Wild AHL prospects update

By Gregory Maker

The primary minor league club for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, the Houston Aeros have taken on several players from the Dallas Stars as well this season. The team has a combination of grit and finesse which has led them into the final stretch of the season, looking for a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs. With a defensive mindset in Houston this season, many players have had to transition their games, most successfully. Here is a look at how the Minnesota prospects have played this season in Houston.

Goaltenders

Josh Harding – The rookie from Regina, Saskatchewan has been excellent for Houston this season. Splitting time with Dallas prospect Mike Smith, the 20-year-old has played 35 games with a 15-16-2 record and has a better goals against average (2.11) and save percentage (.925) than the 23-year-old Smith. Harding missed nearly two months after being elbowed in the head by Utah’s Jeff Taffe in a game on Nov. 28.

Defensemen

Brent Burns – The 19-year-old 6’4 210-pounder has proved his worth thus far as a first round pick from 2003. Burns played 36 games last season for the Wild recording six points. This year, the young Burns is second on Houston among defensemen with 25 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 63 games. He’s also fourth in the AHL among defensemen with 185 shots. Burns gets a lot of ice time, playing both the power play and the penalty kill and has six power play goals for the eighth-best unit in the AHL. Paired with veteran Patrick Traverse on the blue line, Burns is currently last on the Aeros with a -15 plus/minus rating.

Zybnek Michalek – In his third pro season, the Czech Republic native already has a Calder Cup championship and 22 games of NHL experience. The 6’1 199-pounder is durable and consistent with 19 points this season (5 goals, 14 assists). Paired with John Erskine, Michalek is calm under pressure, not afraid to retaliate and skates the puck out of the defensive zone well. Michalek can improve his defensive game as well, currently a -11. He has only taken 34 penalty minutes this season.

Chris Heid – The 22-year-old from Langley, British Columbia has been used sparingly this season by Houston due to injuries. He has played 15 games with the Aeros where he recorded five assists. The 6’2 205-pounder is smart and plays his position well, registering a +2. Heid played 17 games this season with Louisiana of the ECHL in a rehab stint where he recorded eight points.

Eric Reitz – A sixth round selection by Minnesota in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Reitz has played only 38 games this season. He has 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists), compared to last season for the Aeros where he recorded 24 points (5 goals, 19 assists) in 69 games. The Plymouth, MI native has taken 91 penalty minutes this season, is not afraid of rough play and stands up for himself and his teammates.

Forwards

Mikko Koivu – The rookie from Finland has been impressive for Houston. Drafted by Minnesota in the first round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the 22-year-old has 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) good for second in team scoring. At 6’2 205, Koivu is good at faceoffs but will need to improve his strength. He has played the second line with Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the team’s leading goal scorer, and AHL veteran Kirby Law. Koivu’s good offensive abilities have meant significant power play time for him this season. One area still lacking for Koivus is his skating.

Rickard Wallin – The 6’2 180-pound Swede is second on the team in assists with 29 and tied for fourth in points with 39. Wallin is a playmaker on the first line with Matt Foy and Dallas prospect Junior Lessard. The 24-year-old is a good penalty killer and has scored four power play goals this season. Wallin is durable, playing in 69 games this season for Houston. He has played 19 NHL games over the past two seasons and has recorded 10 points.

Stephane Veilleux – In his fourth pro season, all with the Minnesota franchise, the 6’1 181-pounder from Beauceville, Quebec is continuing to make the transition from a goal scorer to a checker. However, he has not lost his offensive ability. Veilleux is tied for fourth on Houston with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) in 59 games. He is tied for the team lead with seven power play goals, and has one short-handed goal. He has a +5 plus/minus rating and takes very few penalty minutes. He has played 57 NHL games over the last two seasons scoring five goals and recording 15 assists.

Matt Foy – The Oakville, Ontario native has equaled his point total of last season with 24 in 63 games this season including a career-high 12 goals. Foy, a tough right wing, has played on the first line with finesse players Rickard Wallin and Junior Lessard. Foy’s abilities as a grinder have helped the players around him play better. He is a +3 and smart on the ice. Although he is tough, he has only taken 60 penalty minutes. A sixth round selection by Minnesota in the 2002 NHL entry draft, Foy is improving with his intense play and can-do attitude.

Kyle Wanvig – The 24-year-old from Calgary, Alberta has taken a different role this season with the Aeros. With more offensive talent and a more defensive mentality in Houston, Wanvig has shifted his game to a checker. He has been paired with Matt Cullen and Bill Kinkel and plays a very physical game, with 133 penalty minutes. He can act the pest who harasses the other team’s best players. Wanvig has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 66 games. He has played 13 games for Minnesota over the last two seasons.

Derek Boogaard – At 6’7 270 pounds, the 22-year-old continues his role as an enforcer for the Aeros. The second year pro leads Houston with 247 penalty minutes. Boogaard, who has five points (1 goal, 4 assists) is used as an intimidator to stand up for his teammates. Boogaard’s future relies on his toughness and his ability to knock his opponent off of their game.

Marc Cavosie – At 6’0 178 pounds, the Albany, NY native is a bit undersized, but tough. He attacks the net and goes into corners to dig out the puck. Matched often with Dan Cavanaugh and Marius Holtet, Cavosie has recorded 16 goals this season, (3 goals, 13 assists). He is fast and smart only taking eight penalty minutes in 52 games. He is a decent penalty killer and gets power play time as well. Cavosie missed nine consecutive games with an injury in February. The playmaker will need to stay injury-free to continue his development.

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