2007 Draft produced numerous depth players for Minnesota Wild

By Peter Prohaska
Photo: The first pick taken by the Wild in 2007, Colton Gillies never quite developed into the power forward he was projected to when taken 16th overall. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

The last remnants of the old empire haven't quite all been swept away, but with the waiving in Colton Gillies in January, the 2007 draft will be notable for the late round picks that seem to be tracking well. And while having yet another first round pick fail to stick with a team seems disastrous, the 2007 draft has provided some decent depth for the Wild organization.

In 2006-07 the Wild scored the fewest goals of any team in the league, yet grabbed the seventh playoff seed in the West based on the strengths of an excellent year from Nick Backstrom backstopping Jacques Lemaire's trademark team defense. The team however was quickly dispatched by the eventual champion Ducks. And although any playoff berth is generally a sign of a successful season, it was apparent that more high-end offensive skill was needed to supplement the core after such an anemic goal-scoring year.

As has been the trend, the Wild looked to the WHL and Finland for its picks, drafting big, and dealing picks freely for position.

Colton Gillies, LW, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) – 1st round 16th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 94

On draft day the Wild traded its first and second round picks, 19th and 42nd overall, to the Stanley Cup champion Ducks in order to pick Colton Gillies from the Saskatoon Blades. The nephew of New York Islanders legend Clark Gillies had size and skating to go with the famous bloodline, but not much in the way of point totals. Strangely for a first round pick and a putative power forward, Gillies was not in the top 100 scorers in the WHL his draft year. He was however the 30th ranked player in the Central Scouting rankings.

The Wild of this period clearly favored drafting players with natural size. Gillies looked NHL-ready on draft day, if still in need of some muscle mass. He returned for another season in Saskatoon, improving on his point totals with 47 in 58 games, but stepping into the Aeros lineup for eleven games and looking quite legitimate. Observers have criticized the Wild for what happened next: bringing Gillies up for the entirety of the 2008-09 season. He managed just seven points in the 45 games he played. A season of healthy scratches seemed to sap Gillies's confidence, but his lack of puck skills and intuition also meant his game was not quite up to NHL standards. The 2009 season saw him back with Houston, where his skills were better utilized. That upward trend continued in 2010, and was very effective in seven games as a call-up.

The 2011 season was expected to be his coming out party. However, somewhat buried on the fourth line, Gillies never fully seemed capable of handling the pressures of the NHL game, and the Wild risked waivers to get him back to Houston where he could play more minutes and regain the confidence he showed at the end of last season. However, the Columbus Blue Jackets, badly in need of some speed and any kind of help, made the waiver claim, likely at the urging of former Minnesota and new Columbus Head Coach Todd Richards.

Justin Falk, D, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 4th round, 110th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 54

The scouting staff does deserve some credit for selecting defenseman Justin Falk from the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Ranked at 74th on the Central Scouting list, the Wild happily selected Falk in the fourth round. Though that Chiefs team was led by dynamic blueliner Jared Spurgeon, as well as guys like Michael Grabner (NYI) and Drayson Bowman (CAR), Falk played an important role cleaning up in his own end. Clearly a team with a solid core, the Chiefs would win the Memorial Cup in 2007-08 and Falk would be named to the tournament all-star team.

It has been a little slower going for the Manitoba native as a professional, but Falk has shown steady progress despite adversity. Not possessed of a noticeable mean streak, he has had to develop a greater physical edge to be effective. He is a desirable combination of size and skating, and has shown decent puck skills too. Used somewhat out of necessity in the NHL this year, Falk has held his own and seems on track to hold down a regular NHL job going forward. As such, he is well on his way to covering his draft bet and should play part of the Wild's core for the future.

Cody Almond, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – 5th round 140th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 23

The Calgary native had a nice draft year, leading the Kelowna Rockets in points, with a relatively modest 43 in 68 games. Almond continued his junior success with a good 2007-08, getting a little help offensively from the likes of Colin Long (PHX), Tyson Barrie (COL) and new Rocket acquisition Jamie Benn, but losing a tough series against the Seattle Thunderbirds. In 2008-09 Almond put up his second consecutive 100+ penalty minute season, as a Rocket team loaded with veteran talent made a remarkable run in the playoffs for a WHL title. Almond played no small part in that; putting up 27 points in 22 games. The team fell to Windsor in the Memorial Cup final, but Almond certainly finished his junior career on a strong note.

Since turning pro, Almond has found limited success at the NHL level. The Wild have made limited use of his services in each of the last three seasons, but with just two goals to go with a sound defensive game, Almond is the type of player need the Wild seem to have already met, with veterans like Kyle Brodziak and Warren Peters ahead of him on the depth chart for now. That said, he plays a big role with the Aeros, playing as a tough matchups center and faceoff specialist.

Harri Ilvonen, D, Tappara (Finland) – 6th Round 170th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Ilvonen is a defender with good size, a good shot, and a decent overall game, still playing professional hockey but far from cracking an NHL roster.

One of just four Finnish players drafted in 2007, Ilvonen had come up through the Tappara system and played for the 2006 U-18 National Team. He had a very strong draft year with Tappara's U-20 squad, posting nearly a point-per-game from the blue. The next year though he struggled to find his way, not finding a foothold with Tappara's SM-Liiga level and eventually being loaned to LeKi of the second division, as well as HPK. This arrangement continued in the 2008-09 season, with Ilvonen just not generating numbers indicative of a player ready for the next level. In 2009-10, Ilvonen did have a very good year with Tappara, particularly in the playoffs where he had eight points in nine games. He was hampered by a shoulder injury in the next season, but at this point the Wild had lost interest, and Ilvonen wasn't qualified.

Carson McMillan, RW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 7th round 200th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 8

McMillan was certainly picked as a good bet to fill a depth role. He had just 22 points in his draft year, playing all 72 games for the Calgary Hitmen. Not exactly a fighter, McMillan was always billed as a hard-working player, who got his penalty minute totals from willingness to engage. McMillan had the skating skills, but lacked the hands of a finisher, and to a degree, also lacked some ability to think the game at a high level.

Despite these criticisms, the Manitoba native has lasted. McMillan has even started putting the puck in the net some for the Aeros, and has had his name called by the Wild in the last two seasons. Transitioning from a hitting winger in the Clutterbuck mold to more of an all-around checking center, McMillan has probably already covered his draft bet.

The numbers don't really suggest a player who will come up to the NHL and suddenly score 20 goals, but as a depth option who can hold his own physically and make other teams pay a price, McMillan is a very useful player.