Over the course of the next month, Konopkaesque will review each player who suited up for the Wild this season, with a few exceptions. 1) They had to play at least ten games during the season and/or playoffs (sorry, Brett Bulmer, Carson McMillan and John Curry) and 2) they had to finish the season as part of the organization, which ironically excludes the man for whom this blog is named, among others.
So, without further blathering, here’s today’s subject:
Erik Haula, C, Age 23
Remaining contract (per capgeek): 1 year, $900,000 Entry-Level Contract (RFA in 2015)
Games: 45 (Regular Season) 13 (Playoffs)
Goals: 6 (Regular Season) 4 (Playoffs)
Assists: 9 (Regular Season) 3 (Playoffs)
+/-: +14 (Regular Season +2 (Playoffs)
PIM: 29 (Regular Season) 0 (Playoffs)
ATOI: 10:09 (Regular Season) 14:12 (Playoffs)
What Did He Do?: Haula was the meteor of the team. As he grew, the Wild grew exponentially more dangerous. Certainly we all remember his impact in the playoffs, but perhaps more interesting is how he grew into the player who befuddled defenses, scored great goals, and got under the skin of Gabriel Landeskog.
Haula began the season as an Iowa Wild player, mentioned only when someone who knew his name would bang a table and shout “where the hell is Erik Haula!” When he did finally get his chance late in November, but was essentially just a fourth line grinder, playing on the wing, and spending a healthy chunk of the game on the bench. Haula’s elevation coincided with the demotions of Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley, as well as the eventual downgrading of Kyle Brodziak. Haula simply seized every opportunity provided to him, never seemed fazed by playing tougher and tougher minutes, and his speed, smarts and tenacity changed the way the Wild could play, giving them more flexibility to matchup with other teams up and down the lineup.
Oddly, the first person I think of when examining Erik Haula is Ken Holland, the Red Wings long-time GM who has made a habit of plucking under-appreciated gems in the later rounds of the NHL draft (Niklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsuk, Gustav Nyquist, etc. etc. etc.). Chuck Fletcher is becoming somewhat of a draftnik himself, hitting on Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper and Haula in his first draft alone. It’s too early to judge much of his more recent work, but early reviews are positive on low-round players like Johan Gustaffson (6th Rd, 2010) and Tyler Graovac (7th Rd, 2011). If Fletch can make a habit of this, the Wild will have depth for years to come. Haula is a good start.
What to Expect if You’re Expecting: Growing pains. Haula is certainly an NHL player, but despite his starring role in two playoff series, he is still an inexperienced NHL player. 58 games is nothing, and only about 25 of those were very scoutable for opposing teams. Rest assured, everyone else in the league will be picking Haula apart over the summer and beyond, trying to find tendencies for a player who is clearly an X-factor for the Wild. Expect young Erik to have to make one or two minor adjustments during the course of the 2014-15 season as the competition latches on to his strengths and weaknesses. Tops on the list of things to work on should be faceoffs. Haula won just 46.3% of faceoffs in the regular season (he was better in the playoffs, at 54.6%) and will need to be more consistent if he is going to stay up the middle, where his speed and rink coverage are most useful.
That’s the downside. The upside is that the Wild have likely found their third-line center for the next decade. Don’t stop feeling good about this one, Wild nation, Haula is that good.
Trade Prospects?: As they say, it never hurts to ask, but I would assume that if Chuck Fletcher gave him up now, Dinkytown would get trashed. Of course, the kids will trash Dinkytown for just about anything these days.
Season Highlight: Obligatory first NHL goal highlight on the most Minnesota of Hockey Day in Minnesotas to-date:
Most of the things Haula did were highlight-worthy, really. So it would be nice if someone would just combine them into one easy to swallow package video…like this one: