Wild 2005 draft evaluation

By Peter Prohaska

In 2005, the nascent Wild organization had done a good job establishing itself quickly as a serious franchise, but its limited success also served to distract the management group. The franchise was just beginning to find its identity thanks to brilliant tactical coaching of Jacques Lemaire. General Manager Doug Risebrough’s scouting staff had even found some real players in the first few drafts, despite seeming not to put much value in the draft itself.

The 2003-04 incarnation of the Wild was barely a .500 team and had scored a woeful 188 goals that season, while failing to make the playoffs after the prior year’s run to the conference finals. The team clearly needed an infusion of top-level scoring talent, which is always easier said than done. Having a top-five pick increases the scrutiny and expectation, but also the likelihood of success.

Even given the unusual circumstances of the 2005 Draft, the Wild’s performance was mediocre. It’s tempting to fault them for missing Anze Kopitar or not trading down for TJ Oshie, but mostly it is the problems in the late rounds that has decimated the depth relative to almost every other team.

Interestingly the Wild organization has since acquired the 39th (Petr Kalus), the 45th (G. Latendresse), and the 228th (Chad Rau) players selected in this draft. The Wild looked strongly to the west, taking four players from the Western Hockey League. They also selected one from the Swedish juniors, one from the OHL, and one from Massachusetts prep. For a team based in Minnesota, the organization showed very little faith in that state’s developmental programs.

Nonetheless, Cliff Fletcher’s new regime will have a fair amount of leeway as it makes up for some mediocre draft years.

Benoit Pouliot, LW
1st Round, Fourth overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 104

With the highest pick since the franchise’s inaugural draft in 2000, the Wild selected Alfred, Ontario’s 6’3 190 pounder Benoit Pouliot at No. 4. At the time, Pouliot looked like an excellent and fortuitous pick, the best player left on the table. NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings had him at No. 2 among North American skaters. His first full season (67 games) with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL saw him score 29 goals and 65 points, playing a dominant physical role at 18 years of age, and winning the OHL Rookie of the Year award. Though he played in just 51 games the next season, Pouliot still scored 35 goals and 65 points. He spent the rest of the time winning gold with Canada’s World Junior squad.

Pouliot’s additional development season in juniors had many convinced that he was ready for a regular slot with the Wild. However, in 2006-07, Pouliot was sent to refine his game down in Houston. He transitioned fairly well to the AHL level, scoring 19 goals and 36 points, and serving over 100 PIMs, but going -16 for the season. To Lemaire, that number spelled trouble. The next season (2007-08) the NHL organization tried to slot him into the roster over 11 games, but without much to show for it: just two goals and an assist. The numbers suggest a player who never really had the chance to get comfortable with teammates either in Houston or in St. Paul. 2008-09 had a strong start for the 22-year-old, and after putting up 24 points in 30 games, he got a chance as a regular with the Wild. He seemed to struggle again to elevate his game, scoring just five goals and 11 points in 37 contests. Pouliot always showed some ability to produce despite his frequent travel, but single-digit goal totals were never going to be enough for a player of his pedigree and potential.

On November 23, 2009, Pouliot was traded to Montréal for their second round pick (45th) of the same draft year, Guillaume Latendresse. Pouliot responded favorably to his new environs, with 15 goals and 24 points in the 39 regular-season games he spent with the Canadiens. He has found himself odd man out occasionally in the Habitants’ current playoff run, not playing physically enough for his body size and not finishing the opportunities his skating and skill create. Pouliot still will have a career of some kind, but probably will look like a waste of a high pick for the Wild.

Matt Kassian, LW
2nd Round, 57th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 0

When Kassian was drafted at No. 57, he had scored four goals in 106 WHL games. An enormous young man at 6’5, 245, Kassian is one of the good guys in the enforcer role but his selection in the second round was a costly reach for a team struggling to find solid NHL skill. He has proven to be a solid pro, even scoring some (four goals and ten points in 47 ECHL games in 2007-08) when given the chance. The last two seasons with the Aeros he has accrued 130 and 149 PIMs, gaining the respect of his teammates and the other fighters around the league. This past season, Kassian won the American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year Award. Probably some of this good character motivated the early selection. Kassian remains a prospect for the Wild. Kassian is quite solid in his role with the Aeros, and a possible call-up if some extra toughness in needed in the absence of Derek Boogaard or John Scott.

Kristofer Westblom, G
3rd Round, 65th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

The lanky Kelowna Rockets rookie had put up decent numbers in his first junior season, going 12-2-4, with four shutouts, a 1.81 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Although the Wild already had Josh Harding, Barry Brust, and Anton Khudobin in the pipeline, Miroslav Kiprova didn’t look like a long-term answer either. At the NHL level, the Wild were riding the spectacular veteran tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez, and needed some youth in the system.

Off to a decent start in 2005-06, Westblom injured his knee severely in February 2006 and never fully regained form. Westblom did not play a full slate in Kelowna until his 19-year-old season with 42 starts in 2006-07. He finished that season with a 3.05 GAA and a .900 save percentage, as well as an unflattering 14-26-2 record. The team improved the next year behind the play of guys like Jamie Benn, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, and Cody Almond and his record improved even as his save percentage declined to .890. The Wild did not extend an offer.

Westblom has since found success on the ice while preparing himself for life outside of hockey at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Westblom was named this year’s Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year by the University, as well as a first team All-Star by the conference’s coaches.

Kyle Bailey, F
4th Round, 110th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

A gritty checker who scored 33 points in his draft year, Bailey had the look of a promising third-liner someday. He showed some good improvement in scoring numbers in 2005-06, putting up 53 points (18 goals) over 66 games. The next year he was traded from Portland to Lethbridge, and though his final totals for that season were quite respectable (48 points and 16 goals over 56 games), the Wild did not tender an offer. Bailey chose to head off to college at the University of New Brunswick. There he has continued a fine hockey career, with a better than point-per-game pace all three years, finishing this year, his third, with 14 goals and 31 points in 28 games. He captained the team the last two seasons and was the recipient of the Red and Black Award and the Godfrey Award this past season.

Morten Madsen, C
4th Round, 122nd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 0

A somewhat highly-touted Danish junior player in his draft year, Madsen showed his commitment to becoming a pro by coming over to Québec to play in 2006. He dominated as a 19-year-old with Victoriaville, scoring 32 goals and 100 points over 62 games. The Wild then decided to get him some more seasoning, and he spent the 2007-08 campaign with the Houston Aeros, where his junior success did not translate, and he went down for five games to the ECHL. 2008-09 failed to find Madsen any more prepared for the North American pro game. He doubled his goal total from three to six, but was again in the 20-point range. This year he returned to Europe, and scored 11 goals and 20 points with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. Madsen is a good defensive player whose offensive upside is limited. He is a member of the Danish National team, and currently enjoying some success at the 2010 IIHF Tournament as a checking center. His North American career currently compares unfavorably with a player like Patrick Thoresen’s and his time as a Minnesota prospect is all but done.

Anthony Aiello, D
5th Round, 129th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Aiello was a very promising prospect coming out of Thayer Academy in Massachusetts. As a collegiate player, injuries compounded on him and he simply plateaued. He appeared in 40 games his freshman season at Boston College, and scored nine points. A shoulder injury forced him to miss half the next season, but he still scored nine points. His junior year did not show the step forward, and though he played a major role on his squad in terms of minutes, he managed just 13 points over 43 games. It’s also worth noting the strength of the team during his junior year. Led by Nathan Gerbe, Benn Ferriero, Ben Smith, and goaltender John Muse, the Eagles would take the NCAA Championship. Aiello’s leadership and smart defensive play was credited with some of the team’s success. His senior year, however, was marred by injury and he played in just 27 contests and scored just four assists. Aiello is enjoying a career with the Stockton Thunder, putting up 27 points in 51 games, and also scoring nine points during a 15-game playoff run. His time as a prospect of interest is over, however.

Riley Emmerson, LW
7th Round, 199th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Emmerson was a very strange selection — a true heavyweight at 6’8 and 248 pounds, but without much in the way of hockey ability. After not making the AHL squad, he played two seasons with the ECHL Texas Wildcatters, appearing in a total of 93 games and accruing 241 penalty minutes. Let go by the Wild family, he played 2008-09 with the Rochester Americans, where he sat for 107 penalty minutes and scored zero points over 42 games. He then somehow earned himself an AHL contract with the Oilers’ Springfield Falcons organization in September 2009, and played that season’s bulk with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder, scoring a career-high six points over 46 games. Emmerson is a truly fearsome force when engaged in fisticuffs, but lacks the skill set to move beyond that role.

Recent Wild signee Chad Rau was selected 29 slots later (228). Other current NHLers who went after Emmerson include Sergei Kostitsyn, Anton Stralman, Kyle Cumiskey, and Patric Hornqvist.