Wild 2001 draft evaluation

By Glen Jackson

The Minnesota Wild selected seven players in 2001 and five have appeared in the NHL. The Wild have already established one of the best prospect pools in the NHL after joining the NHL in 2000, and a lot of that has to do with their excellent drafts such as in 2001.

The seven players have averaged an impressive 47 games per pick thus far, and four of the seven were regulars with the Wild in 2005-06.

Mikko Koivu, C – 1st round, 6th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 64

The Wild jumped at the chance to select the younger brother of Saku Koivu, although it was known from the start that Mikko was less of a playmaker than his brother. Koivu was expected to be a two-way center who could play on the first or second line in the NHL one day. He’d just completed his first season with TPS Turku at the time of the draft.

Koivu played three more seasons for TPS Turku and increased his offensive production each year, scoring six goals and 24 assists in 45 games in 2003-04. The Wild brought Koivu over to North America for the lockout year and with the Houston Aeros (AHL) and he played well, only missing some time due to an appendectomy. He had 20 goals, 28 assists in 67 games as an AHL rookie.

This past season Koivu made the jump to the Wild and in 64 games he had six goals and 15 assists with a -9 plus/minus.

Kyle Wanvig, RW – 2nd round, 36th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 64

First selected by the Boston Bruins in the 1999, Wanvig reentered the draft for 2001 despite having just had a fantastic season in the WHL with Red Deer. It was capped by a Memorial Cup win and a tournament MVP award for Wanvig after he scored two goals in the final game to add to the four assists that he’d came into the game with.

The Wild signed their 2001 second round draft pick and he spent the 2001-02 season with Houston, and in 2002-03 he got another crack at a championship with the Houston Aeros. Wanvig was one-third of the Aeros best line that postseason along with Rickard Wallin and fellow 2001 pick Stephane Veilleux. The Aeros would end up winning the Calder Cup and Wanvig was a big share of the reason, again playing big in the final game of the season as he had done for Red Deer in the Memorial Cup. Wanvig finished the playoffs with 10 points in 21 games and was a +7. The 2002-03 season had also been a big one for Wanvig in another way as he had scored his first NHL goal during a call-up with the Wild.

Wanvig got another six games with the Wild in 2003-04 but most of his year was again spent in Houston, and he scored well with 25 goals and 16 assists in 72 games, but in 2004-05 his production dipped to 13 goals and 17 assists.

The Wild hadn’t lost faith in the 6’2, 220 lbs power forward and in August they signed him to a one-year contract. In 2005-06, however, he made the Wild out of camp and even scored in his first game of the season. For the first month of the season he received a fair amount of playing time but by about mid-November Wanvig began to be scratched in fits and spurts. He finished the season with four goals and eight assists in 51 games.

Chris Heid, D – 3rd round, 74th overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Heid was drafted amidst a strong WHL career in Spokane. He was of good size, solid in his own zone, and able to contribute on offense. In 2002-03, his final season of junior, he had nine goals and 36 assists in 60 games and in the playoffs he did even better, scoring two goals and adding 11 assists in 11 games.

The Wild signed Heid and the 2003-04 season was spent with the Houston Aeros where the native of Langely, British Columbia collected 13 points in 58 games. Things got knocked off track at the Aeros 2004-05 camp when it was discovered that the lower back pain that Heid had arrived at camp with was pars interarticularis, or a fatigue fracture, and he didn’t start to play until late December, but it was in the ECHL with the Louisiana IceGators rather than the Aeros.

He did end up making his way back to the AHL later in the season and in total he played in 19 games for the Aeros and had five assists. Heid began 2005-06 with the Aeros and in four games had one assist before being assigned to the ECHL’s Pensacola IcePilots in November. In 50 games he had four goals and 16 assists. On March 13 he was then assigned to Cleveland (AHL) by the Wild and in four games there he had two assists.

Although Heid is a restricted free agent of the Wild, it would appear at this point that he will have to get signed and work his way out of the ECHL on his own.

Stephane Veilleux, RW – 3rd round, 93rd overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 128

Veilleux was drafted out of the Q by the Wild after an outstanding final season of junior where he had 48 goals and 67 assists in 68 games for Val-d’Or and he immediately turned pro with the Houston Aeros in 2001-02. That level of offensive output wasn’t possible for Veilleux, who was projected to be a two-way or checking line winger, to maintain at the AHL level and in his rookie season with the Aeros he had 35 points.

Although he wasn’t the first Wild draftee of 2001 to pull on a Wild jersey (Tony Virta was), he was the first to get a sizeable chunk of games in the NHL and that came in 2002-03 when he split time between the Aeros and Wild. He would appear in 38 games for the Wild, collecting three goals and two assists. In 2003-04 he again split time between the two clubs and he improved his point production at both levels. By the end of the 2003-04 season Veilleux looked ready to stay with the Wild but the lockout sent him back to the AHL for one more season and he had 39 points in 59 games.

The 2005-06 season was Veilleux’s first full season in the NHL and he had 16 points (seven goals) in 71 games with a -13 plus/minus rating.

Tony Virta, RW – 4th round, 103rd overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 8

Virta was a teammate of Mikko Koivu in 2000-01 with TPS Turku in Finland, which is undoubtedly how he ended up getting scouted and selected in the fourth round after a 60-point season. Twenty-eight-years-old on the day of the draft, Virta was the first 2001 Wild draft pick to play in the NHL, but it was for only eight games, and he had two goals and three assists.

Most of that 2001-02 season was spent with the Aeros and he produced well offensively with 58 points in 67 games, which was good enough for second in team scoring. General Manager Doug Risebrough decided to exercise the option on Virta’s contract to bring him back, but the following season he was again assigned to the Aeros after he couldn’t make the Wild.

He played 39 games in Houston before returning to Europe to play in the Swedish Elite League with Sodertalje. The past three seasons he’s played either in Finland or Switzerland and his offensive production is on the decline at 33 years old.

Derek Boogaard, LW – 7th round, 202nd overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 65

The Boogeyman’s outstanding size (6’7, 270 lbs) and toughness attracted the Wild in the seventh round. The hopes for the native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was that he could possibly one day make the Wild in an enforcer-only role. For many, and perhaps even the Wild, Boogaard has surpassed expectations.

In 2002-03 he split time between the WHL’s Medicine Hat Warriors and the ECHL’s Louisiana IceGators, where his penalty minutes would spike dramatically with 240 minutes in 33 games (7.27 PIMs per game). The 2003-04 season saw Boogaard make the jump to the Aeros and he brought his intimidating style of play there as an AHL rookie, and last season he had 259 penalty minutes in 56 games for the Aeros.

Along the way Boogaard was able to chip in the odd goal and the past two seasons his defensive play improved as well as his puckhandling skills to the point that he made and stayed with the Wild for the entire 2005-06 season. In a revamped NHL where enforcer-only types of players could not stick, Boogaard managed to do just that and had two goals and four assists in 65 games, along with 158 penalty minutes.

Jake Riddle, LW – 8th round, 239th overall
Status: NHL bust

NHL Games Played: 0

What does a late round draft pick of the Wild who grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota amount to as a pro? In the case of this fair sized left winger, not much by NHL standards.

Riddle is a physical forward who was able to add some offense while with five different teams during junior. Already prepared for a journeyman career from his frequent team migration in the WHL, Riddle has continued that trend in the ECHL having played for four different teams in just two seasons, as well as a six-game stint in the AHL with the Portland Pirates in 2005-06.

All told he’s scored at a pace of about half a point per game in those two seasons and for the Phoenix Roadrunners he also took on a bit of enforcer role in 2005-06 with 190 penalty minutes in 51 games with the team.

Riddle’s older brother Troy is smaller and slightly more skilled, but he too spent parts of the past two seasons in the ECHL, although he’s played 97 games in the AHL and was part of the Kelly Cup winning Alaska Aces ECHL team.


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