The Minnesota Wild has a stockpile of players in the junior ranks, with eight players in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and two more in the United States Hockey League (USHL). Those ten players in juniors showed significant progress from their previous years. Despite many of them struggling at the beginning of the hockey season with nagging injuries they all had excellent seasons.
The Wild has some of its best prospects in the junior ranks, but many will be moving on and signing professional contracts this summer. Minnesota has already signed two of their players to professional contracts and more may be signed before June 1.
Kyle Bailey, F (Lethbridge, WHL)
Acquired: 4th round, 110th overall, 2005
Bailey was traded from Portland to Lethbridge midway through this season. In his 30 games with Portland, Bailey recorded 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) and a –11. Following his trade to Lethbridge in mid-December, Bailey was seemingly transformed into a different player. He notched 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in only 26 games with the Hurricanes. The 193-pound forward posted at least one point in 11 of his final 13 games. Despite being with Lethbridge for only half the season, Bailey earned the team’s Hardest Worker Award. He is a physical player with good defensive ability who is beginning to improve in the offensive zone. As a 2005 draft pick, Bailey must be signed by June 1.
Clutterbuck is a gritty, checking forward who also has a knack for scoring. He is regarded in the OHL as one of the hardest working players. He possesses leadership qualities and experience, which shape the way he plays the game. Clutterbuck has shown improvement in each of his last three seasons with the Oshawa Generals. This last season he recorded 89 points (35 goals, 54 assists) in 65 games, which placed him third on the team. Clutterbuck shined in the OHL Playoffs with 13 points (8 goals 5 assists) in nine games, including a hat trick. He is similar to Bailey with more scoring talent. Clutterbuck was signed to an entry-level contract this week.
Fiala left the Everett Silvertips before the start of the WHL Playoffs to have reconstructive knee surgery in his native country, Czech Republic. Prior to leaving Everett, Fiala had 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in only 39 games. He finished the regular season ranked fourth with .85 points per game on a team that finished with the best record in the WHL. He played significant time on the team’s power play and penalty kill units. When healthy, Fiala has great speed and the ability to score. However, persistent health problems have hampered his progress. Fiala chose to have the knee surgery against the wishes of the Silvertip organization. He hopes to be ready for the Wild training camp in the fall.
Hickey played in just 17 of Cretin-Derham Hall’s 28 games due to a knee injury in the first part of the season but the 6’1 senior still managed to lead the team in goals scored with 21. He joined the Tri-City Storm of the USHL for one game, and will return there next season in preparation to play college hockey for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2008. He’ll try to bring his goal-scoring prowess to the college game.
Matt Kassian, F (Kamloops, WHL)
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2005
Kassian is not a scorer, but a huge forward that plays a physical, hard-hitting brand of hockey. His 2006-07 season with Kamloops was filled with career highs. He logged 162 penalty minutes, 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists), and competed in all 72 games for the first time in his career. Kassian signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Wild this month and will likely play the 2007-08 season with the Houston Aeros. His style of play is similar to the Wild’s enforcer Derek Boogaard. The two players have very similar builds as well as stats, with low point totals and high penalty minutes.
Madsen was a rookie with the Victoriaville Tigres where he tied for first on the team with 100 points (32 goals, 68 assists) in 62 games, which was eighth-most points in the league. Madsen surprisingly recorded more shorthanded goals (8) than power-play goals (6) this year. Madsen is a good skater who knows how to play on both ends of the ice. It seems the Wild got a diamond in the rough with Madsen in the 122nd pick in 2005. He could have a very productive NHL career. A day after signing Kassian to a contract, the Wild signed Madsen to three-year entry-level contract.
Kyle Medvec, D (Sioux City, USHL)
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2006
Medvec posted 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) in 57 games as a rookie with the Sioux City Muskateers. The 6’5 defenseman will join the University of Vermont next season where he will need to continue to add strength to his massive frame. He will play a big role with Catamounts with four of their defensemen graduating.
Sheppard finished the season second on the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 96 points (33 goals, 63 assists) in 56 games. Sheppard was named the QMJHL Offensive Player of the Month for February by posting 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) in 10 games. He led Cape Breton in scoring during the playoffs with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) but was unable to reach the finals as they lost to Val-d’Or in the semifinals. Following his productive season, Sheppard was named the center for the QMJHL’s Second Team All-Star squad and was also honored as Cape Breton’s Co-MVP. Sheppard’s play speaks for itself. He is developing into an elite forward who has the potential to make big headlines in the NHL. Sheppard needs to add more speed to his repertoire, which is the only thing holding him back.
A.J. Thelen, D (Vancouver, WHL)
Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall, 2004
Thelen played 23 games with Prince Albert of the WHL before being traded to Vancouver. He recorded 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) during his 53-game regular season. During Vancouver’s impressive playoff run, Thelen recorded nine points (1 goal, 8 assists) in 22 games but fell just short of a league championship as Vancouver fell to Medicine Hat in seven games. Thelen is a big, strong defenseman with offensive talent. However, the Wild are reportedly out of patience with him and will likely pass on signing the former first rounder.
Kristofer Westblom, G (Kelowna, WHL)
Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall, 2005
Westblom was the top goaltender on a Kelowna team that had the second worst record in the WHL (22-41-5-4). He posted a record of 14-26-1-1 and was ranked 19th in the league in goals against average with 3.05. Westblom posted shutouts in three games and had a .900 save percentage during the season on a team whose top scorer had 43 points. He is in a situation that makes it difficult for him to showcase his goaltending skills. After getting some big game experience in the 2005 Memorial Cup it appears that Kelowna has a long road ahead of itself to get back to where it was. Westblom is putting up decent numbers on a poor team but he needs more experience in order for him to meet his full potential. He must be signed by June 1.
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