Wild 2005 draft preview

By Glen Jackson

Wild Top 10 Prospects

1. Patrick O’Sullivan, C
2. Mikko Koivu, C
3. Brent Burns, D
4. Josh Harding, G
5. A.J. Thelen, D
6. Roman Voloshenko, LW
7. Adam Courchaine, C
8. Stephane Veilleux, LW
9. Danny Irmen, RW
10. Clayton Stoner, D

Team Needs

Heading into 2005-06, the Minnesota Wild don’t have many glaring needs beyond an impact defenseman. Filip Kuba was their top scoring defenseman in 2003-04 with 24 points in 77 games. A true No. 1 defenseman should be high on their priority list this summer.

In goal, Dwayne Roloson is still under contract, while Manny Fernandez is a restricted free agent.

Organizational Strengths

The Wild have something that not all teams can boast, and that is prospects at every position with the very real potential of one day playing in the NHL.

The one area that continues to be the strongest for the team is at center where the Wild’s two best prospects are in Patrick O’Sullivan and Mikko Koivu. Adam Courchaine is coming off another excellent WHL season in which he finished seventh in the league in scoring and has proven himself to be a good two-way center who will now need to prove that his lack of size (5’11, 175 lbs) will not be a hindrance at the pro level.

Aside from decent all around depth and strength at center, the team also has fairly good depth on defense with Brett Burns, A.J. Thelen (who will play with Prince Albert of the WHL in 2005-06) and Clayton Stoner all showing good promise, as well as Zybnek Michalek who will likely get another chance with the Wild this season.

Organizational Weaknesses

At the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the team’s biggest need was a talented defenseman, and with the 12th overall pick they selected Thelen. On March 6th Michigan State dismissed Thelen from the team citing missed expectations as the reason, and the Wild are likely not completely confident that Thelen fills the prospect gap on the blueline. That said, defenseman Stoner, whom the team selected in the third round in 2004, had an excellent season with the Tri-City Americans (WHL) and is shooting up the Wild’s prospect depth chart. Regardless, do not be surprised if the team selects a defender early in the draft.

Another need is in the nets. Although goaltender Josh Harding established him as a quality pro goalie in 2004-05, the only other notable goaltending prospect in the system is Russian Anton Khudobin whose stock rose in the past year until a dismal World Junior Championship Game performance. He was pulled very early in the second period, reminding the world why the Russians traditionally rely on offense to win in international play.

Although not a problem in the short term, the Wild need to select a goalie in 2005 to restock to follow up Harding and Khudobin. Kyle Kettles, who is coming off another below average ECHL/AHL season does not have a realistic shot of ever playing in the NHL.

On the wings is the other main area where the team is light on prospects. Left winger Roman Voloshenko, a second round pick in 2004, has progressed well in the last year with his skating and continues to show a gift for scoring. Danny Irmen is coming off another good year with the University of Minnesota on right wing, and left wing Stephane Veilleux will likely make the Wild out of camp, but after those three the Wild posses a group of mostly forgettable wingers who may or may not be able to get the games together.

Even at center, where the team has been well stocked for several years, restocking is needed as three of the team’s four top center prospects are on the verge of slipping on a Wild uniform for good (Rickard Wallin, Patrick O’Sullivan and Mikko Koivu).

Draft Tendencies

The 2005 draft will be the sixth in franchise history, and over the years the Wild have shown a definite preference for CHL players. The Wild have selected 48.9 percent of their players from the CHL, compared to a league average of 38.1 percent over the same time period. The WHL accounts for 23.4 percent of Wild draft picks but only 13.5 percent for the rest of the league.

Last year’s pick of Michigan State’s A.J. Thelen in the first round and Colgate center Kyle Wilson in the ninth round helped increase the team’s reliance on college picks to 10.6 percent, putting them right in line with the NHL average of 10.3 percent since the 2000 Entry Draft.

In all but the 2004 Entry Draft, the Wild have selected a forward in the first round (Brent Burns switched back to defense in his first season with the Wild). In the second round, defenseman Nick Schultz and goalie Harding are the only non-forwards taken.

The Wild have the fourth pick overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and it is likely that they will have their choice of three or four good forward prospects. Winger Bobby Ryan fills a need for the Wild with size and some finishing ability, but the Wild might have some concerns with Ryan’s mobility. If so, they might look at centers Anze Kopitar, a Slovenian who is a good size and has some skill, or the feisty and talented Gilbert Brule from the Vancouver Giants. With the 2005 draft being a snake format the Wild will have a long wait after their first pick, and so there is an outside chance they may elect to pick Tri-City Americans’ goalie Carey Price, who is regarded as the strongest net minding prospect in this draft.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Gilbert Brule, C

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.