production this season
A number of the Wild’s young talent
had a chance to showcase what they could do late in the season, once the Wild
were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Although no Calder candidates
emerged for the 2003-04 season from the Wild, three rookies in particular gave
fans of the team a reason to be hopeful.
is a look at the stats for the five Minnesota Wild rookies who saw NHL action
Brent Burns, RW/D – Selected in the first round, 20th
overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. (Age 19)
Young power forwards sometimes find
it difficult to adjust to the speed and size of players in the NHL, requiring
at least a few seasons before they can impact games like they did in junior.
The Wild elected to keep Burns, perhaps their power forward with the best
potential, with the team after training camp. He started the season off well,
potting his first career NHL goal in his third game in a 3-2 loss versus the
San Jose Sharks. Six games into the season he had four points (1 goal, 3
assists), but that would end up being two thirds of his total points for the
His strong start motivated the Wild
to keep him past ten games, instead of returning him to the OHL’s Brampton
Battalion. He then separated his shoulder on October 26th. He played
his 10th game on November 15th, which triggered the start
of his three-year contract. After earning one point in the next six games, and
being a healthy scratch for a few more after that, the Wild decided it would
better serve Burns if he participated in the 2004 World Junior tournament in
Finland. He appeared on Canada’s big line along with Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff
Carter, collecting six assists and twenty penalty minutes on his way to a
fairly strong tournament that resulted in a silver medal for the team.
He returned to the Wild briefly before injuring his
neck in a practice on January 28th, and when he returned on February
26th after missing eight games he was assigned to a short
conditioning stint with the Aeros. It lasted just the one game in which he registered
an assist, two penalty minutes, and was a minus-1. He returned to the Wild
again and continued to play an average to below average amount of minutes for
Wild forwards with the odd healthy scratch mixed in, but was by no means
excelling as a forward with just 1 goal and 4 assists through 31 games. When
Filip Kuba’s right index finger was broken on March 25th Lemaire
decided to experiment with his 19-year-old forward and shifted him from right
wing to defense, a position he played up until his 2002-03 season with the
The change included the key role as the right handed
point shot on the Wild power play and on the final day of the NHL regular
season Burns assisted on a power play goal by Stephane Vellieux to finish his
rookie year with 6 points.
The Wild have been extremely high on Burns since they
drafted him and with his strong finish to the year with five games on defense,
Coach Lemaire is even more optimistic about the outlook for next season for the
Ajax, Ontario native in his possible permanent return to rearguard.
Michalek (D) – Signed as a Free Agent September 29th, 2001. (Age
Michalek made his NHL debut on January 16th,
2004 while on his second call up from Houston. In total he was recalled from
the Aeros three times this season. The Jindrchuv Hradec, Czech Republic native
scored his first NHL goal, unassisted, on March 9th in a 4-3 victory
over San Jose.
It’s been expected that Michalek has the career
potential to be a decent offensive defenseman, but in the 22 games he played in
this season he only averaged 29 seconds of power play time per game. Even when
Kuba went down with injury late in the season, Lemaire elected to move Burns
back to point on the power play over using Michalek, whose 14:12 ice time per
game average was the lowest of all defensemen for the Wild this season.
Michalek was part of the Wild’s
youth movement near the end of the season and, including his first goal, he had
his first assist and was minus –2 for March and April when the team went 9-4-1.
Undoubtedly, this first taste of NHL
action was good for the young defenseman even if it was statistically
unimpressive. His play was fairly steady and it was a good learning year to
build on for his future, and should increase his chances of securing a regular
role with the Wild next season.
Rickard Wallin (C) – Acquired via trade from Phoenix Coyotes for Joe
Juneau on June 23, 2000. (Age 23)
Wallin only appeared in the last 15
games of the season but he was arguably the most promising rookie to appear for
the Wild this season after being recalled from Houston on March 6th.
He collected 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in that time, but it was comprised
of two three point games and one two point game.
The creative and agile Swede also
notched a game winning goal, a career first, versus Dallas on April 2nd,
a game in which he finished with two goals, one assist, and a plus–1 rating. In
total, three of his five goals this season came on the power play.
Wallin’s impressive play couldn’t
have been all that surprising to the Wild given his past performance in Sweden
and the fact that he scored his first NHL goal last season on his very first
NHL shot. He appeared in four games total last year before breaking his hand
and subsequently being assigned to Houston when he returned from the injury.
The 23-year-old has a very
impressive stat going thus far in his 19 career NHL games: A 35.3 shooting
percentage. And his percentage of 31.3 for this season was second only to
teammate Matt Johnson (33.3) for all players in the league who appeared in more
than 10 games.
Perhaps most importantly, Wallin
attracted the praise of Lemaire and GM Doug Risebrough for his late season run
with the Wild. The Wild could use his scoring and he is almost a sure bet to
make the team next season if he continues his strong play next preseason.
Wanvig (RW) – Selected in the second round, 36th overall, in the
2001 NHL Entry Draft. (Age 23)
Wanvig appeared in six games in the 2003-04 season,
one fewer than the year before, but don’t take that as a con for the former
Memorial Cup MVP. Lemaire already knows what he has in the young power forward
from Calgary, Alberta, and so elected not to deprive the Houston Aeros of their
leading scorer (41 points in 72 games) by bringing him up for the Wild’s year
end youth expose.
He was, however, recalled to the Wild a total of
three times in December and January, and on January 16th he
registered his first career assist in the NHL versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.
His first career goal came in his first career game last season.
In 2000-01 Wanvig lead his Red Deer Rebels to a
Memorial Cup, and last season he helped the Aeros to a Calder Cup championship.
With a third, and his most productive AHL season in the books, Wanvig will be
looking to continue his winning ways at the next level come the new season. The
Wild have already let him know that he will have a good opportunity to make the
team out of training camp next season.
Roche (D) – Signed as a Free Agent April 8, 2001. (Age 25)
Roche was given a shot to be a power play point man
at the start of the season when he appeared in five non-consecutive games, but
he had only one assist and was a minus-3. That assist, on October 28th
in a game against Buffalo, was the first of his career and came on the power
play. When Sergei Zholtok returned from irregular heartbeat problems on
November 9th, the Wild waived Roche. He cleared waivers and spent
the rest of the season with the Aeros. It appears that his time with the Wild
has most likely come to an end. The team’s signing of Alex Henry off waivers
from Washington on October 9th helped make Roche expendable for the
When the call ups began in March and the Wild were in
need of a defenseman Roche was injured, although it’s doubtful that he would
have been given the call anyhow.
It’s not all bad for Roche, who had another strong
season with the Aeros. He earned 38 points (8 goals, 30 assists), despite
playing in only 60 games, which was good enough for a tie for third in team
Roche is now an AHL veteran at only 25 years of age,
and it appears that he might be looking at a career in that league unless he
catches a break with another franchise down the road.
His first career NHL game came was with the Wild
during the 2000-01 season, the day after he had played in the 2001 NCAA
championship game. He appeared in four games in the 2001-02 season and was a -2
with no points.