Trade issues could reflect program

Don Lucia said he thinks Minnesota is still a good place for NHL hopefuls.

Gophers vs. Huskies lost 3-4

Image by Matt Mead

Gophers vs. Huskies lost 3-4

by Max Sanders

First-round draft picks in any sport are seen as building blocks to the future, key cogs to help jumpstart a downtrodden franchise or move a team from perennial contender to a championship team. In years past, the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team has boasted multiple players that have made the jump from college hockey to the NHL and experienced success. But the recent downturn in the teamâÄôs on-ice performance has also shifted how NHL executives view the talent coming out of the Minnesota program. Freshman Nick Leddy entered the Minnesota program a highly touted player that received virtually every Minnesota high school state award, including the reigning Mr. Hockey. Drafted by the hometown Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2009 NHL entry draft, the defenseman was seen as a talented two-way defenseman that would use his speed to create opportunities on both ends of the ice. âÄúWe believe Nick Leddy is an excellent prospect who has the potential to be a complete defenseman while generating a lot of offense,âÄù Tom Thompson, Wild assistant general manager, said in a statement after last yearâÄôs NHL draft. On Feb. 12, the Wild packaged Leddy with defenseman Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks for Cam Barker in a deal made just before the NHLâÄôs trade freeze because of the Olympics. Leddy becomes the second first-round pick on the Gophers squad to be traded within the past year. Patrick White was drafted in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, but in his first two seasons at Minnesota the forward scored a total of just 26 points before being dealt this past September to the San Jose Sharks. At the time, the trade caught White off guard. âÄúThey never talked to me about anything like that,âÄù White said. âÄúI wasnâÄôt worried about getting traded or anything like that; I didnâÄôt go to sleep at night thinking about it.âÄù Similar to White, Leddy was also surprised by his trade. The freshman said he was in a meeting when his phone received two voicemails. A friend called asking about the rumors, and when Leddy checked his phone, the voicemails were from Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman and confirmed the trade. âÄúIt was a little disappointing at first,âÄù Leddy said. âÄúThey are both good teams, and Chicago has a lot of good guys that will be there for a while. TheyâÄôre young, so I am not too disappointed.âÄù While frequently targeted by critics, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is quick to defend his program and believes it is a good training ground for talented players such as Leddy and White to eventually make the move to the NHL. âÄúThe perception that kids are not developing or all that, itâÄôs simply not true,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúThere is a reason why we had three kids named to the Olympic team.âÄù As for the players, they insist they still believe in LuciaâÄôs program and consider it an honor to play for the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team. âÄúPlaying in Minnesota, wearing the âÄòM,âÄô there is a lot of pride, and you kind of grow up dreaming to play there,âÄù said Jordan Schroeder , who was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2009. âÄúItâÄôs a little bit of a dream of mine coming true, so IâÄôm definitely honored to wear it.âÄù Leddy echoed SchroederâÄôs sentiment and added that he believes he has improved his play in his short time at the University. âÄúGoing from high school to college, you are bound to get better,âÄù Leddy said. âÄúNow that I am starting to get used to the game a little more, it is slowing down.âÄù As the Gophers enter the final stretch of the regular season, they are not concerned with the recent trade of Leddy and White or the criticism of the program. Instead, they are focused on making a run to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. âÄúWe got to get some wins here at the end and hopefully get more in the playoffs,âÄù Leddy said. Nothing alleviates pressure more than winning, and if Lucia and the rest of the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team hope to avoid more trade talk and rumors of early departures, finishing the season strong on the ice might prove the best response for all the off-ice talk.