Wild 2004 draft preview

By Glen Jackson





Minnesota Draft Preview

Wild Top 10
Prospects


1. Mikko Koivu, C
2. Brent Burns, RW/D
3. Patrick O’Sullivan, C
4. Josh Harding, G
5. Rickard Wallin, C
6. Matt Foy, RW
7. Stephane Veilleux, LW
8. Adam Courchaine, C
9. Chris Heid, D
10. Zybnek Michalek, D



Team needs

 

The Minnesota Wild have
done a commendable job in building the franchise in such a short amount of
time. The team’s appearance in 2002-03’s Western Conference Finals along with
AHL affiliate Houston Aeros winning the Calder Cup that same season exceeded
everyone’s expectations for the organization – and at the same time raised
expectations for the Wild in the eyes of most. Unfortunately, in 2003-04, it
was a step back as the Wild didn’t make the playoffs and the Aeros made a quick
exit in the first round.

 

The Wild and, for the
most part, their system lacks any of the glaring needs that plague many of the
more recent expansion teams in the NHL, but in general they require higher
quality organizational depth at all positions.
Even goaltending has a hole or two, which on the surface looks
acceptable with Josh Harding, Kyle Kettles, and Frederic Cloutier waiting in the wings.

 

The Wild’s lack of
blueline depth prompted the move of Brent
Burns
to defense to finish the season when Filip Kuba was injured. This shift came about because they didn’t
want to deprive the Aeros of a key blueliner for their playoff drive, but
perhaps that was the final warning sign for a defensive squad that is rather
young and inexperienced on the whole by NHL standards. It’s not something that a draft is going to
remedy though, unless a trade opportunity arises in Carolina.

 

Between 2002-03 and
2003-04, the Wild’s total goal output only dropped off by ten, something the
late signings of Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis could partially account for,
but overall the Wild needs more scoring from its forwards, and of course those
players need to be good two-way players to keep ice time under Coach Jacques
Lemaire.

 

Organizational Strengths

The Wild are perhaps the
strongest in depth at center where they have the much-hyped Mikko Koivu and Patrick O’Sullivan leading the pack of prospects. Rickard
Wallin
impressed in his 15-game stint with the Wild at center this
season. Indeed, his points per game
dipped by only .02 at the NHL level compared to his time with the Aeros. Adam
Courchaine
had a good season in the WHL and was over a point per game —
not as impressive a year as O’Sullivan, but still encouraging. Mark
Cullen
began the 2003-04 season with the Aeros undergoing cancer treatment,
but he came back and showed how resilient and valuable he is as a two-way
center, collecting 38 points in 53 games while leading the team in plus/minus
by a large margin. Dan Cavanaugh also showed he has some character, earning the second
highest point total on the Aeros while serving as captain.

 

Goal is not really a
weakness for the team but compared with a year ago it’s not quite as strong as
it appeared then either.
Nineteen-year-old Harding is the team’s top goaltending prospect and is
expected to one day suit up for the Wild, but after that they have goalies that
are at risk for being career minor-leaguers.
Kettles did alright as the backup to Johan Holmqvist in Houston but he
doesn’t appear ready to be a starter for the Aeros. And Cloutier, once expected to fast track to the NHL, has
remained “stuck” at the ECHL level with the IceGators. He’s done well there, but in his appearances
with the Aeros he has not left a strong impression. Cloutier’s contract is up for renewal and it’s still not clear
what the Wild will do with him. It
might be a decision that will be made clearer once the draft is completed.

 

Organizational Weaknesses

 

Barry Brust
did fairly well once he was traded to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL this season
but the Wild elected not to sign him, allowing Los Angeles to acquire him this
week, so there is definitely more room for a goalie in the system.

 

However, goaltending is
not the team’s most pressing need.
Instead it is defense. The
signing of Free agent Ryan Stokes at
the end of May was in aide of this cause, and Stokes is a decent two-way
defenseman who should make a difference within the organization. It’s still unclear how far the Brent Burns
Experiment will go, but Lemaire sounded quite happy to have Burns at defense at
the end of the season. The move wasn’t
completely unprecedented or surprising given the big club’s need for a power
play specialist at the time and Burns’ past experience as a defenseman
throughout the majority of his hockey career, but many still doubt that the
Wild will keep him in at defense and let his power forward potential pass
by. But even if Burns should stay, the
Wild is thin at this position and could use a good two-way player, or an
offensive defenseman. Currently they
have no projected top-three defensive prospects in the system.

 

The next biggest hole
for the club is at wing. With or
without Burns up front this is also an area the system needs to add some
upper-tier prospects to. Matt Foy will be watched closely next
season with the Aeros after his point production slumped a little more than
would have been expected, .47 PPG, following a stellar season in the OHL in
2002-03 where he had 1.94 PPG. Stephane Veilleux had a fine showing
with the Wild and looks to be a good fill-in for next season and should be a
leader for the Aeros. Power forward Kyle Wanvig has progressed steadily in
the AHL and might have a shot at making the Wild next training camp. After those three the Wild have a small
group of decent two-way or checking line wingers, but they need more depth
there. Wingers that can put the puck in
the net would be ideal, and if not they could at least use talent with size for
the outside, because aside from Wanvig and tough guy Derek Boogaard their system is devoid of big wingers. But then, again, they’re also light on
scoring talent from the wings as well.

 

Draft Tendencies

 

This year’s draft will
be only the fifth in Wild franchise history, but a few tendencies have
appeared.

 

In the first two to
three years the Wild selected a number of over-age Europeans with the hope that
they could step right in and play while the rest of the team developed. So it’s not surprising that 40 percent of
the Wild’s picks have been Europeans.
Players such as Peter Bartos, Tony Virta and Lubomir Sekeras did appear
in games for the Wild, but their usefulness to the team is at an end.

 

The Wild have exhibited
a definite preference for CHL players, with 51 percent of the team’s picks
coming from the OHL, WHL and QMJHL. And
that doesn’t include Marcin Kolusz
and Georgi Misharin, who both played
in the CHL for the first time this past season.

 

Somewhat surprising is
that the Wild has selected only two college players thus far (Marc Cavosie and Mike Erickson), or 6 percent of their picks. Danny
Irmen
played college hockey this season, but was drafted out of the USHL at
last year’s Entry Draft.

 

The Wild have
concentrated on forwards and goalies in the early rounds with only a few
exceptions, but expect that to change with the team lacking a quality defensive
prospect.

 

Barring any last second
trades, the Wild will select 11 players in this draft with their late season
trades helping to give them a total of five picks in the third and fourth
rounds. Expect them to use at least one
of those picks to take a goaltender. In
fact they seem poised to take at least two goalies and perhaps release
Cloutier. Doug Risebrough recently
hinted on the team’s web site that he might prefer taking the best player
available rather than filling a specific team need, even if that happens to be
a goalie. It could be a hint that they
might be considering taking one of the top rated goalies should they be
available at twelfth.

 

It’s possible that they
might do just that, but it seems unlikely, even if the top three or four
defensive prospects are gone before they get on the clock. But if offensive defenseman A.J. Thelen is still available at No.
12 the Wild would likely have a hard time passing on him. They would of course consider defensemen Andrej Meszaros or Ladislav Smid if available, especially after the recent signing of
Stokes added some required toughness
to their blueline thereby leaving a need in the rearguard for a solid two-way
defensive prospect. However, the most likely scenario for the first round would
see them looking to the OHL’s Wojtek
Wolski
or Minnesota native Drew
Stafford
to provide size and offensive ability from the outside. Most feel Wolski owns the offensive edge on
Stafford, but it is doubtful that he’ll be available at that point in the first
round. Another player who might or
might not make it to the Wild’s pick is the offensively gifted Robbie Schremp from the London Knights
of the OHL. If he’s available, perhaps
Risebrough will follow the best-player-available mantra and select another
strong prospect at center, getting great value for pick position because of
off-ice issues as he did with O’Sullivan at the 2003 draft. There’s even a remote possibility that the
Wild may even forego size in the first and take a chance on Russian Alexander Radulov, a skilled and feisty
right winger who can put the puck in the net.

 

Whatever the outcome,
the eleven picks should go a long way to filling in most of the depth gaps
within the Minnesota Wild system.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Drew Stafford, RW