With 12 picks in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, including two third-rounders and three fourth-round selections, the Wild had high expectations for how this draft could improve their franchise in the future.
But, unfortunately, the draft has largely been a disaster. To date, not one of the players selected has definitively proven themselves to be full-time NHL players although a pair of them appear to be on their way. Only two players to date have played a single NHL game and both of those players made their NHL debuts during the most recent NHL campaign.
Making matters worse is the fact that only one of the two players with NHL experience remain with the organization. All hope is not entirely lost however, as a couple of the selections remain viable prospects today.
The Wild 2004 draft class has played a total of 77 games for an average of just 6.4 games per pick — the fifth-worst among the 30 NHL teams.
A.J. Thelen, D – 1st round, 12th overall — Michigan State University
NHL Games: 0
Easily one of the strangest stories of the 2004 draft, Thelen was touted as a solid two-way defenseman with offensive upside and top-pairing potential coming out of college. Taken slightly higher by Minnesota than most had him rated,
He was dismissed from the Michigan State Spartans by head coach Rick Comley in the middle of the 2004-05 season reportedly as a result of an underage drinking incident the night before a game and missing a team function. He made the transition to the WHL the next season, where he joined the Prince Albert Raiders.
Thelen enjoyed moderate success over a season and a half with the Raiders including 48 points in 95 games, but never truly lived up to expectations. He was acquired by the Vancouver Giants late in the 2006-07 where he was part of the Memorial Cup winning team. The Wild opted not to sign the first-round selection and he became a free agent.
Thelen has spent the past two seasons in the ECHL playing for the Texas Wildcatters (who were affiliated with Minnesota at the time) and the Florida Everblades. He tried to move over to Europe last fall, but was cut by a team in Austria before he ever got started. Thelen will need to play much better to even make it as an AHL player.
Voloshenko spent the year after being drafted playing junior hockey in Russia and appearing in international tournaments, in all of which he acquitted himself well. The Belarusian-born sniper burst onto the North American scene in 2005-06 with an outstanding performance with the Houston Aeros, notching 33 goals and 27 assists in 69 games. But, he was playing on a very good line with some veteran scorers. Voloshenko wasn’t able to keep it up the following season and managed just 11 goals and 30 points.
In October 2007, the relationship came to a head when Voloshenko opted to return to Russia against the advice of then Wild GM Doug Risebrough. Voloshenko appeared in 18 games that season with Moscow Dynamo, posting a disappointing two points in 18 games. The 2008-09 campaign proved to be just as fruitless for the former top prospect as he scored just two points in 15 games between Moscow and Balashkikha MVD. At this point, there is nothing to indicate Voloshenko will return to his previous form.
Petr Olvecky, LW – 3rd round, 78th overall — Trencin, Slovakia
NHL Games: 0
Olvecky has shown a strong desire to play in the NHL since his selection in the 2004 Entry Draft. After one more season with Trencin in the Slovak league, Olvecky transitioned to the Houston Aeros where he spent the entire next three seasons. Olvecky put up steady numbers, consistently scoring around 30 points while appearing in the majority of games.
Olvecky got his break during the 2008-09 season, getting recalled in late January and playing out the duration of the season with the Wild. Olvecky put in good work playing depth minutes and managed to chip in with seven points during his 31-game campaign. Having successfully stuck with the team during the latter half of the season, Olvecky is most likely going to be a full-time NHLer; he just quite hasn’t played enough games to solidify his place yet.
With the second of back-to-back selections in the third round, the Wild chose rough-and-tumble Port McNeill, BC native Clayton Stoner. Throughout his major junior career, Stoner steadily increased his offensive production year to year while maintaining his physical defensive play.
Stoner put up great stats in his first professional season with the Aeros including 24 points, but struggled immensely in his second campaign with just seven points and a minus-9 rating – his only professional campaign to date that he has been a minus player. Stoner has rebounded with steady play over the past two seasons. His maturity as a professional hockey player with four full seasons under his belt and 6’4, 215 lbs frame make him potentially the most NHL-ready defenseman in the Wild system. Stoner has a real chance of seeing NHL action next season.
Ryan Jones, F – 4th round, 111th overall — Chatman Maroons, Ontario Junior B
NHL Games: 0
Despite being drafted out of the relative obscurity of Western Ontario’s Junior B league, Ryan Jones has proven to be one of the most astute choices by the Wild in the 2004 Entry Draft and an all-around good pick for value.
Jones transitioned fairly seamlessly from Junior B hockey to the NCAA the following season, putting up a respectable 15 points in 38 games as a freshman with Miami University (Ohio). Over the course of the next three seasons, Jones built on his offensive success each year while playing out his full eligibility.
Traded with a second round pick to Nashville for Marek Zidlicky in the summer of 2008, this was his first season as a pro, and Jones turned a solid first half of the season for the Milwaukee Admirals into a mid-season call-up to Nashville where he remained for the duration of the year. Jones is a tweener right now. If Jones makes the club out of camp, he can securely be considered an NHLer but at this point it’s pretty safe to assume he will get there.
Patrick Bordeleau, LW – 4th round, 114th overall Val d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL
NHL Games: 0
At 6’6 and 220 lbs, Bordeleau was brimming with potential to be a significant physical force. With size and decent hands, Bordeleau racked up 38 and 56 points in his next two junior seasons. Despite the numbers, the Wild opted not to sign Bordeleau to a contract and the Foreurs decided against keeping him on as an overager. He was dealt from Val d’or to Drummondville to Acadie-Bathurst early in the season and ended up playing Junior "A" games in Quebec and Saskatchewan in 2006-07.
The ensuing years have proven just as tumultuous for the big left winger. 2007-08 saw him play for three different ECHL franchises and even get in a game with St. Thomas University in New Brunswick of the CIS collegiate league in Canada. 2008-09 saw even more movement for the Montreal-born winger as he played games for two ECHL teams and a whopping four AHL clubs. While he found moderate success in the ECHL, he produced limited results in the American League.
Julien Sprunger, RW – 4th round, 117th overall — Fribourg-Gotteron, Swiss-A
NHL Games: 0
Standing 6’4 and with plenty of raw offensive potential, Sprunger was considered by some to be a potential steal in the 2004 draft. Unfortunately one of the more promising Swiss prospects in recent memory appears destined to play out his career in the Swiss league. Despite improved offensive production since Draft Day resulting in Sprunger scoring at roughly a point-per-game pace the past two seasons, the winger does not appear able to play in the NHL. Lack of physical strength and poor use of his size have been knocks on Sprunger since 2004 and not enough progress has been made to make him a viable NHL prospect.
A 6’3 offensive defenseman, Sawyer played out his full major junior eligibility with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Sawyer was not signed by Minnesota and subsequently came to an agreement with the Blackhawks the summer after his overage year where he put up 77 points in 68 games.
Sawyer spent most of the 2007-08 season in the ECHL where he 32 points in 65 games with the Pensacola Ice Pilots. He got more of a shot at the AHL in 2008-09, playing in 19 games for the Rockford IceHogs, but spent more time once again the ECHL. But he was scratched in the playoffs by his ECHL coach for poor play. Sawyer may not solidify himself in the AHL. He’s not good defensively and isn’t very coachable. A power-play specialist, that’s really the only situation he does well in.
Perhaps calling Boogaard a bust is unfair. Like many enforcers, in the right circumstances he could find himself playing in an NHL game. But at the end of the day, Boogaard will never be a full-time NHL player in the best of circumstances. The younger brother of the skating mountain that is Derek Boogaard, Aaron played most of his junior hockey in Tri-City. Boogaard didn’t sign with Minnesota but inked a three-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins when his WHL career ended.
After patrolling the ice for the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL for most of the 2007-08 season, Boogaard was promoted to the AHL for the duration of the 2008-09 campaign where he protected the key players for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Jean-Michel Rizk, RW – 7th round, 195th overall — Saginaw
NHL Games: 0
Rizk was drafted as a gritty winger who could become a depth player, but never panned out. He bounced from Saginaw to Kitchener to Mississauga throughout his major junior career, where his play was inadequate to receive a pro contract. Rizk played a season with Wilfred Laurier in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league in 2007-08 but appears to be done with competitive hockey.
Anton Khudobin, G – 7th round, 206th overall — Magnitogorsk, Russia
NHL Games: 0
After spending most of the 2004-05 season representing his country in international tournaments and getting into a handful of Russian SuperLeague games, Khudobin made the rare decision for a Russian player to relocate to North America to play major junior in the CHL. While playing with Saskatoon, the outgoing netminder managed to earn a spot on the Russian World Junior Championship team, where he played extremely well.
Despite the successful campaign in the Western Hockey League, Khudobin returned to Russia for 2006-07. But the next year he was back in North America where he has spent the past two seasons. Khudobin is small for a goaltender, at just 5’10, and this weakness gets exposed on the pro level.
Khudobin has not had the early success hoped, and has spent the majority of both years playing for ECHL teams rather than AHL clubs. This past season he was a teammate of Thelen with the Everblades. He had some success in the AHL playoffs this year, however, as an injury replacement.
The Russian netminder’s window of opportunity appears to be closing unless he can make significant strides in the upcoming campaign.
Another member of the 2004 draft class the Wild didn’t come to terms with, Wilson initially signed with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage the fall after a highly successful senior year. After just seven games he was released, but shortly picked up by Hershey Bears. It was a perfect match, and Wilson responded with 54 points in 54 games and earned a contract with the Washington Capitals.
Wilson followed up that season with 61 and 58 points seasons in Hershey. He’s conclusively proven that he can put up results at the AHL level but is yet to receive his chance to shine in the NHL. For a ninth round selection, Wilson has proven to be value, but not to the benefit of the Wild.
Holly Gunning contributed to this article.