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New era begins for Minnesota Wild

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — New Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher already has chosen his coach. Now it’s time to start picking his players.

Owner Craig Leipold decided to fire Doug Risebrough, the only GM this franchise has ever had, in part because the Wild’s farm system was lacking in young talent thanks to some poor draft strategy.

Risebrough never hesitated to part with draft picks in trades, one reason the Wild have just one pick — 12th overall — in the first three rounds this year. They have seven total selections in this draft after having only nine in the past two years combined.

Fletcher appears to have a different philosophy.

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"Draft picks are like gold to me. They’re very important," Fletcher said. "It’s the lifeblood of an organization."

It all starts with the first round tonight.

When Fletcher took over, he said he wanted to institute a more up-tempo, high-flying style of play after nine seasons of defense-driven hockey under former coach Jacques Lemaire.

Fletcher hired Todd Richards to be the second coach in Wild history, and the two share a similar philosophy when it comes to getting up and down the ice.

The holdovers from the previous regime, including assistant general manager for player personnel Tommy Thompson, certainly have gotten the memo.

"I think the organizations that do well, they’re having fun doing their jobs, too," Thompson said. "The whole business of hockey has to be fun. I’ve never used the word in my life before, but I kept saying, ’We need players with some pizzazz.’ But I mean that."

Especially if star winger Marian Gaborik departs in free agency. It has long been thought that Gaborik, who was the first player drafted by the Wild, was frustrated with Lemaire’s conservative game plans and wanted to go play in a more wide open system.

The arrival of Fletcher and Richards could help change Gaborik’s view of the team, and Fletcher has been in talks with agent Ron Salcer bringing the only legitimate scorer back to the team. Gaborik becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

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