Wild Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Top 20 at a glance

1. Roman Voloshenko, LW
2. Josh Harding, G
3. Benoit Pouliot, LW
4. James Sheppard, C
5. A.J. Thelen, D
6. Danny Irmen, RW
7. Matt Foy, RW
8. Clayton Stoner, D
9. Shawn Belle, D
10. Ondrej Fiala, C
11. Morten Madsen, C
12. Anton Khudobin, G
13. Ryan Jones, RW
14. Peter Olvecky, LW
15. Anthony Aiello, D
16. Julien Sprunger, RW
17. Kyle Medvec, D
18. Kristofer Westblom, G
19. Cal Clutterbuck, RW
20. Kyle Bailey, C

1. Roman Voloshenko, LW
2004 42nd overall

Roman Voloshenko is one of the prospects in the Wild system who appears to be ready for a new challenge, but who will find it a bit more difficult to get some ice time in Minnesota. Voloshenko, Benoit Pouliot, and Patrick O’Sullivan were regarded as the three most NHL ready prospects not currently playing with the pro team. The deal that took O’Sullivan out of the equation and turned it into a two-horse race also all but eliminated the spot the three would have been vying for. Voloshenko will most likely find himself in Houston for a while, but if he plays well enough it may make it tough for the Wild to ignore his talents. Voloshenko possesses the shooting abilities to add some instant goal scoring to the line-up. If he can round out his game perhaps add a little gritty corner work, he could find himself complementing the Gaborik-Demitra line nicely. Voloshenko will begin the season in Houston and then perhaps see some time with the Wild late in the season. So far he has just two points in seven games.

2. Josh Harding, G
2002 38th overall

Josh Harding continues to show that he has the tools to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. As he has progressed through junior and the minors, he’s never posted a save percentage below 90 percent, and in his first two seasons in the AHL he had a save percentage of .925. This shows his consistency from year to year, and also shows that he does more than make just the everyday save. Wild fans got a taste of Harding last year as he made a handful of starts for the big club. Dawning old school pads he was able to throw a shutout in his second start stopping 27 shots for the club. Harding has begun this season with the Houston Aeros and has a .903.

3. Benoit Pouliot, LW
2005 4th overall

Benoit Pouliot is one of the most gifted offensive talents in the Wild system. Pouliot’s numbers have been solid in the OHL for the Sudbury Wolves the past two years with his point totals ahead of Bobby Ryan (ANA) at the same points in their OHL careers. With all that being said, if Pouliot goes to Houston and impresses, the Wild may just be forced into bringing him back and putting his offensive gifts to use. He already has four goals in seven games.

4. James Sheppard, C
2006 9th overall

James Sheppard, the Wild’s top draft pick from this year’s draft, has tools similar to some of those listed above him, but plays more of a power forward style of hockey than the more finesse players above him. Given the only other real power forward player in the Wild system is Matt Foy, the odds of Sheppard making a home in Minnesota in the not too distant future are good. As for this year, Sheppard hurt his back during training camp and was a late returnee to his junior team. He now has five points in six games for Cape Breton in the QMJHL.

5. A.J. Thelen, D
2004 12th overall

A.J. Thelen, drafted as an offensive defenseman, has been on a roller coaster ride since his draft in 2004. He went from having an outstanding freshman year at Michigan State in 2003-04, earning several honors, to leaving the Spartans a little over halfway through his sophomore year. Thelen played in the WHL last season recording 36 points in 72 games, and then on to the Houston Aeros that same season. Where does Thelen go from here? With the abilities he possesses, he could be a solid addition to the Wild defensive corps. If he regains that form he displayed his freshman year in college, he will be able to find himself as a significant part of the Wild’s special teams units. His shooting and passing abilities would be of great benefit to a team on the point. But for the upcoming season, Thelen has been sent back to the WHL to continue to get playing time and develop. He has two points in two games.

6. Danny Irmen, RW
2003 78th overall

Danny Irmen is the type of player who will instantly be a fan favorite, playing the game with an intensity and passion that is contagious. But there is much more than just a hard-working energy player to him. He has the passing, skating, and hands to be a contributor on offense and he works hard and takes care of his own end as well. During an injury-plagued year he still posted 16 goals 22 assists for 38 points in 30 games in 2005-06 for University of Minnesota. He was one of only three players on the team to average more than a point a game — the other two were Ryan Potulny (PHI) and Phil Kessel (BOS). Look for Irmen to play a season in Houston this year as he adjusts to the pro game. Thus far he has four points in seven games.

7. Matt Foy, RW
2002 175th overall

Matt Foy started last year with the Wild before a numbers game caused him to be sent back down to Houston. At the time, the Wild roster included several other players in their first year with the club, and a couple of bigger names sidelined due to injury. When the Wild’s roster was healthy, Foy was sent to Houston due to the fact he did not have to clear waivers to make it to Houston’s roster and some of the other players would have had to. While with the Wild, Foy displayed an excellent skating stride, the ability to play a physical clean power game, as well as create some offense with his hard work and relentless forecheck. He posted five points in 19 games. When returned to Houston, he posted 40 points and 122 penalty minutes in 51 games. It was a breakout year for Foy who just about doubled his point production from his first two years in Houston. He continued to have a solid playoffs. Watch for Foy to be back and forth between Houston and Minnesota a couple of times this year, perhaps even sticking with the big club later.

8.Clayton Stoner, D

2004 79th overall

Clayton Stoner the not the flashiest of the Wild prospects – a lot of what he does will not show up in the box scores as his primary role is to be solid in his own end. Stoner had a great prospect tourney this year and if not for an injury perhaps would have had a nice shot to make the Wild roster. Stoner will be on the short list of defensive players to get a call-up. Stoner has the ability to be a solid blue liner in more of the Willie Mitchell variety, a solid physical guy in his own end with the ability to chip in occasionally on the offensive side of the rink. Last year with Houston, he recorded six goals 19 assists for 24 points to go along with 92 penalty minutes. In the playoffs he notched another two points in three games. Having suffered a shoulder injury at prospects camp, Stoner has played just two games this season for Houston.

9. Shawn Belle, D
2003 30th overall (St. Louis)
Shawn Belle is the biggest wild card on the list. He has the talent to challenge those in the top five. However, Belle’s development has been anything but a smooth ride. He has the skating ability, strength, and offensive skills to be a very good two-way defenseman. But at times he seems to perform below expectations. After posting solid numbers in juniors, last year for the Iowa Stars, Belle compiled just one goal and two assists in 45 games. In 16 games with the Houston Aeros, after he was traded from Dallas to Minnesota, he had one goal and one assist, adding another assist in eight playoff games. Perhaps the change of scenery and the Wild’s system will help to rejuvenate the development of this very skilled prospect. If he gets back on track, he has the ability to play in all defensive roles. This year Belle with the Aeros he already has two points in six games.

10.Ondrej Fiala, C

2006 40th overall

Ondrej Fiala has wheels as demonstrated by him winning the fastest skater at the prospect game in Ottawa last year. In his first year of North American hockey, he posted 35 points in 51 games with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, missing roughly a quarter of the season to begin the year. In the playoffs, Fiala showed his development as he notched eight points in eight games in the playoffs. Fiala adjusted nicely to the North American game especially given the extended time missed due to an injury. Fiala is another player on the list who posses some great finesse skills. This year Fiala will again play for Everett. Recovering from offseason knee surgery, he’s expected to join the lineup soon.

11.Morten Madsen, C

2005 122nd overall

Morten Madsen is another finesse offensive player. Madsen has performed well in international competitions for a historically weak Danish team, on which he stars with fellow Wild prospect Julien Sprunger. Madsen continues to develop and improve each year, including statistically. Last year he enjoyed his best year for Frolunda in the SEL, notching 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points in 36 games, to go along with that solid regular season performance Madsen tacked on five goals and three assists for eight points in seven playoff games. This year Madsen looks to continue his development as he crosses the pond to play for the Victoriaville Tigres in the QMJHL. He already has 26 points in 14 games.

12.Anton Khudobin, G

2004 206th overall

Anton Khudobin has the skills to play in the big league someday, it just seems to be more a question of when will he put all those skills together. Last year in his first year playing in North America, he played for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL and posted a very respectable 23 wins, 2.90 goals against average to go with a .917 save percentage. Khudobin also helped his Russian World Junior team make it to the championship game. In that tourney, he posted a 2.20 goals against average and a superb .933 save percentage. Khudobin needs some time to become more well-rounded and to build consistency. With the current Wild goaltenders, Khudobin will have a couple of years to work on those aspects of his game. This year Khudobin has returned to Russia to play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

13.Ryan Jones, RW

2004 111th overall

Ryan Jones, a gritty, hard-working high-energy skilled skater with some offensive talents, will be playing his junior year for the Miami of Ohio RedHawks in the CCHA. The junior captain will look to improve upon his 22-goal, 13-assist performance of 2005-06. Jones is very comparable to fellow Wild prospect Irmen, though Jones has taken a little bit more time to develop. Nonetheless, Jones has shown the ability to lead his teams on and off the ice. Similar to Irmen, he will most likely not be an offensive dynamo in the NHL, but one of those character players who bring the intangibles that elevate the play of everyone around them. He has the ability to contribute on offense and be sound in his own end. Jones will be helping to lead a very good RedHawks squad to what should be an eventual NCAA tourney berth.

14.Peter Olvecky, LW

2004 78th overall

Peter Olvecky is the type of player who would fit in very nicely on a line with two skilled offensive players. While he has the skills to create and finish scoring chances on his own, his best asset may be his ability to get the puck out of the corners and along the boards. Olvecky’s ability to retrieve the puck from these areas would allow his line to get some additional scoring chances. Olvecky most likely will need some more time to really round out his game and get adjusted to the North American game. As a rookie with Houston last year, he recorded 14 goals and 18 assists in 67 games, solid numbers for a rookie adjusting to a different style of game. Expect Olvecky to get another year of seasoning with the Houston Aeros. He has two points in six games so far.

15.Anthony Aiello, D

2005 129th overall

Last year as a freshman, Anthony Aiello played with a solid Boston College team that came within one victory of a national championship. While regarded as an offensive defenseman, Aiello had a slow offensive year only producing nine points in 40 games. However, as is often seen in college hockey, on better teams the younger players do not always receive as much ice time, especially on special teams. Aiello should have a much more productive year as a sophomore.

16.Julien Sprunger, RW

2004 117th overall

Julien Sprunger is a player who has really come out of the shadows to establish himself as an up and coming prospect for the Wild farm system. Sprunger currently plays in Switzerland where last year he recorded 19 goals 14 assists for 33 points in 38 games. At the most recent World Junior Championship, in six games he posted two goals and three assists. He will spend another year in Europe and then look for him to make his North American debut perhaps next year.

17.Kyle Medvec, D

2006 102nd overall

Kyle Medvec has the frame to be an imposing physical defenseman. The newly-acquired fourth rounder will have time to add some weight to his 6’5 body. Medvec, who was a Mr. Hockey finalist in Minnesota this past year, but lost out to his defensive partner David Fischer (MTL). While not considered an offensive-minded defenseman, Medvec put up 31 points in 25 games including 12 goals. Medvec has a solid shot and already plays a very physical game. As he matures and grows into his body, his skating, considered his biggest weakness, should improve. With his maturation should come the blossoming of a rugged defensive defenseman with a hard shot from the point, allowing him to be able to contribute on both ends of the ice. Medvec is playing in the USHL this year, and then next year will play for the Catamounts of the University of Vermont.

18.Kristofer Westblom, G

2005, 65th overall

Once an area of weakness in the Wild farm system, the goaltending position has several young talents. At only 19 years of age, Westblom still has time to develop in junior before turning pro. Westblom posted 16 wins in 26 games as the backup goaltender for the Kelowna Rockets with a 2.87 goals against and a .892 save percentage. This year will show what type of goaltender Westblom can be, as he takes over the starting reins for the Rockets. Westblom should be able to top last year’s numbers.

19.Cal Clutterbuck, RW

2006 72nd overall

Another high-energy, hard-skating, gritty winger prospect for the Wild, Cal Clutterbuck played last year for the Oshawa Generals where he recorded 35 goals 33 assists in 66 games. Clutterbuck came into the OHL as a highly-regarded offensive player, but struggled at first in that role, which actually helped him in the long run. Due to his need to adjust his game at the OHL level, Clutterbuck became better in his defensive zone and energized his teammates with physical play. As can be seen by his numbers last year, Clutterbuck still possesses that offensive talent that he was originally known for. With his skating ability, awareness in both ends of the ice, and the aggressive play he brings to the table, increasing production can only make Clutterbuck that much harder for the Wild to look past. He should spend the next couple of seasons in juniors before being groomed at the AHL level.

20.Kyle Bailey, C

2005 110th overall

Bailey enters his fourth full season with the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks, and fifth overall (he played four games with the team in 2002-03). A defensive center who showed he could chip in with some offense on a consistent basis last season when he had 53 points in 66 games, Bailey has developed into a gritty player who does well in penalty killing situations as well as checking against opponents’ offensive lines.

Brock Anderson and Glen Jackson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.