The Minnesota Wild are the owners of some top, young players in the game. And like a groom on his wedding night, Minnesota is giddy about the possibilities.
Marian Gaborik is a starting point. Gaborik is amazingly only 20 years old – meaning he is actually just of the age to begin competing in some minor leagues (AHL for example). Gaborik is no doubt a future star in the National Hockey League. Last season he posted 30 goals, 30 assists in only his second season in the NHL. Gaborik scored 48 goals in his first two seasons and has the drive to excel as a superstar. Gaborik is his team’s top offensive threat and he faces the opponent’s top defensive duo roughly eighty-two times per season. If, or rather when, the Wild start to build other offensive threats around him Marian’s numbers will simply be scary.
Speaking of other offensive threats, meet Mikko Koivu. Although bloodlines do not directly determine a player’s success in the league, it can only help that Mikko is the brother of Montreal’s semi-god Saku Koivu. The 19-year old from Finland was the Minnesota Wild’s first round selection (6th overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Koivu has great size, good speed and an unusual vision of the ice that sets him apart from opposing players. The 6-2 center is expected to return to his Finnish team, the TPS Turku, but do not be surprised when he suits up for the Wild in the next year or two.
Next, let’s move to the blueline. Nick Schultz and Filip Kuba represent the present and the future for the Wild. Schultz and Kuba currently play for the Wild, but the average NHL fan probably does not know how good the two could be.
Filip Kuba, who was acquired in the expansion draft, is not only the top defensemen on the team, but also the owner of the coolest nick-name. How can you outdo Flip (alright I admit Antti and Hnat are also good, but no competition to Flip)? Kuba led defensemen last year in ice time, shots, power play goals and assists. Kuba keeps opponents honest with his booming slap shot and his 6-3 frame.
Nick Schultz was Minnesota’s second round selection (33rd overall) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Schultz moved quickly through the ranks and established himself last season as a steady defensemen who can play with the big boys of the NHL. A series of injuries limited Schultz to 52 games last season, but he is developing as expecting for Minnesota. The defensemen is primarily a skill defender but skates well enough and makes crisp passes to teammates. Schultz should see more ice time and his numbers accordingly will increase as well as his Minnesota fan base.
Another noteworthy defensemen is Travis Roche. Roche is an offensive-minded player and a future quarterback on the Minnesota power play. Last season Roche played 60 games with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Roche netted 13 goals and 21 assists in those 60 games with Houston. The Wild are fond of his willingness to take and dish out hits (107 PIM last season). Roche has a good shot at making the final roster; however, if he does not crack the six-man rotation he may be better suited starting the season back in Houston.
Finally, the newest addition to the already exciting prospect base is Pierre-Marc Bouchard. PM Bouchard was Minnesota’s first round selection (8th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Bouchard is an electric skater and a recognized scorer in the juniors. He led the QMJHL in scoring last season with 46 goals and an astounding 94 assists. Bouchard is an offensive machine – he will shake you with his skating, he will beat you with his stick handling and he will place the puck on anyone’s stick he wants. Most critics will note that Bouchard is tiny on NHL standards – Pierre Marc stands 5-9 and weighs anywhere between 145 and 165 lbs. No doubt Bouchard will need to bulk up to play physically in the league, but his lightning speed and uncanny skills will have him in a Wild uniform soon enough. Bouchard will most likely return to the juniors and play the majority of this season there. Bouchard, 18, is not old enough to play with Houston (at least 4 years experience or 20 years of age to compete in the AHL) and there is some confusion as to where he will begin the season. Due to a cross checking penalty from last season, Bouchard is suspended for the first seven games of the QMJHL season. No matter where he starts his career, Bouchard will be scoring plenty of goals for the red, gold and green in the next few years.
The playoffs are probably not in the picture this season, however with a team built around these future stars, Minnesota is surely headed in the right direction – the ‘wild’ direction.