Minnesota Wild Draft Preview

By Mark Schwarz

Every organization likes to get off on the right foot and start their operation with a bang. For the Minnesota Wild, this kickstart came at the 2000 NHL Draft in Calgary when talented Slovak winger Marian Gaborik, considered by most to be the top player available in the draft, fell into their laps with the #3 overall pick. Gaborik walked straight into the lineup as an 18-year-old in 2000-01 and exceeded all expectations, leading the club in goals and points, and showing that he has all the tools to be an impact player for the Wild in the very near future. Almost lost behind Gaborik’s tremendous success were the seasons of the team’s second and third picks, Nick Schultz and Marc Cavosie, who both showed dramatic improvement and starred for their respective nations at the 2001 WJC, and 9th-round selection Lubomir Sekaras, who cracked the Wild roster as a 31 year-old rookie and scored 34 points from the blueline.

The Wild come to 2001 draft in Miami, Florida a year older and a year wiser, but they’ll be hoping to duplicate their success of a year ago. They’ve bulked up their scouting staff with five extra hirings, and with a season under their belt, and without the added distraction of the expansion draft, they should have a clearer view of where the organization is headed, what sort of player they’re looking to add, and who will fit well into their organizational philosophy. As was the case last season, the shots for the Wild at the draft will be called by head scout Tom Thompson and General Manager Doug Risebrough. Based on only one draft, it’s still far too early to determine any sort of real organizational tendency. It is worth noting, however, that each of their top two picks in 2000 – and several of their later picks as well – were pure skill players with a considerable upside, rather than two-way “safe” picks. From that, it would seem that the Wild place a high priority on skill and intelligence – perhaps simply because the nature of the expansion process yields a roster heavy on character/gritty players.

Like every NHL team, the Wild claim that they’ll take the “best player available”, regardless of position. However, all things being equal, you know that the club would like to add another skill forward with their top pick. Gaborik’s ability and potential is obviously impressive, but he’s virtually all the team has in terms of skill up front, and there doesn’t appear to be any surefire top-6 guys in the organization. Defense is a different story, as there’s already a solid nucleus of young guys in place, including Filip Kuba, Nick Schultz, Travis Roche, and Willie Mitchell, at least three of whom will likely be on next season’s squad. In goal, they look similarly strong, although at 27, Manny Fernandez is right at the borderline age to be a long-term solution for a team as far away from being a contender as Minnesota is.

With that in mind, the team’s first pick at #6 overall is an interesting one. The consensus seems to be that there’s a tier of 5 forwards – Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Stanislav Chistov, Alexander Svitov, and Stephen Weiss – who are the top players on most teams lists, and that there is a significant dropoff in talent just before the Wild pick. Given the team’s weakness up front, you know Risebrough and Thompson would love to get their hands on any of those players, and if Chistov, Svitov, or Weiss, and if one of those players were to fall to #6, it’s difficult to imagine the team passing on him. If, as expected, those five players are gone, the decision for the Wild becomes a more difficult one.

Of course the draft doesn’t end at pick #6. The Wild have 7 more selections over the next 8 rounds, including a high second-rounder and two picks in the third. As was the case last year, look for the team to try adding some instant help in the mid-late rounds in the form of some older European players. Heading into the draft, the Wild’s picks are as follows:

1st round – #6 overall
2nd round – #36 overall
3rd round – #79 overall (acquired from Carolina in Scott Pellerin trade)
– #93 overall (acquired from Ottawa in Curtis Leschyshyn trade)
4th round – #103 overall
5th round – #139 overall
6th round – no pick (moved to Montreal as compensation for Jacques Lemaire signing)
7th round – #202 overall
8th round – #239 overall
9th round – no pick (moved to Dallas in Aaron Gavey trade)

The 2001 NHL Draft will begin on Saturday, June 23, 2001 at 11:00 AM CST and can be viewed on ESPN2 in the United States and CTV Sportsnet in Canada. Minnesota should be making their pick at around 11:30 AM.