The Minnesota Wild made just five selections in this year’s NHL Draft, the fewest ever. The Wild would have had six selections, but a trade with Anaheim which included Minnesota’s 19th and 42nd selections for Anaheim’s 16th dropped it to five. Despite the low number of picks, the concern over size among Wild prospects is alleviated with the selection of these five players.
Of the five selections, three are power forward type players and two are large defensemen. The Wild made it clear they prefer the Western Hockey League (WHL), taking four from its ranks, while the other pick came from Finland.
1st round (16th overall), 6’3 189, Saskatoon, WHL
The Wild traded up three spots in the first round to nab Colton Gillies with the 16th selection. The Wild gave up their 19th and 42nd picks to Anaheim to do so. Minnesota passed on highly-touted Alexei Cherepanov and Angelo Esposito and chose Gillies.
Gillies will need a few more years to develop, but he has the potential to become a strong power forward for the Wild. He plays an aggressive, physical style of hockey and uses his size to his advantage. In the WHL last season, Gillies recorded 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 65 games and logged 148 penalty minutes. Minnesota considered him to be one of the best skaters in the draft, which is usually the problem with players of Gillies’ size.
Justin Falk, D
4th round (110th overall), 6’5 215, Spokane, WHL
Justin Falk is a huge defenseman who sees the ice well with his elevated view. He knows how to distribute the puck, but as a stay at home defenseman has little offense to his game. He’s not flashy, but very steady in his own end. Not looking for a fight, he won’t back down when challenged. His skating gets a passing grade, good for his size. Last season with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, Falk posted 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 62 games and 88 penalty minutes. Increasing his physicality and improving his foot speed will be his mandates for the rest of his junior career.
Cody Almond, C
5th round (140th overall), 6’1 199, Kelowna, WHL
In his rookie year with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, Cody Almond played sparingly, but continued to work hard. This past season, he saw regular shifts on one of the club’s top two lines. Initially, the Rockets were less than impressed with Almond as he struggled until Christmas. The frequent comment was his inability to use his linemates effectively. When the Rockets playoff aspirations were in doubt in the second half of the season, Almond became the offensive catalyst along with 20-year-old free agent Chris Ray. A lanky winger with better than average speed, Almond began to play more aggressively through the last 20 games of the season. He led the team in scoring with 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 68 games and managed to post 19 points in the final 19 games of the season.
He has room on his frame to gain weight and muscle and will be looked upon this season to produce consistently on the offensive side. Defensively, Almond may be given some latitude in Kelowna as the club struggled mightily to score goals and will need someone to establish himself as a reliable scorer. Almond is probably their best hope for now.
Harri Ilvonen, D
6th round (170th overall), 6’2 187, Tappara Jr., Finland-Jr.
Once again, the Minnesota Wild added size with the selection of Harri Ilvonen from the Finnish Junior League. He is a large defenseman with some scoring ability. Born late in the year, Ilvonen didn’t play in a top international tournament in his draft year.
Last season with Tappara Jr., Ilvonen notched 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) in 39 games. He is a smooth but not particularly fast skater, and has good hands. He is a smart player who never panics with the puck — getting the team out of a defensive zone is one of his strong points. He will probably develop into a more stay at home defenseman as he makes his way through the professional ranks.
Carson McMillan, RW
7th round (200th overall), 6’0 200, Calgary, WHL
With its final selection of the 2007 NHL Draft, the Wild selected Carson McMillan from Calgary of the WHL. McMillan posted 22 points (7 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games as well as 76 penalty minutes last season. He is a hard working player who can be used in a variety of situations.
McMillian fits the mold of a Wild type player: strong defensively and a good skater. Played mostly on the third and fourth line with the Hitmen, but saw a regular shift and lots of penalty kill time. He was one of the better defensive forwards on the team. Great wheels, good forechecker, plays physical. Not a gifted goal scorer, but at times he showed good hands in close, and might have some untapped offensive potential if paired with a playmaking center. Should see more responsibilities with the departure of some more experienced players and could see an increase in numbers.
Pekka Lampinen, Jared Ramsden and Glen Erickson contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.