Wild Top 20 prospects

By Glen Jackson

Although missing a future superstar, the Minnesota Wild prospects are a solid group. Mikko Koivu continues to top the list.

The top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a rating reflecting their projected role. Factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, current league and years in that league, team quality, statistics, awards, international tournament performances, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.

Key:
Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age
Draft Position, Rating and Role

1. (1) Mikko Koivu, C, 21
Draft: 1st round, 6th 2001 Rating: 8 Role: Skilled two-way center

Mikko Koivu has finally arrived – in North America at least. He spent time with the Wild prospect camp recently after posting another strong season with TPS Turku where he earned 30 points in 45 games. The veteran of the Finnish Elite League is a big two-way playmaking center that the Wild would like to start making use of as soon as he is ready. Next season might be his time to start shining for the organization.

2. (2) Patrick O’Sullivan, C, 19
Draft: 2nd round, 56th 2003 Rating: 8 Role: Skilled center

At least a few GM’s were probably scolding themselves in January after Patrick O’Sullivan’s two goal performance in the US Gold Medal game at the World Juniors. However, that was just one, albeit clutch, big game. But by the end of the 2003-04 season, after which O’Sullivan capped off his third strong year in the league by helping lead his Mississauga IceDogs to the Eastern Conference championship in the OHL, it’s likely more of the NHL’s brass allowed themselves some second guessing regarding the 2003 Entry Draft where O’Sullivan slipped down to No. 56 where the Wild snatched him up. It appears that the 19-year-old from Winston Salem, NC did about all he could do in the OHL and now it remains to be seen if he has what it takes to make the Wild out of training camp. He shoots like an NHL star, but his all around game will be scrutinized.

3. (NR) A.J. Thelen, D, 18
Draft: 1st round, 12th 2004 Rating: 7.5 Role: Offensive defenseman

A.J. Thelen had a well documented freshman year at Michigan State and he looks to be the Wild’s power play quarterback of the future. There is still a lingering possibility that the Wild might even choose to develop Thelen with the big club as they did with Brent Burns, but many would agree that that wouldn’t be prudent use of their hottest defensive commodity. Will there be a sophomore jinx if at college? That seems even less likely than an appearance with the Wild with his confidence at stratospheric levels, but time will tell.

4. (NR*) Brent Burns, RW/D, 19
Draft: 1st round, 20th 2003 Rating: 7.5 Role: Power forward/two-way defenseman

The good natured kid from Ajax, Ontario probably never would have guessed he’d not only play with the Wild straight out of the draft, but that by the end of the season he would be classified as a forward-slash-defenseman by the team. Coach Jacques Lemaire has the luxury of playing Burns wherever it will benefit the young star and his team the most, but it’s also a critical time for the 19-year-old, and one would hope a final decision on position for Burns is reached by the next season’s halfway point.

* Burns was projected to be a graduated prospect at the time of the last top-20 prospect ranking.

5. (3) Josh Harding, G, 20
Draft: 2nd round, 38th 2002 Rating: 7.5 Role: Starting goaltender

The Wild have high hopes for Josh Harding as he enters his professional rookie season, most likely with the ECHL Louisiana IceGators in the spot left vacated by Frederic Cloutier’s departure. In 2003-04 Harding split time between the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, posting a .500 winning percentage, a 2.42 GAA, and a .923 save percentage.

6. (4) Rickard Wallin, C, 24
Draft: 6th round, 160th 1998 Rating: 7 Role: Skilled forward

Rickard Wallin had such a strong finish to the season with the Wild, collecting 9 points in 15 games, many expect him to have a good shot at cracking the lineup out of camp next season. Wallin was an integral part of the Aeros’ Calder Cup win in 2002-03 as part of the World War V line with Wanvig and Veilleux and has been a fairly consistent scorer at the AHL level.

7. (NR) Roman Voloshenko, LW, 18
Draft: 2nd round, 42nd 2004 Rating: 6.5 Role: Skilled forward/power play specialist

Roman Voloshenko has a lot of upside, especially for a second round pick in the 2004 draft crop. The Wild are banking on him coming through and eventually putting up good numbers in the pros as he did for Russia at the Under-18 World Juniors where he tied for the tournament lead in scoring with 11 points in 6 games. He’s a bit of a project, especially with regard to his skating, but the Wild ordered more scoring from the wing and Voloshenko has a chance to deliver.

8. (7) Adam Courchaine, C, 20
Draft: 7th round, 219th 2003 Rating: 6.5 Role: Scoring forward

Adam Courchaine has a career WHL mark of almost a point per game, and that is including a 44-game stint with Medicine Hat in his rookie year when he collected only 10 points. In his last two full seasons with the Vancouver Giants he has been over 80 points in each, with about half of those points in goals. In 2003-04 he was ninth in scoring and sixth in goals in the WHL while leading all Giants in scoring by a wide margin with 82 points in 71 games played. Courchaine also led the Giants in playoff scoring the last two seasons. The skilled center is showing consistency in scoring in junior and holds great promise.

9. (5) Matt Foy, RW, 21
Draft: 6th round, 175th, 2002 Rating: 6.5 Role: Scoring forward

It was essentially a step back for Matt Foy in 2003-04, but few players transition from junior to the AHL smoothly. He went from 132 points in 68 OHL games in 2002-03 to just 24 points in 51 games with the Aeros this past season. Although a rookie, his scoring numbers paled in comparison to other AHL rookies and placed him in a tie for 44th in the league. His next season with the Aeros should give a better indication of what Foy is made of.

10. (6) Stephane Veilleux, LW, 22
Draft: 3rd round, 93rd 2001 Rating: 6.5 Role: Two-way forward

Stephane Veilleux is almost all but graduated as a prospect as he has a good shot at sticking with the Wild next season. Like Wallin, Veilleux was a key to the Aeros 2002-03 Calder Cup win, and with the Wild he did a little better offensively than what was expected of him in 2003-04 (10 points in 19 games).

11. (10) Kyle Wanvig, RW, 23
Draft: 2nd round, 36th 2001 Rating: 6.5 Role: Power forward

Although Kyle Wanvig didn’t get much of a chance with the Wild this season, the power forward was scoring leader for the Aeros with 41 points (25 goals, 16 assists) in 72 games. It looks as though Wanvig will compete for a spot with the Wild next camp after three good seasons in the AHL.

12. (14) Danny Irmen, RW, 20
Draft: 3rd round, 78th 2003 Rating: 6.5 Role: Scoring forward

In his freshman year with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Danny Irmen collected 22 points in 44 games. His 14 goals were good enough for fourth on the team while his point total put him at 11th in the WCHA for freshman. Irmen has a fair amount of development ahead of him but the skilled and hard working forward with goal scoring talent is progressing well.

13. (8) Chris Heid, D, 21
Draft: 3rd round, 74th 2001 Rating: 6 Role: Defensive defenseman

Chris Heid had 13 points in 58 games with a -5 rating in his rookie AHL campaign in 2003-04, but he missed the final 11 games of the season with injury trouble, something that hit him from time to time at the WHL level too. The otherwise steady blueliner is smart and crafty, though not flashy by any stretch. In 2002-03, his final season in the WHL, he totaled 45 points in 60 games, so the degree of his offensive drop-off in the AHL was somewhat surprising even though he wasn’t expected to chip in with many points.

14. (NR) Jean-Michel Bolduc, D, 19
Draft: 9th round, 281st 2003 Rating: 6 Role: Two-way defenseman

Jean-Michel Bolduc had a breakout season with Rimouski of the QMJHL in 2003-04, leading Oceanic defensemen in scoring with 50 points in 63 games. The 19-year-old’s defensive game was also strong, evidenced by a +8 rating, and 6 of his 8 goals for the Oceanic came on the power play.

15. (9) Zybnek Michalek, D, 21
Draft: Free Agent signing September 29, 2001 Rating: 6 Role: Two-way defenseman

Zybnek Michalek did well offensively in the AHL this season with 21 points in 55 games, but his 22 games with the Wild only yielded 2 points. He also committed defensive mistakes at the NHL level that didn’t go unnoticed by Lemaire. If the organization had had more depth at defense in 2003-04 it seems unlikely that smallish Michalek would have gotten more than a quick look with the Wild. Overall it was a decent year of development for the 21-year-old, but he lost some ground on other Wild prospects.

16. (NR) Julien Sprunger, LW, 18
Draft: 4th round, 117th 2004 Rating: 6 Role: Skilled winger

The talented winger has yet to make an offensive impact playing with senior players in Switzerland, however Julien Sprunger had an impressive outing in the Under-18 World Juniors for the B Pool where he collected 9 points in just 5 games and helped push Switzerland back up to the A Pool for 2005. The biggest knock against Sprunger is that he must get bigger if he wants to compete professionally going forward.

17. (NR) Peter Olvecky, LW, 18
Draft: 3rd round, 78th 2004 Rating: 6 Role: Two-way forward

Peter Olvecky looks to be ready for the senior Slovakian team in Trencin after a 16-game stint in 2003-04 along with a good showing with the junior club in 2003-04. The third round pick of the Wild is a hard working winger with some offensive skill.

18. (12) Marc Cavosie, LW, 22
Draft: 4th round, 99th 2000 Rating: 6 Role: Checking line center

After two seasons in the AHL, Marc Cavosie is developing nicely into a speedy checking line center. He had 31 points in 75 games and was a -4. It’s unlikely Cavosie will appear with the Wild for anything more than a handful of games in 2004-05, if that, but he still has some third or fourth line potential.

19. (11) Eric Reitz, D, 23
Draft: 6th round, 170th 2000 Rating: 5.5 Role: Two-way defenseman

Eric Reitz was second in defensive scoring for the Aeros with 24 points in 69 games, and he was third on the team in penalty minutes with 148. He’s been consistent at the AHL level over two seasons and there is a chance he could become a fifth or sixth defenseman for the Wild in a few years.

20. (NR) Clayton Stoner, D, 19
Draft: 3rd round, 79th 2004 Rating: 5.5 Role: Defensive defenseman

Clayton Stoner is a tough blueliner with a good all around game. He can chip in with some points, but his main value is as a competitor who is physical with opponents, blocks shots, and does whatever it takes to win. In 2003-04 he had 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists) in 71 games.


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