cash in on this ruggedness this summer.

3) Cal Clutterbuck - The new face of the Wild’s checking line certainly put on a show this last season.  Clutterbuck gained noteriety from his big hits, despite his small stature.  Throw in another perpetual chin growth and you’ve got one rugged player.  Besides…Anytime you anger Don Cherry to the point where he gives you a derogatory nickname, you must be doing something right.

2) Andrew Brunette - Truth be told, Brunette has never been known for his physical play, but he gets the nod over Clutterbuck here due to the fact that a) he looks like he’s one day of forgetting to shave away from joining Han Solo aboard the Millenium Falcon and b) he played the last three months of this season with a torn ACL.  Now that’s rugged.

1) Owen Nolan - We’ve got to give the nod to the Wild’s resident badass on this one.  You know a player commands fear and respect when he’s allowed to screen the goalie pretty much unimpeded, which Nolan did all season long.  On top of that, he is the only player on the Wild’s team that is allowed to break the gameday dress code because, quite simply, no one wants to tell him that he can’t; not to mention that he penciled himself into the line up this season, coming back early from an injury.  As Burns said about him in a session of Hockey Unplugged; you don’t want to mess with him.  He could firebomb your car.

Other News

  • Wild prospect Cody Almond is playing in the Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets.  Almond has been signed to an entry level deal and will play with the Aeros next season.  Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune also pointed out that Almond takes nearly all of the big faceoffs for Kelowna, not to mention has got some great wheels on him and is a solid penalty killer.  Almond was second in playoff scoring in the WHL with 27 points in 22 games.
  • The search for the next GM of the Wild continues.  For what it’s worth, my prediction for this is Pierre McGuire as GM and Pat Quinn as coach.  Second interviews should be wrapping up shortly, however, and we may have a new GM as soon as next week.
  • The Aeros avoided elminiation by downing the Manitoba Moose in OT, 5-4.  The Aeros now trail 3-1 and will face elimination again in Game 5 in Houston.

 

 

Backstrom For Vezina; Aeros Advance

First off, I’d like to thank you all for bearing with me over the last few days.  My seven month old daughter had come down with something which necessitated my being gone for a few days.  But never to fear…It’s the off season, so not a whole heck of a lot occurred over those last few days!

Niklas Backstrom
It’s been a big couple weeks for the Finnish netminder.  First, his surgery was a huge success, leading Dr. Philippon to conclude that Backstrom will be ready to go in full in about 12 weeks.  I don’t know all of the details, but apparently the cartilage damage was much less than the doctor had originally thought and the issues with Backstrom’s hip have been corrected by the surgery.  Keep in mind that this is the same surgery that Marian Gaborik underwent during the season.

In addition to a successful surgery, Niklas Backstrom also became the third member of the Wild’s organization to be named a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end of the year award.  The other two?  Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz for the Jack Adams and Selke trophies respectively.  This is not the first hardware that Backstrom has won as a member of the Wild.  In the ’06-’07 season, his rookie season, he walked away with the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the league’s best save percentage and teamed with Manny Fernandez, winning the William M. Jennings Trophy, for the team with the least goals against.

Backstrom will have a tough time winning this award, however, as he will be going up against Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’s Steve Mason. 

My personal thoughts on this is that Backstrom will come in second in the voting.  Backstrom was certainly the Wild’s best player, and Josh Harding’s 3-9-1 record on the season certainly helps Backstrom’s cause, but let’s not forget that Harding posted extremely impressive stats during those 13 games as well.  The way I look at it is like this:

  • Without Mason, the Jackets miss the playoffs AND are likely to have a lottery pick in the top six.
  • Without Backstrom, the Wild are likely to have a lottery pick in the top ten.
  • Without Thomas, the Bruins probably wouldn’t have won the conference, but still likely would have made the playoffs.

To me, what that equates to is that Mason will get the Calder-Vezina sweep this season (and, honestly, I think there’s a pretty good argument for him getting the Hart as well, but that’s neither here nor there.)  Backstrom had a phenomenal season and, let’s be honest…If the Wild make the playoffs, there’s no question that he’s up there for the frontrunner.  The bottom line is that, as important as he was this season to our team, Mason was just a touch more important in their run.

Aeros Advance to Round Two
Leave it to the farm team of a Minnesota team to take every opportunity to give their fans more hockey.  Houston won game seven against the Peoria Rivermen 5-2 on the strength of goals by Krys Kolanos, Marco Rosa and Maxim Noreau as well as empty netters by Corey Locke and Mitch Love.  Goaltender Anton Khudobin was credited with the win, saving 19 or 21 shots.

Houston advances now to play the first seeded Milwaukee Admirals in what should prove to be an intriguing match up; at least from a front office point of view.  Milwaukee is the farm team for Nashville, making it Craig Leipold’s current farm team vs. his former farm team.  In other words, two candidates for the Minnesota Wild GM position (Tom Lynn and Paul Fenton) fighting it out for GM supremacy, though I doubt this series would be the deciding factor in one or the other getting the job.

Houston has three of the top 20 scoring leaders thus far for the playoffs, with Corey Locke third in scoring (4-5-9), Matt Beaudoin sixth (2-6-8) and Krys Kolanos sixteenth (2-4-6).  Meanwhile, Khudobin is trucking along with a 4-3 record, a 2.45 GAA and a .906 Sv Pct, as well as one shutout.  The most interesting stat?  Corey Lock has 24 penalty minutes.  Anyone care to explain that one to me??

Wild Sign Carson McMillian
The Wild also have signed another of their 2007 draft picks to an entry level deal.  Carson McMillian of the Calgary Hitmen has been signed to a three-year, entry level deal.  McMillian was in his fourth season with the Hitmen this season and recorded career highs in goals (31), assists (41), points (72) and penalty minutes (93).  On top of that, he added seven game winners, five powerplay tallies and four shorties.  It will be interesting to see how McMillian fares in Houston next season, as he is certainly an intriguing player for this organization (one that has rarely seen success at drafting in the later rounds). 

Seventh Heaven
There are two game sevens on the docket tonight and, honestly, does it get ANY better than a Game Seven in the NHL Playoffs?  It’s win or go home for four teams and it’s going to be I-N-T-E-N-S-E!!!  Now I typically shy away from predictions (for those unable to pick up on sarcasm through text, I’ll note it here), but I feel inclined to share my views on these two games.

2) Washington v. 7) NY Rangers - I made the observation a few days ago that, if any team is equipped to come back from a 3-1 defecit, the Capitals were certainly one of them.  It took a few games for the Caps to realize that they can’t shoot at Lundqvist’s mattresses (and for Boudreau to realize that he can’t have Theodore in nets), but once the Caps got it figured out and started executing their gameplan, they started rolling.  Torts will be back on the bench for the Rangers after his Game 5 hissy fit and, if I were a Caps fan, I wouldn’t relish sitting behind him because he’ll likely be packing for this one.

The Rangers Win If: They score first.  If they can do that, they can tighten up around Lundqvist and clog up the neutral zone.  In their three wins, the Rangers have proven that they can give the Caps fits when they do this.  The Caps offensive stars need room to skate in order to be effective, and if the Rangers are protecting a lead, they can afford to tighten up and not give the Caps the space to skate

The Capitals Win If: They get to Lundqvist early and often.  Not necessarily score, but pepper him with shots.  He’s been pulled in two straight games and they can’t afford to let him gain any confidence.  Crash the net, get in his way, do anything and everything they can to disrupt his game.  If that means buzzing him and taking  a goalie interference penalty early on, that’s what they have to do.  Get in his head and this one’s over.

My Prediction: Washington 4 New York 2

(3) New Jersey Devils v. 6) Carolina Hurricanes – This series has been the epitome of even.  Neither team has won more than one game in a row and only two of the six games have been decided by more than one goal.  At the onset of the series, everyone expected this to come down to goaltending and, tonight, it will.  Both Ward and Brodeur will be at their best and this game will be very, very tightly played.

The Devils Win If: Their offense shows up early.  This team has an absolutely explosive offense.  The problem is that they have been extremely inconsistent this series.  One game, they’ll look like absolute world beaters; the next, they look like they couldn’t find the back of the net if it were the size of the broad side of a barn.  If they come out of the gates ready to skate hard and ready to play, they’ll gain the advantage over Carolina.  If they falter, though, Carolina will exploit this.

The ‘Canes Win If: Cam Ward plays like he did in Games 5 and 6.  Ward is the catalyst for this team.  If he’s playing well, this team gains confidence and can steamroll opponents.  This team does not have the defense to protect Ward if he’s playing poorly and that can lead to a collapse if he is.  A couple big saves early and Ward’s confidence will go through the roof.  If this happens, it gets exponentially harder for the Devils to take ahold of this game and get any sort of momentum.

My Prediction: Carolina 3 New Jersey 2 (OT)