Wild Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Neil Ternowetsky

Tyler Cuma takes the No. 1 spot, and Cody Almond and Maxim Noreau jump double-digit spots. The Wild may not have the deepest prospect pool, but definitely have a few prospects who are making waves this season.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (3) Tyler Cuma, D
2. (1) Colton Gillies, C
3. (2) Benoit Pouliot, LW
4. (6) Marco Scandella, D
5. (15) Maxim Noreau, D
6. (17) Cody Almond, C
7. (5) Petr Kalus, RW
8. (7) Clayton Stoner, D
9. (8) Morten Madsen, C
10. (9) Justin Falk, D
11. (18) Sean Lorenz, D
12. (12) Danny Irmen, RW
13. (13) Peter Olvecky, LW
14. (11) Harri Ilvonen, D
15. (NR) Robbie Earl, LW
16. (14) Chris Hickey, C
17. (19) Kyle Medvec, D
18. (10) Anton Khudobin, G
19. (17) Paul Albers, D
20. (NR) Carson McMillan, F

1. Tyler Cuma, D – 7.5C

6’0, 175lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2008

World Junior gold, top 15 in OHL defensive scoring and an appearance in the Memorial Cup — these are all achievements that Cuma could have realistically achieved this season. Instead, he had arthroscopic surgery on his MCL and missed the rest of the season for his Ottawa 67’s.

Cuma had all but guaranteed a spot on Canada’s blueline at the World Junior Championships before suffering his knee injury and was one of the final cuts from Wild training camp. Look for Cuma to bounce back next season, though it could mean anothe year at the junior level.
2. Colton Gillies, C – 7.0B
6’4, 189lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 16th overall, 2007

Gillies has spent the entire season with the Minnesota Wild, but hasn’t had significant playing time. Gillies has been averaging just over eight minutes a game over the 41 games he has dressed for this season, and even less recently. He has just six points in that span.

With the top nine wing positions on the Wild locked down, Gillies has been in a constant battle for playing time.  Only 21 years old, Gillies has the time and the tutelage from one of the best (Owen Nolan) in order to become the power forward the Wild hope he can become. His numbers should only go up.

3. Benoit Pouliot, LW – 7.5D

6’4, 199lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 4th overall, 2005

The 22-year-old Pouliot dressed for 37 games with the big club this season, which brings his total NHL games to 51. But Pouliot currently finds himself in the minors, where he has 18 points in 23 games with the Aeros.

But Pouliot’s stock has dropped off this season. Expected to be a high-end offensive talent, Pouliot needed to make the most of early opportunities this year. Expectations are still high for Pouliot, but he is in danger of becoming a disappointment soon.

4. Marco Scandella, D – 7.0C

6’2, 190lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2008

Despite the Foreurs disappointing season, Scandella put up decent offensive numbers on a very offensively impotent team. Scandella, who is projected to be a very solid stay-at-home defenseman, scored eight power-play goals, good for second on the team and seventh among QMJHL defensemen. Scandella also led all Foreurs defensemen in points.

Next season will be an important year for Scandella; the Foreurs young talent will have progressed and should be far more competitive. Scandella will be the go-to guy on the blueline in every situation.

5. Maxim Noreau, D – 7.0D

5’11, 192lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2008

After a relatively quiet rookie campaign in the AHL in 2007-08, the 21-year-old Noreau is now the highest scoring Minnesota prospect on the Aeros, and accomplishing it from the blue line. Noreau has 37 points in 70 games and is -6, which is a decent rating on the team. His 37 points rank him 15th among league defensemen as well.

At 5’11, 193 pounds, Noreau is going to have make up for his lack of size by continuing to put up numbers.

6. Cody Almond, C – 7.0D
6’2, 195lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 140th overall, 2007

Almond put together a nice season for the Kelowna Rockets, with 33 goals, 66 points and 105 PIM in 70 games. Almond will need to continue his strong play and provide veteran leadership in order for the Rockets to go deep in the post-season.

Almond should see regular ice time with Aeros next year.

7. Petr Kalus, RW – 7.0D

6’1, 192lbs
Acquired: Traded from Boston in 2007

Since being acquired from the Bruins in 2007, Kalus’ development has slowed down to a crawl. The 21-year-old started the season with the Aeros and after two games, left to join Balashikha in the KHL. In 17 games there, Kalus put up only two assists, but has been a menace with his 106 PIM.

Don’t expect Kalus back in North America anytime soon, but as he remains talented and is still owned by the Wild, he remains on the list.

8. Clayton Stoner, D – 6.5C
6’4, 215lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2004

Stoner has quietly put together a nice season for the Houston Aeros. The gritty stay-at-home defenseman has, despite missing 15 games, surpassed his career highs for goals (2) and assists (20). Stoner hasn’t sacrificed his defensive responsibilities for offense, he is tops on the Aeros in plus/minus with a +9 rating.

With the Wild’s top-six defensemen healthy and playing well, Stoner probably won’t make it up this season. However, Stoner may get a chance at the big club next season. The Wild only have four defensemen under contract for next season, none of whom will earn less than 3.5 million; best-case scenario, those four will account for 36 percent of the team’s salary in the 2009-10 season. Stoner could be a viable and inexpensive option.

9. Morten Madsen, C – 6.5C

6’2, 185lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 122nd overall, 2005

Madsen, who is expected to be a steady two-way forward, has continued to struggle in the AHL. He will likely only build modestly from his three-goal, 20-point 2007-08 season, as the 22-year-old Dane has only has five goals and 20 points through 50 games.

If the Wild don’t make the playoffs, the Aeros will more than likely see Gillies and Clutterbuck join the squad for a post-season push; this will push Madsen even further down the depth chart.

10. Justin Falk, D – 6.5C
6’5, 215lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 110th overall, 2007

Coming in as a rookie this year, Falk was looking to find his niche along the Aeros blueline. The 6’5 defenseman has only dropped the gloves once and not gone out of his way for the big hit. However, Falk has found his niche as an imposing defenseman simply because he skates well for his size, has a huge frame and knows his limitations. He has three assists in 57 games and is -6.

Falk has not been a top-four defender for the Aeros this season, but in time will be a very good shutdown defenseman in the AHL and perhaps the NHL.

11. Sean Lorenz, D – 6.5C
6’1, 191lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 115th overall, 2008

In his first season with the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Lorenz has been a regular on the blueline. Lorenz has not been relied on all that much, as the Irish have a plethora of NHL-bound defensemen. However, Lorenz has still been solid when called upon. He posted just three assists in 40 games.

Next season will be a real test for Lorenz as he will be seeing top-four minutes, if not top-two. He will be who the Irish turn to in shut-down situations. Whether Lorenz rises up to the challenge when called upon will dictate his future. He has the size, strength and skating ability to play a role in the pro ranks; he needs to prove he can put it all together.

12. Danny Irmen, RW – 6.0C

6’0, 190lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall, 2003

Twenty-four-year-old Irmen has struggled to put up the numbers he did in his first two years in the AHL. At the start of this season, Irmen was thought to be on the short list of checking line forwards to be called up to the Wild, but was overlooked when Cal Clutterbuck showed he could be a wrecking ball at the NHL level.  Irmen has five goals and 10 assists in 61 AHL games and is even.

Time is running out for Irmen as a prospect. His entry-level contract expires at the end of this season, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be retained. Irmen may never reach the NHL, but at least should be a solid checking line forward in the AHL for years to come.

13. Peter Olvecky, LW/C – 6.0C

6’2, 214lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall

After three seasons with the Aeros, Olvecky has been up and down between the Houston Aeros and the Minnesota Wild this year. The 23-year-old is currently on the Wild roster, and has suited up for 27 games this season.

With the Wild, Olvecky has played a utility role, not playing regular shifts and not seeing special teams time.  He was often at fourth-line center, and has five points.  Waived the day before the trade deadline, he remains on the roster.  With the Aeros, he scored 23 points in 41 games and was -1.

Olvecky may not get many more chances at the big club as his entry-level contact expires at the end of this season. Also, the Wild have other younger prospects to fill the same role.  But he could be a depth player in the NHL.

14. Harri Ilvonen, D – 6.5D

6’2, 181lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 170 overall, 2007

Playing for Tappara Tampere in the Finnish league, Ilvonen had a bottom-three role on the struggling team this year, putting up just one assist in 23 games. Ilvonen has not been able to assert himself as a go-to guy with the Tampere and may need to come to North America in order to get the playing time in the ECHL he needs to work on his game.

At 20 years old, Ilvonen will have to decide quickly if playing in Finland is the best thing for his development.

15. Robbie Earl, LW – 6.5D
6’0 195lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 187 overall, 2004 (traded from Toronto in 2009)

A mid-season trade with Toronto brought this offensive prospect to the Wild. A pure offensive talent, Earl has not been able to put up points in the AHL as he did before his 2007-08 call-up to the Maple Leafs.  He has just eight points in 25 games for the Aeros.

At 23 years old, Earl has a limited amount of time to regain his touch, but will be given every opportunity to do so. He is one of the only true offensive players on the Aeros roster and will be needed to produce down the stretch and in the playoffs.

16. Chris Hickey, C – 6.5D
6’1, 196lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 192nd overall 2006

A freshman with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Hickey struggled to find ice time. Hickey has been a healthy scratch for all but eight games this season.  He was aware that there would be a lot of forwards competing for time this season, but wanted to begin this year anyway. Hickey will have to look to next season when he will have another shot at establishing himself on the Badgers.

In the meantime, Hickey must work at getting stronger. The 20-year-old is pegged to become a checking line forward and will need all the strength he can find if he is to ever find his way onto an NHL roster.

17. Kyle Medvec, D – 6.0C

6’6, 205lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 172nd overall, 2006

At 6’6, it is hard to not notice Kyle Medvec on the ice. In his sophomore season with the University of Vermont Catamounts, Medvec has seen his role on the team grow. Though he doesn’t play the power play (the Catamounts use a five-forward set), Medvec uses his massive reach on the penalty kill. He has posted 12 points in 38 games this season.

Medvec’s assets lay in his size. If he can continue to fill out his massive frame, the 20-year-old could be ready to turn pro following his junior season.

18. Anton Khudobin, G – 6.0D
5,11, 208lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 206lbs

After an exceptional 2007-08 season with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, Khudobin has been very average on a very good Everblades team this season. Khudobin’s save percentage has dropped from .934 to .907 and his goals against average hasn’t been better, going from 1.98 to 2.71.

It’s rare for smaller goalies to make it, and there’s no reason to think Khudobin, 5’10, will beat the odds. Khudobin may not be on the NHL radar, but if he wants to continue playing regular minutes, he must return to his 2007-08 form.  He was recalled to Houston in early March and has  1-3-1 record there with a .912 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

19. Paul Albers, D – 6.0 D

6’1, 189lbs
Acquired: Signed in 2006

Albers is an offensive defenseman who needs to produce points and improve his strength and defensive play if an NHL team will ever consider him for a job. With 11 points in 6 games, Albers has definitely fallen short of his 21 points he scored last season. He is -7.

Next season will be a challenge for Albers. The Wild have some solid up and coming defensemen, like Cuma and Scandella, who will challenge for a roster spot on the Aeros. Albers will have to prove he can either consistently put up points from the back end or pick up his play in his own zone if he is to remain in the AHL next season.

20. Carson McMillan, F
Acquired: 7th round, 190th overall, 2006

After the Minnesota Wild summer prospects camp, McMillan was asked to stick around and attend boxing lessons. Whether or not the Wild were suggesting that the 6’2, 220-pound McMillan should become an enforcer is unknown, especially considering that rather than drop the gloves this season, McMillan put up a career-high 72 points.

McMillan has found his niche as a power forward among the offensively gifted group the Hitmen have assembled. He has been depended on to play in every situation and to provide leadership on the CHL’s top-ranked team.