The Minnesota Wild have established themselves as a team that prefers to build its strength through the draft and developing their prospects. Historically, the Wild have had either home runs or strikeouts, with not much in between. In this article, I will go back and grade out the Wild’s first round picks. Stats provided are players’ numbers only when they played for Minnesota.
2000, Marian Gaborik (3rd overall), 502 GP, 437 Pts (219+218), 0.87 Pts/Gm. Grade: A
The Wild certainly hit a home run selecting Gaborik as their first-ever pick. Although he dealt with injuries for a good portion of his time in Minneosta, Gabby did not disappoint, and he is still the franchise leader in several categories. Most fans do not begrudge him for leaving for the bright lights of New York, though there are certainly those who cannot help but wonder what the team would look like if he had stayed.
2001, Mikko Koivu (6th overall), 488 GP, 361 Pts (108+253), 0.74 Pts/Gm. Grade: A
Koivu has cemented his place in Wild history by becoming the first permanent captain, and he centers a top line that got a lot more powerful in the last two seasons with the additions of Dany Heatley and Zach Parise. Koivu plays a fantastic two-way game, and is building a reputation for himself as one of the best two-way skaters in the league. He is also a magnificent playmaker, and if he could just stay healthy for a full year, he could certainly challenge for the league-lead in assists. Injuries have been a problem for Koivu as of late, and he hasn’t played a full season in a few years. But the captain is the centerpiece of the franchise, and he is still getting better every year.
2002, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (8th overall), 522 GP, 327 Pts (98+229), 0.62 Pts/Gm. Grade: B
When healthy, Bouchard has been a very productive player. The problem, as any Wild fan will tell you, is that he is rarely healthy–he hasn’t played a full season in four years. It’s not really fair to criticize the organization based on something that was completely out of their control. The concussion issue is plaguing all teams *cough*Sidney Crosby. Bouchard’s contract is up at the end of this year, and I’m just not sure if the Wild will have a place for him, though if they can re-sign him for a lot cheaper contract than he has previously had, there is a chance he sticks around.
2003, Brent Burns (20th overall), 453 GP, 183 Pts (55+128), 0.40 Pts/Gm. Grade: B+
Burns was certainly a productive player during his time in Minnesota. He built a good reputation as a puck-moving two-way defenseman, but I tend to think Burns was a bit overrated–he has just two seasons with more than forty points. It is entirely possible that what Burns will be remembered for more than his playing time in Minnesota is the trade that sent him to the San Jose Sharks. The Wild received Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle in return, and while Setoguchi has not regained his 30-goal ways yet, Coyle has all the makings of a high-level power forward. That trade could pay dividends for years to come if things break in favor of the Wild.
2004, A.J. Thelen (12th overall), 0 GP, 0 Pts. Grade: F
This one is easy to grade out…Thelen never played a single game in the NHL. A native of Savage, MN, he was a defenseman for the Michigan State Spartans, but left after his sophomore year to pursue his professional career. From there, he bounced around the minor leagues and dealt with some injuries, but never made it to the Big Show. Thelen played in exactly one game for the Houston Aeros, and from there he went to the WHL and the ECHL, where he still plays today. Hopefully Thelen gets his shot at the NHL someday, but as far as the Wild are concerned, he has easily been the biggest draft-day bust.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this series of posts examining the Wild first round picks.