Wild Top 20 prospects

By Glen Jackson

The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade per HF Criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, current league and team quality, draft position, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.

Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age – current team (league).
Grade, Projection

1. (2) Patrick O’Sullivan, C – 19 – Mississauga (OHL)
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: First line forward.

O’Sullivan began the season strongly in his new role as captain of the Mississauga IceDogs while helping the team to a quick jump in the win column as well. Up to December 12th, his final OHL game before departing for preparation for the World Junior Championships with the U.S. squad, O’Sullivan had 14 goals and 31 assists in 30 games. On pace for the most productive season in his OHL career, O’Sullivan turned his attention to the WJC where he hoped to help the U.S. defend their title. He had two-goal performance in the gold medal game in Helsinki, Finland last January.

This year he had his best junior championship, statistically speaking, and finished the tournament in a tie for ninth in scoring with 2 goals and 6 assists in 7 games played, but his team suffered tough losses back-to-back against Russia and then the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game.

On January 7th, O’Sullivan returned to the IceDogs and notched a goal and two assists in a 7-2 trouncing of the Barrie Colts. All told, O’Sullivan has 16 goals and 33 assists in 32 games and is currently 12th in OHL scoring, and he’s twice been OHL Player of the Week this season.

2. (1) Mikko Koivu, C – 21 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: First line forward.

Koivu made the jump to North America this summer to begin the season with the AHL Houston Aeros. He scored in his first game on October 15th and then didn’t play again until November 12th thanks to an appendectomy. Despite the long absence from the line up, Koivu is sixth in scoring on the team after collecting 7 goals and 9 assists in 22 games, and he’s got the second best in points per game on the Aeros. He should be ready for the NHL next season.

3. (4) Brent Burns, D – 19 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: First pairing defenseman.

Mostly out of necessity, Wild Coach Jacques Lemaire moved Burns to the blueline late last season and it now looks like the blueline is where Burns will remain. He has done fairly well in Houston on defense gathering 5 goals and 8 assists in 30 games, but his -9 rating is evidence of the learning curve. He leads the Aeros in defensive scoring and three of his goals came on the powerplay, and one while shorthanded.

Burns is strong, hardworking and skilled and when the NHL resumes he’ll most likely appear on the team’s first powerplay unit.

4. (5) Josh Harding, G – 20 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Harding began his pro career in mediocre fashion with the Aeros. He played in five games, one more than Stars goaltending partner Mike Smith, and had a better goals against average (2.67) and save percentage (.896) than Smith, but had only one win to Smith’s three. Harding’s GAA was 21st in the league through to the end of October.

From that point on Harding’s play improved and he had a great November until the 28th of the month when he was elbowed in the back of the head by an opposing player with just five seconds left in a 5-2 Aeros win. The impact gave him a concussion and he still hasn’t returned to the Aeros line-up. In 14 appearances this season, Harding has a 5-7-1 record with 2 shutouts 2.01 GAA (5th best in the AHL) and a .932 save percentage (8th best for goalies with 10 or more appearances).

5. (3) A.J. Thelen, D – 18 – Michigan State (CCHA)
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Top pairing blueliner, powerplay quarterback.

The 12th overall pick of the 2004 draft spoke of being ready to step right into the NHL following his selection in Carolina. Some wondered if the Wild would do as they have with many of their most valuable prospects and develop him within the organization, but with the lockout and a good college program at Michigan State, the Wild decided to leave him in the CCHA.

Thelen is suffering through a bit of a sophomore slump now and has just 8 assists through 21 games. He has yet to score his first goal of the season despite taking 51 shots. He’s leading the team in minor infractions by far with 20, and is second on the team in overall penalty minutes. The slump becomes clear when contrasted with last season’s freshman totals of 11 goals and 18 assists in 42 games played, and 46 penalty minutes.

6. (6) Rickard Wallin, C – 24 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 7.0A, Projection: Second line center

Wallin is one of a few Minnesota prospects who were almost definitely going to begin this season in the NHL. He had paid his dues in the AHL, collecting 67 points in 99 games, and in 15 games with the Wild at the end of last season he had 5 goals and 4 assists.

This season with the Aeros he has 21 points in 33 games, second highest total on the team, and looks as ready as ever to play in the NHL.

7. (7) Roman Voloshenko, LW – 18 – Soviet Wings (RUS)
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second line winger, powerplay specialist.

The 2004 second round pick of the Wild has had a busy year. He began with the Soviet Wings of the High League where he collected 6 goals and 5 assists in 19 games. In six games at the CHL-Russia challenge, the Russian Selects scored 11 goals and Voloshenko scored four of those and assisted on two others. The standout on left wing also had two shootout goals in the two games against the QMJHL and was named Russia’s player of the game for the majority of matches.

Finally, at the recently complete WJC, Voloshenko played on the third line of an offensively stacked Russian squad but he and Yunkov lost Radulov as a linemate as the tournament wore on. With limited ice time and opportunity Voloshenko finished with 2 goals in 6 games and a +1 rating.

Time will tell with the young winger who is often criticized for his skating ability, and next season will be one to watch closely to measure his development when he should step into a bigger role for the Russian team.

8. (8) Adam Courchaine, C – 20 – Vancouver (WHL)
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second line center.

While everyone focuses their attention on 2005 draft eligible and leading WHL scorer Gilbert Brule, his teammate and fellow centerman Adam Courchaine is having yet another productive season with the Vancouver Giants. He’s seventh in the WHL in scoring with 19 goals and 29 assists in 43 games. In late November, Courchaine was the WHL and CHL Player of the Week and he’s a +6 on the season. The only concern for the 20-year-old Courchaine becoming an effective pro seems to be his size.

9. (10) Stephane Veilleux, LW – 23 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 6.5A, Projection: Third line winger.

Without the NHL lockout, Veilleux would already have graduated as a prospect within the Wild system. There are few question marks remaining for the 23-year-old. He’s an effective two-way forward who has been known to chip in with his fair share of offense. Thus far in 2004-05 he is leading the Aeros in scoring with 23 points in 34 games and he has a +4 rating, second best on the team.

Expect to see the Veilleux in the NHL permanently when the lockout ends.

10. (12) Danny Irmen, RW – 20 – Minnesota (WCHA)
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Second line winger.

Irmen continues to increase his profile in his third sophomore year with Minnesota. Irmen’s been an offensive player of the week this season and he’s tied for fourth in goals in the WCHA with 14, and sixth in points per game with a mark of 1.18. The second leading scorer of the Gophers continues to work hard at both ends of the ice and with the points coming, he continues to develop well and gain notoriety. He already has 26 points this season, four more than all of last year.

11. (20) Clayton Stoner, D – 19 – Tri-City (WHL)
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Top four blueliner.

Stoner missed the first 11 games of the season for the WHL’s Tri City Americans with a knee injury, but he made his season debut on October 29th a memorable one for the Amerks, garnering an assist and scoring the game winning goal in overtime to give the team a 3-2 win over the Everett Silvertips. Then he did it again the very next day, assisting on a power play goal in the third that tied the game, and then scoring the winner early in the overtime session. Those two performances earned Stoner the WHL player of the week honor and he hasn’t looked back since.

He’s currently tied for second in team scoring for the Amerks with 27 points in 28 games played and 11 fewer games played than the leader. League-wide he is tied for seventh in scoring for defensemen. Offense has become a big part of Stoner’s game but he’s still getting the job done defensively as well and is a +3. You can almost hear the fans in Houston chanting his name.

12. (9) Matt Foy, RW – 21 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line winger.

It appears as if Foy might never be the scoring sensation he was in 2002-03 with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s when he had 132 points in 68 games, but he could still develop into a good third line forward. In 29 games this season the Oakville, Ontario native has 5 goals and 9 assists and is a -3.

13. (11) Kyle Wanvig, RW – 23 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Second line power forward.

One-third of the Aeros’ Calder Cup championship World War V line in 2002-03, Wanvig is having his least productive season of his AHL career. His 7 points in 31 games does not even compare favourably to his rookie season. He’s also a team-worst -17 on the year, which is the sixth worst rating in the AHL. One of the knocks on Wanvig has been that he tends to underachieve and be inconsistent, and 2004-05 is shaping up to be a prime example of this.

14. (NR) Anton Khudobin, G – 19 – Mettalurg Magnitodorsk (RPL)
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Backup goalie, possible starter.

Khudobin looked to have established himself as the best young goaltending prospect in Russia until he made it to the gold medal game in North Dakota against the juggernaut from Canada. Up until that point he’d had a very good tournament and Khudobin finished the WJC with a 3-2 record a 2.73 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

Other than that the WJC final, 2004-05 has been a good one for Khudobin’s development and the quick and fluid mover has been a reliable netminder for Russian teams and Mettalurg. Prior to the WJC he also won two consecutive games in the CHL-Russia challenge against the QMJHL Select team and in both games he was unbeatable in shootouts, stopping all seven shootout attempts that he faced.

With Kyle Kettles not quite up to snuff, Khudobin is the Wild’s only other legitimate potential NHL-calibre goaltending prospect after Harding.

15. (14) Jean-Michel Bolduc, D – 19 – Rimouski (QMJHL)
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Top four blueliner.

Bolduc played the first seven games of the season for Rimouski of the QMJHL and had 2 goals and 1 assist before he broke his thumb, keeping him out of the line up for a month. In total he has 4 goals and 4 assists in 27 games and it appears that his 50 points in 2003-04 might have been an anomaly; however he is still developing into a decent defensive prospect.

16. (17) Peter Olvecky, LW – 19 – Dukla-Trencin (SVK)
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third line winger.

Playing alongside locked out NHL’ers Pavol Demitra, Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa with Dukla-Trencin helped Olvecky’s point production somewhat (he has 11 points in 30 games), but even in the WJC where he represented Slovakia Olvecky did well and had 3 goals, 1 assist and 16 penalty minutes in 6 games. Olvecky is valued as a hard working grinder and it will take some time for his game to develop fully, but he appears to be well on track.

17. (16) Julien Sprunger, LW – 19 – Fribourg-Gotteron (SUI)
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Second line winger.

Sprunger had a disappointing WJC in which he was held pointless in six games for Switzerland, but he also has 8 goals and 7 assists in 32 games for his hometown team, good enough for sixth in team scoring. Sprunger will take some time but could end up being a good pick from the 2004 Entry Draft.

18. (15) Zybnek Michalek, D – 22 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third pairing.

Michalek was adequate in 22 games with the Wild last season, and this year with the Aeros he’s continued to do well enough for his prospect stock to not drop too much. He’s got 2 goals and 9 assists in 32 games along with a -10 rating with the Aeros, second worst on the team after Wanvig. It will be interesting to see what the Wild elect to do with Michalek next season.

19. (13) Chris Heid, D – 21 – Louisiana (ECHL)
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Third pairing.

When Heid reported to the Aeros camp this season, he was suffering from lower back pain that took some time to be diagnosed as pars interarticularis, essentially a fatigue fracture. He’s receiving treatments that allow him to play and on December 23rd he was assigned to the Louisiana IceGators. In nine games he has 2 goals and 5 assists and he told Hockey’s Future this week that he’s pain free and his wind is returning. He is logging a lot of minutes in all situations, and will likely be called back up to the Aeros very soon.

20. (19) Eric Reitz, D – 22 – Houston (AHL)
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Third pairing.

There was some question whether Reitz would make the Aeros out of camp this year with the Dallas Stars contributing players to the team for the first time, but in due in part to Heid’s injury as well as a strong preseason, Reitz was able to stick in the AHL and thus far has 11 assists in 30 games with a +2 rating.

Other Wild prospects to keep an eye on

Patrick Bordeleau (LW, Val D’Or – QMJHL), Mathieu Melanson (LW, Quebec – QMJHL), Georgi Misharin (D, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik – RUS), Ryan Stokes (D, Pensacola – ECHL)

Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.