Wild AHL/ECHL prospects 2009-10 review

By Peter Prohaska

The Wild struggled this year, finishing just over .500, and their AHL affiliate in Houston fared slightly worse at .500. The first full year of a rebuild saw Aeros coach Kevin Constantine relieved of duties at the end of the season, just as the Wild parted ways with the rest of their scouting team from the old regime. There are some players capable of making a positive contribution at the top professional level, but the Wild organization is in desperate need of a talent infusion to reverse its fortunes.

Maxim Noreau, D
Undrafted free agent

The undrafted Noreau has been with the Aeros for three years. Since then, Noreau has become a big part of the club’s limited success. At still just 22 years old, Noreau is one of the most promising prospects in the Wild’s system.

Though a bit undersized at 5’11 and 192 pounds, Noreau has always been a physical player and he showed some grit in a handful of fights this season, serving 60 PIMs. His offense really came to the front this season as he scored 18 goals and 52 points over 76 games, better than twice that of the next defenseman on the team and good for fourth among defensemen in the AHL. This was also accomplished with surprisingly little scoring coming from the power play. Noreau did shoot a lot, doubling his shot total from last season. Noreau’s minus-seven was typical on the team. He was named to the All-AHL second team.

Though he did get into one NHL game this season, the Wild defense is more or less established at the NHL level, with a number of players competing for the seven or eight regular slots. Noreau, however, is somewhat similar in style to Brian Rafalski, and is a player who could be useful down the road.

Colton Gillies, LW
1st Round, 16th Overall, 2007

After playing almost an entire season in the NHL in 2008-09, the new management decided to keep Gillies in Houston this season to help the first-round power forward improve his overall game. The results are not immediately evident. Over 72 games, Gillies had 20 points (seven goals) to his credit. He obviously needs some work to meet the potential. Even in his final year of junior, Gillies only scored 24 goals, so he’s much more of a grinder than a finesse scorer. He has skating ability, so the next year will find out if he is truly capable of generating offense off of the forecheck. One more year of AHL play might get the 21-year-old ready to play as an NHL regular.

Petr Kalus, RW
Trade from Boston

A second-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2005, Kalus has never reached the potential he showed in the WHL, where he scored 58 points in 60 games. Acquired as part of the trade that sent Manny Fernandez to Boston, Kalus seemed unhappy with being sent to Houston. He is a very scrappy, some might say temperamental, player, who had over 100 penalty minutes in 43 games with Providence. After leaving the Aeros organization for the KHL in 2008, he amassed 106 penalty minutes in 17 games, while scoring only two assists. Returning to Houston, Kalus has shown signs of being a solid second or third-line checker who certainly can put the puck in the net. 2009-10 was a pretty good season for him, scoring 12 goals and 23 points over 66 games. He also accrued 77 penalty minutes. He is a restricted free agent whose status with the organization is doubtful. Kalus will be 23 in June.

Matt Kassian, LW
2nd Round, 57th Overall, 2005

Kassian is a pure enforcer, with good character off the ice. Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 245 pounds, it’s easy to see that he brings an intimidating presence. Burning a second round pick on an enforcer in what looks to be a superlative draft class has not proved sound strategy for the Wild organization. Kassian’s offense has remained firmly in the ‘anything is a bonus’ category, with two goals and six points this season for the Aeros. Kassian racks up a lot of penalty minutes though, with 149 this year. He was a -7 despite not matching up against top lines. He is a decent fighter who mostly uses his size to win fights. Kassian was the Aeros winner of the American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year Award for "outstanding contributions to … local community and charitable organizations during the 2009-10 season." The 23-year-old is a valuable piece of the Aeros organization in his role, but unlikely to play at all as a regular for the Wild.

Cody Almond, C 
5th Round, 140th Overall, 2007

Almond is one of the better prospects in the Wild system and had a very solid showing in his first professional season. Fitting the mold of a prototypical checker at 6’1, 199 pounds, Almond proved in his final year of juniors that he possessed some ability to score with a 66-point season and a 27-point Memorial Cup run. His ability to check, block shots, and otherwise lead by example earned him the opportunity to play seven NHL games this season. He managed his first goal, but also dropped gloves with a very tough customer in Dallas’ Mark Fistric.

With the Aeros, Almond scored seven goals (three on the power play) and 18 points in 48 games, playing mostly as the third-line center. Almond suffered a broken arm and a minor knee injury early the season, but is usually pretty durable despite his physical game. He is a solid player who could use more time in the AHL to further refine his defensive acumen.

Carson McMillan, RW
7th Round, 200th Overall, 2007

McMillan is a big (6’2, 213) strong Manitoba lad, who finished his junior career with a very promising run and has not yet found his way in the AHL. This season he played third- and fourth-line minutes with the Aeros, but still only scored four goals and eight points over 56 games. He did serve a brief suspension for a retaliatory sucker punch on Mathieu Tousignant (DAL). McMillan is a good skater and a hard-working player who has the advantage of being a right wing in a system that is very short at that position. To see an expanded role next season, an improvement in scoring is necessary for him.

Justin Falk, D
4th Round, 110th Overall, 2007

Falk is a defenseman whose obvious strength as a player is in his large frame. He stands 6’5 and weighs 215 pounds, but can contribute more than merely closing off space. His scoring won’t be his main contribution, but he did triple his points from last season, with three goals and nine points over 69 games.

The 21-year-old was called up for three games with the Wild in March, and didn’t register a point, although his ice time increased each game. With his imposing frame, and a big right-handed shot, Falk is likely to be one of the first call-ups for next season.

Jamie Fraser, D
Trade from Islanders

Fraser is a 24-year-old offensively-minded defenseman who has entered a journeyman phase in his career. He was retained to help provide some offense from the back end, and contributed some in that respect, scoring six goals and 22 points in 59 games. His minus-2 was better than average for his club this season, and by all accounts, he is a perfectly sound AHL level player. He is currently a restricted free agent, and may be retained as he provides valuable depth for the organization.

Anton Khudobin, G
7th Round, 206th Overall, 2004

Khudobin actually led the NHL in GAA (0.87) and save percentage (.979) although he did just that in his two appearances in the big league this year. Both were wins.

In 40 games with the Aeros, Khudobin put up decent numbers, enough to be considered top-10 in the AHL statistically. A 2.43 GAA and .907 save percentage are about in line with expectations. The Aeros were a .500 team, and Khudobin was a slightly better than average performer for them. Though he’s small (5’11, 176) for the modern game, Khudobin plays a decent technical style.The Wild have a few hard decisions to make this year, with presumably Khudobin, Matt Hackett, and Josh Harding competing for the job of backing up Nicklas Backstrom. Khudobin was named to Team Russia‘s preliminary roster for the 2010 World Hockey Championships, an impressive accomplishment indeed considering his path to the pros.