Wild Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By John Jaeckel

The Minnesota Wild boast a solid talent pipeline, which is particularly strong at the top, with two to three players who have the potential to be elite in Josh Harding, Benoit Pouliot and James Sheppard. The Wild front office was busy signing prospects this offseason and the roster at Houston looks to be well stocked with solid prospects in 2007-08.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Josh Harding, G
2. Benoit Pouliot, LW
3. James Sheppard, C
4. Petr Kalus, RW
5. Colton Gillies, C
6. Shawn Belle, D
7. Danny Irmen, RW
8. Clayton Stoner, D
9. Ondrej Fiala, C
10. Roman Voloshenko, LW
11. Anton Khudobin, G
12. Morten Madsen, C
13. Peter Olvecky, LW
14. Julien Sprunger, LW
15. Cal Clutterbuck, RW
16. Ryan Jones, RW
17. Justin Falk, D
18. Matt Kassian, LW
19. Paul Albers, D
20. Kyle Medvec, D

1. Josh Harding, G

Drafted, Round 2, 38th overall, 2002

Harding is almost certainly a future No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.  In 10 NHL games over the last two seasons, he is 5-3-1 with two shutouts. Further, he has been the mainstay of the Houston Aeros (AHL) in that time. Last season in Houston, he was 17-16-4 with a 2.48 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Harding has good size, but perhaps more importantly, he is a left-handed goalie whose right (glove) hand is outstanding. Harding should be a regular between the pipes for the Wild, if not in 2007-08, then soon after.

2. Benoit Pouliot, LW

Drafted, Round 1, 4th overall, 2005

Pouliot has both the size (6’3, 190 lbs.) and refined offensive skills to be a top NHL forward in the future. However, in his first pro season with Houston in 2006-07, he struggled in a number of areas. His offensive output, though not bad at 19 goals and 17 assists in 67 games, didn’t come close to matching his production with Sault Ste. Marie (OHL). His plus/minus was -16, and he racked up 109 penalty minutes, many of which were not smart penalties. Pouliot will most likely need to continue to refine his game at Houston in 2007-08.

3. James Sheppard, C

Drafted, Round 1, 9th overall, 2005
Born: April 25, 1988, Halifax, NS

An offensively-gifted center with equal skill passing and shooting the puck, Sheppard’s NHL potential might be compared to Edmonton’s Jarret Stoll. Sheppard has outstanding speed, and at 6’1 204 lbs., he has more than adequate size for the position. In 2006-07 at Cape Breton (QMJHL), Sheppard notched an outstanding 33 goals and 63 assists in just 56 games, and was a stellar +39. He also helped lead the Screaming Eagles deep into the playoffs, with eight goals and 12 assists in 16 games. Sheppard was signed by the Wild in September will get at minimum a nine-game stint with the parent club in the regular season.

4. Petr Kalus, RW

Acquired July 2007 from Boston in exchange for G Manny Fernandez
Born: June 29, 1987, Ostrava, Czech Republic

Kalus will remind some of countryman Martin Havlat. At 6’1, 186 pounds, he has all the speed and skill necessary to bloom into an elite scorer at the NHL level. There are some lingering questions about his overall strength and his ability to endure the pounding of an NHL season. He also has a tendency to take too many penalties, and needs to develop his game beyond the offensive zone. Last year, in nine games with Boston, he demonstrated his scoring potential, with four goals and one assist in nine games. At Providence (AHL), Kalus tallied 13 goals and 17 assists with 110 PIM in 43 games. Kalus has been receiving a fair amount of minutes in the Wild’s preseason contests in 2007-08, and appears to be getting consideration for a regular role with the parent club.

5. Colton Gillies, C

Drafted, Round 1, 16th overall, 2007
Born: February 12, 1989, White Rock, BC

Gillies projects as a third line center in the power forward mold. He is tall, and at 18 years of age, a rangy 189 pounds with a projectable frame. In 2006-07 with Saskatoon (WHL), he did not put up huge offensive numbers: 13 goals and 17 assists in 65 games and -20 plus/minus. He also registered 148 penalty minutes; indicative of the edge he plays with. A consummate teammate and character player, Gillies has emerged as a true leader in the three seasons with the Blades.

6. Shawn Belle, D

Drafted, Round 1, 30th overall, 2003
Born: January 3, 1985, Edmonton, AB

Tough, physical and rugged, Belle needs to continue to refine his hockey smarts and reduce his tendency to take bad penalties. In 2003, a draft year highlighted by quality defensemen from the WHL (Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook), Belle’s performance with the Tri-City Americans made him a late-climbing "sleeper," with scouts projecting him to be taken any where from round one to round three. His overall physical package is intriguing, yet thus far as a pro, Belle seems to be developing into more of a stay-at-home defenseman, whose ability to inflict punishment can make a difference in his own end. Last year with Houston, Belle scored a respectable four goals and 14 assists in 18 games and was -10.

7. Danny Irmen, RW

Drafted, Round 3, 78th overall, 2002
Born: September 6, 1984, Fargo, ND

A product of a top college system at the University of Minnesota, Irmen is a smooth-skating offensive forward with adequate size (6′, 190 lbs.) and reasonable NHL potential. Signed by the Wild in April 2006. Irmen played 80 games at Houston last season, registering 17 goals and 20 assists.

8. Clayton Stoner, D

Drafted, Round 3, 79th overall, 2004
Born: February 19, 1985, Port McNeil, BC

Stoner is a big (6’3, 215 lbs.), extremely competitive defenseman, who plays with an edge. In 2005-06 with Houston, he had 6 goals and 18 assists in 73 games. In 2006-07, his production fell to one goal and six assists in 65 games. He did rack up 109 penalty minutes.  Stoner will need to get back on track with Houston this year.

9. Ondrej Fiala, C

Drafted, Round 2, 40th overall, 2006
Born: November 4, 1987, Stenberk, Czechoslovakia

Fiala has shown decent scoring touch over the last two seasons with Everett (WHL). In 2006-07, he potted 12 goals and added 21 assists in 39 games. He has relatively good size at 6’1, 200 lbs., and has adjusted well to the more physical style of play in North America. He will continue his development in the WHL in 2007-08, but was traded to the Saskatoon Blades three games into the season.  He’s currently on a line with fellow Wild prospect Gillies.

10. Roman Voloshenko, LW

Drafted: Round 2, 42nd overall, 2004
Born: May 12, 1986, Brest Livotsk, Belarus

Voloshenko is one in a long line of physically strong Belarusian prospects coming to North America. He is offensively skilled, but more a shooter than a passer. But he hasn’t made much progress in development in the past year.  After a stellar 2005-06 on Houston’s top line, in 2006-07 he put up 11 goals and 19 assists in 30 games. Voloshenko was also -26 in plus/minus, evidence that he needs to work on his defensive zone coverage, especially within a defense-first organization like the Wild.

11. Anton Khudobin, G

Drafted, Round 7, 206th overall, 2004
Born: May 7, 1986, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan-native Khudobin is a short, stout goaltender who is known for his tenacity and competitiveness. He has fairly extensive experience, not just in the Russian Super League with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, but also in international competition. The Wild signed Khudobin in July 2007 and subsequently assigned him to Houston in September. Khudobin has been assigned to the ECHL Texas Wildcatters to start the 2007-08 season.

12. Morten Madsen, C

Drafted, Round 4, 122nd overall
Born: January 16, 1987, Rodovre, Denmark

Signed to a professional contract by the Wild in the summer of 2007, Madsen had an exceptional first season in North America in 2006-07, racking up 100 points (32 goals and 68 assists) with Victoriaville (QMJHL). The 6’2 Dane is known for his offensive skill and the ability to play all three forward positions. Madsen will play at Houston in 2007-08.

13. Peter Olvecky, LW

Drafted, Round 3, 78th overall, 2004
Born: October 11, 1985, Trencin, Czechoslovakia

Olvecky’s numbers will not dazzle anyone, but he is the type of hard-working grinder that populates the third and fourth lines of successful NHL teams. In 2006-07 at Houston, the Slovak winger had 12 goals and 15 assists in 69 games. The Wild signed him in 2005, so he’s on the last year of his entry-level deal.

14. Julien Sprunger, LW

Drafted, Round 4, 117th overall, 2004
Born: January 4, 1986, Fribourg, Switzerland

Sprunger is a tall (6’4), rangy forward with good offensive skills. Some scouts feel he needs to make much better use of his size and gain overall strength. While he is a top player in Switzerland, the Swiss program is also not known for producing a lot of NHL talent. In 2006-07 at Fribourg-Gotteron, Sprunger had 10 goals and 10 assists in 34 games. The previous year, he actually scored at a better clip, with 33 points in 38 games.

15. Cal Clutterbuck, RW

Drafted, Round 3, 72nd overall, 2006
Born: November 18, 1987, Welland, ONT

Clutterbuck has been a consistent numbers producer with Oshawa (OHL). In 2006-07, he put up 35 goals and 54 assists in 65 games, and was +11. He also racked up 153 penalty minutes. Clutterbuck is not particularly big or fast, but plays with an edge. While he has scored consistently at the junior level, he projects as a third or fourth line energy player in the NHL. However, he needs to learn to channel his aggression and not take as many bad penalties. Clutterbuck was recently signed by the Wild and will play at Houston in 2007-08.

16. Ryan Jones, RW

Drafted, Round 4, 111th overall, 2004
Born: June 14, 1984, Chatham, ON

Jones has good size at 6’2, 200 pounds. Along with Chicago-draftee Nathan Davis, he has led very competitive Miami Redhawks (CCHA) clubs the last two seasons. In 2006-07, he scored 29 goals and 19 assists in 42 games and was +18. Like Davis, he has decent basic skills, but is a bit of an overachiever, generating results through sheer determination and hard work.

17. Justin Falk, D

Drafted, Round 4, 110th overall 2007
Born: October 11, 1988, Snowflake, MB

Falk is huge at 6’5, 225 pounds. He is a stay-at-home defenseman who will get his nose dirty.  He had 88 penalty minutes last season at Spokane (WHL) in 62 games, but already has 22 this season in seven games back with the Chiefs as an alternate captain.

18. Matt Kassian, LW

Drafted, Round 2, 57th overall, 2005
Born: October 28, 1986, Edmonton, AB

Kassian knows his role and plays it well; he is a physical, tough winger who will drop the gloves, evidenced by 162 penalty minutes last year at Kamloops (WHL). Signed by the Wild in May 2007, Kassian was assigned to Houston in September, where he will very likely get the opportunity to prove his pugilistic skills at the professional level. Kassian is believed to have NHL potential, however he must continue to improve his skating.

19. Paul Albers, D

Signed: July 5, 2006
Born: October 15, 1986, Melville, SAS

Albers is an offensive defenseman with good size. After signing with the Wild as a free agent in 2006, he shuttled between Houston and Texas (ECHL) in 2006-07. With Texas, Albers registered 12 goals and 31 assists in 68 games. He led all WHL defensemen in scoring in 2005-06 with 17 goals and 45 assists while playing with the Vancouver Giants.

20. Kyle Medvec, D

Drafted: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2006
Born: Jun 16 1988, Westminster, CO

Medvec is a 6’6 finesse defenseman with a high upside. He’s just a freshman with the University of Vermont this year, so his impact is many years off.  Last year he had 18 points in 57 games for the Sioux City Muskateers of the USHL.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.