For the Wild, this draft will be remembered perhaps not for the players obtained but for the one who was sent away. After selecting James Sheppard with the ninth overall pick, the Wild traded the 17th overall pick and highly-regarded AHL rookie of the year Patrick O’Sullivan to the Kings in exchange for veteran scorer Pavol Demitra. This deal will be one that sits in the back of Wild fans’ heads for some time until a player harvested from this crop of draftees steps forward. Given some of the promising young talent acquired, it may be a lot sooner than later.
James Sheppard, C
1st (9th overall), 6’1 204, Cape Breton, QMJHL
A solid two-way smooth-skating power forward who can finish, Sheppard possesses a skill set that should allow him to flourish in the Wild system. In 66 games last year, he tallied 30 goals and 54 assists in only his second year in the QMJHL.
Top-flight prospect Sheppard is more of a finisher than a playmaker, with a quick, accurate shot. That is not to say that he does not use his teammates effectively, because he is very willing to dispense the puck, but he is more than capable in doing things himself if given the opportunity. Sheppard brings great skating ability and a strong drive to the net with his good-sized frame. He uses his size to his advantage and doesn’t mind partaking in the physical game, which helps in his creating space in front of the net and in the trenches along the boards
The style of play that Sheppard brings to the table will be a nice complement to the current Wild roster in search of a few more scorers. He should be a nice addition on the power play where he will be able to put his talents to good use finishing and setting up scoring chances. As he continues to develop and refine his game, he should fill a void on the current Wild roster that lacks a highly-skilled scoring physical presence. Along with those talents, Sheppard’s ability to play at a high level at both ends of the ice should allow him to succeed in the Wild’s defensive system.
Ondrej Fiala, C
2nd (40th overall), 6’1 183, Everett, WHL
Ondrej Fiala is another sound two-way player who brings top-notch skating ability and some offensive potential to the table. At the 2006 CHL Top Prospect skills competition, Fiala beat out Sheppard as the fastest skater. Central Scouting ranked Fiala as the 14th best North American skater going into the draft and the Wild may have gotten quite a deal when they used their second round pick to nab him.
CSS had this to say about Fiala: “A very good balanced skater who can be physical as well as a finesse player, with great hockey sense and creativity and is a very good two-way player who is highly skilled with the puck.”
In his rookie campaign in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, Fiala notched 21 goals and 14 assists in 51 games. This placed him one spot behind fellow Wild prospect AJ Thelen in scoring among rookies, not a bad output considering Fiala missed nearly a third of the season due to an early season knee injury.
Many thought he would go a lot higher than the 40th overall selection, including Fiala, who understands that it’s life and you have to accept it. When asked what he needs to work on at the draft, Fiala said, “Be stronger, faster, everything, be the best.”
Cal Clutterbuck, RW
3rd (72nd overall), 5’10 196 — Oshawa, OHL
With the Wild’s third pick, they selected the high-energy, aggressive, fast-skating Clutterbuck from Oshawa of the OHL. Last season in 66 contests, Clutterbuck notched 35 goals and 33 assists in his second season with Oshawa to go along with his 139 PIMs. Clutterbuck’s game would remind many of fellow Wild prospect Danny Irmen who plays for the Houston Aeros.
Looking over the notes on Clutterbuck, you again see many of the same things used to describe Fiala and Sheppard. Very good skater, playmaking forward with a finishing touch, solid on specialty teams. What sticks out about Clutterbuck is the edge that he plays the game with. Like Irmen, Clutterbuck does many of the other things that do not show up in the stat column. He will make a hit to motivate the team, block a shot, and just play with such high energy that everyone around him must keep up and elevate their game.
Kyle Medvec, D
4th (102nd overall), 6’5 191 — Apple Valley, MN HS
In the fourth round, the Wild selected some talent developed just minutes from where they play their home games, the 6’5 defenseman from Apple Valley, Minnesota Kyle Medvec.
Medvec’s defensive partner at Apple Valley was first round selection David Fischer (MON). In 25 games, this past season Medvec tallied 12 goals and 19 assists while Fischer, considered an offensive defenseman, tallied in 25 games 8 goals and 31 assists. At 6’5 and 191 pounds there is definitely room for him to add a couple of pounds to his frame as he continues his development.
Medvec is headed to Sioux City of the USHL for a year before he plays for the Catamounts in Vermont. The Wild may have an imposing figure to place along their blue line a couple of years down the road, one equipped with a hard shot, a long reach, and the ability to play physically.
Niko Hovinen, G — Jokerit Jr., Finnish Jr.
5th (132nd overall), 6’7 200
With the Wild currently having a goaltender of the present in Manny Fernandez and a goalie of the future in Josh Harding, they could afford to take a netminder who has a world of potential but has some work to do to tap into that talent. Standing at over 6’5, Hovinen is a towering presence even in a butterfly stance. He is the biggest Finnish goalie of his generation but still its typical member as far as movement goes.
In this last year, Hovinen played in 26 games for Jokerit Helsinki, posting a 3.12 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Another thing to note is that Hovinen was playing behind a rather porous defense, often surrendering around 40 shots on net per game. Hovinen only appeared in one game in the U20 tourney and was unable to put forth his best effort, a 4.00 GAA and .882 save percentage was the result.
Julian Walker, C — EHC Basel, Swiss
6th (162nd overall), 6’2 209
Third time’s a charm especially for Julian Walker, who went through two previous drafts without being selected. Walker posted two goals in 37 games last year for EHC Basel, and in the WJC he posted four points in six games for the Swiss.
With this pick, the Wild took a player who has shown solid progress as of late. In this year’s WJC, he lead the surprising Swiss team to a tie against the Americans and, as a result, nearly a medal-round berth. Walker outplayed current Wild prospect Julian Sprunger in each game and was an absolute physical force. He combined that style with good offensive skills and a heavy shot.
If Walker continues to develop the way he has recently, he may be able to add a little physical scoring touch to the ranks within the Wild organization. Even if he does not pan out, gambling with your sixth round selection on a player who has been progressing like Walker is a good risk to take.
Chris Hickey, C — Cretin-Derham Hall, MN HS
7th (192nd overall), 6’1 190
With the Wild’s final selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, they called the name of a hometown kid, a 6’1 center from Cretin-Derham Hall, Chris Hickey. Last year in his junior year of competition, Hickey tallied 37 goals, 25 assists in 31 games. While helping his team to the 2006 state championship in three tournament games, Hickey had six goals, scoring two goals in every game the team played including the game-winning goal in the championship.
Hickey still has several years of development before assessing where he may fit with the Wild. He will attend the University of Wisconsin beginning in 2008.
Pekka Lampinen, Phil Laugher, and Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.