Wild 2006 draft preview

By Jared Ramsden

Wild Top 10 Prospects

1. Patrick O’Sullivan, C
2. Josh Harding, G
3. Roman Voloshenko, LW
4. Mikko Koivu, C
5. Benoit Pouliot
6. A.J. Thelen, D
7. Danny Irmen, RW
8. Clayton Stoner, D
9. Kurtis Foster, D
10. Matt Foy, RW

Team Needs

The addition of UFA forward Brian Rolston proved to be a godsend for the Wild, who as a team again sat in the bottom half the league in goals for. Rolston played in all 82 games and lead the team in scoring with 34 goals and 79 points. Marian Gaborik did his part, leading the team with 38 goals and P.M. Bouchard finally lived up to the hype of being a top draft pick. Beyond those three, the Wild still struggled to find much consistent secondary scoring. Mikko Koivu shows great upside, but he may not develop into the offensive threat that the team had hoped when they drafted him. While not as big of a need as last season, the Wild would still be wise to scour the free agent market for another top six forward.

With the trading of Willie Mitchell at the trade deadline and the uncertain futures of Filip Kuba, Daniel Tjarnqvist and Andrei Zyuzin, all UFA’s, the Wild may have a couple new faces on the blue line next season. The emergence of Kurtis Foster last season was a pleasant surprise and Brett Burns, Nick Schultz and Martin Skoula, acquired in the Mitchell trade in March, all still have significant upside and room to grow. Acquiring one or two steady stay at home veterans to play alongside the aforementioned defensemen may be a direction the Wild choose to go this offseason.

In goal, Manny Fernandez is the clear No. 1 netminder with the trade of Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton at the trade deadline. Josh Harding appears to be ready to handle the backup job in Minnesota after playing the majority of the last two seasons with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Houston.

Organizational Strengths

The Wild have done an outstanding job drafting and developing their prospects since their entry into the league back in 2000. As a result of the Wild’s strong draft track record, they have accumulated one of the best pools of prospects in the league and have a system that is stocked with exceptional talents at multiple positions. There were two who stood out amongst the crowd and both were as first-year players in the AHL.

Center Patrick O’Sullivan completed a spectacular rookie pro season in Houston with the Aeros. The 56th overall draft pick in 2003 lead the team with an astounding 47 goals, scored 93 points and was arguably the AHL’s best rookie. The deft playmaker also led the team in playoff scoring with 10 points. There is not much doubt that the offensively gifted O’Sullivan will challenge for a regular job in Minnesota next fall.

If not for O’Sullivan’s dominating season, Russian left winger Roman Voloshenko’s 33 goals might have garnered a little more attention. Twenty of those 33 goals came on the power play. The 2004 second round draft choice is highly skilled and while he may not be as NHL-ready as O’Sullivan appears to be, he is not far off from making an impact with the Wild.

Last season’s first draft choice, Benoit Pouliot scored at a point per game clip with Sudbury in the OHL. Pouliot showed development in all areas, such as putting on some weight and playing more physically. Pouliot is a tremendous talent, but he is still a year or two away from challenging for a full-time job in Minnesota.

The Wild have a collection of potential role playing forwards in Danny Irmen, Matt Foy, Kyle Bailey and Peter Olvecky, all of whom showed signs last season of developing into solid prospects.

In net, the Wild are quite well stocked for now and the future. Even with the likely graduation of Josh Harding to the NHL next season, the Wild still have Anton Khudobin and 2005 draft pick Kristofer Westblom in the system. Khudobin will play in Russia next season after a year in the CHL, but still possesses great upside. Westblom will likely see more game action next season in the WHL with Kelowna. Add to that the fact that the Wild already have Miroslav Kopriva in North America and just recently signed 28-year-old goaltender Niklas Backstrom from Finland, they are well set in goal for the foreseeable future.

While the Wild don’t have an elite group of defense prospects, the likes of Clayton Stoner, Ryan Stokes and Erik Reitz provide the Wild with a handful of steady, stay at home prospects that could see time with the Wild in the next season or two.

Organizational Weaknesses

A.J. Thelen is an exceptional talent, and after having a great debut season in the WHL with Prince Albert, he is not far away from cracking the Wild roster. After Thelen though, there is not much in terms of potential blue chip prospects on the back end. Shawn Belle, acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline, possesses an abundance of natural talent and is a fantastic skater, but there are some doubts as to what type of player he will be. The Wild could use one of their two first round draft picks on a potential impact blueliner.

Though Pouliot, Voloshenko and Irmen represent great potential on the wings, the Wild could use a few more talented wingers in the system. Things are looking much the same at center. O’Sullivan and Koivu are likely to be staples in Minnesota’s immediate future, but after those two, there is a precipitous talent drop off. The Wild will look to replenish their system at the upcoming draft with a few offensively gifted forwards.

Draft Tendencies

Last year, the Wild continued to show a preference for drafting players from the major junior ranks, making five of their seven selections, including top pick Pouliot, from the Canadian Hockey League. Four of those five last year were from the WHL alone, another common tendency from the Wild’s drafting record.

After passing on drafting goaltenders in their first two years in the league, the Wild have taken at least one goaltender the past four drafts.

For the fifth time in the seven-year history of the franchise, the Wild will have a pick in the top ten, this time, ninth overall. However, for the first time in franchise history, the team will have two first round draft picks, as the team acquired an additional first rounder from the Edmonton Oilers for goaltender Dwayne Roloson. The slotting of that additional draft choice is yet to be determined as the Oilers continue in their quest for the Stanley Cup.

With the luxury of having two first round draft choices, the Wild will be hard pressed to do wrong at the draft table. At the No. 9 slot, Minnesota will likely have their choice of either taking the next best defender after consensus No. 1 choice Erik Johnson, or a forward such as Kyle Okposo or Jiri Tlusty. Whatever position the Wild don’t address with their first pick, they will likely address that with their additional first rounder.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Jiri Tlusty, C

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