It has been 15 years since the Minnesota Wild began play in the NHL, making the franchise a fairly young one when compared to the rest of the league. But the organization’s short tenure in the NHL doesn’t mean it hasn’t had plenty of interesting, talented, and sometimes controversial players suit up in a Wild sweater. Here are five of the most intriguing players in Wild history.
5. Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik was drafted 3rd overall by the Wild in the 2000 Entry Draft, making him the highest overall pick by the Wild in any draft in team history. “Gabby” as he became known to teammates and fans played eight seasons in Minnesota and was one of the most electrifying players in the league when healthy.
Gaborik scored 30 or more goals five of his eight seasons with the Wild and is the career leader in goals for Minnesota with 219 tallies. While possessing blazing speed and an elite wrist shot, Gaborik struggled to stay healthy in Minnesota and only played one season of 80 games or more. His inability to remain in the lineup consistently frustrated fans as well as his coach Jacques Lemaire, who’s defense-first coaching strategy was rumored to have grated on the offensively gifted Gaborik.
With Minnesota struggling, Gaborik left the Wild via free agency following the 2009 season and signed with the New York Rangers. Though he left the organization under less than affable terms, Gaborik is undoubtedly the most talented player to ever wear the Iron Range Red and Forest Green, and is still beloved by many in Minnesota.
4. Brent Burns
Brent Burns played 7 seasons with the Minnesota Wild after being drafted 20th overall in 2003. On the ice, the 6-foot-five, 230-pound defenseman is an offensive weapon with a unique skill set, especially for a self-described “big kid”. When he’s not patrolling the blue line though, Burns is an animal lover. Not just a dog or a cat either. He does have a couple of dogs, but that’s not enough for the Barrie, Ontario native.
Burns also owns several exotic birds, snakes, and other reptiles. If that’s not sufficient to make you think that Burns is a truly unique individual, just take a glance at his distinct appearance and you shall require no further evidence. Burns’ unkempt beard, tattoos, and teeth (or lack thereof) perfectly represent his unequaled personality and lifestyle. Don’t be fooled though, Burns is more than a snake-loving hockey player.
Burns is a massive supporter of Defending the Blue Line, an organization that aims to provide things like hockey equipment and ice time for children of military parents who may otherwise not be able to participate in the game.
Burns’ combination of skill, snakes, and charity skates make him a very intriguing person, and though he no longer plays for Minnesota after being traded at the 2011 draft, Burns is definitely one of the most interesting players in Wild history.
3. Derek Boogaard
Drafted by the Wild 202nd overall in 2001, Derek Boogaard played five seasons with the Wild. Upon becoming a regular in the Minnesota lineup, Boogaard quickly became one of the NHL’s most feared enforcers while delivering bone-crunching hits and frequently knocking out the few opponents that dared to fight him. His reputation quickly spread and Wild fans affectionately dubbed him the “Boogyman”.
Sadly, Boogaard’s brutally physical style lead to frequent concussions, recurring headaches, and constant soreness, ultimately leading to a dependence on prescription pain killers. Boogaard also suffered from depression towards the end of his life. He died accidentally in his sleep after overdosing on a combination of alcohol and oxycodone at just 28 years of age.
His brain was examined upon his death in an autopsy where it was discovered that he suffered from severe Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease found in the brain of someone who suffered from repeated head injuries throughout their life. CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem.
Boogaard was a fan favorite and played all but one season of his NHL in a Wild uniform and is sorely missed by not only the State of Hockey, but the entire hockey community.
2. Zenon Konopka
Zenon Konopka was signed in free agency by the Wild in 2012 and though he played just two seasons in Minnesota, he made a considerable impression on the fans during his tenure. Known as a notorious prankster, Konopka has a personality that was hard to miss, both on and off the ice.
Konopka also owns a bunny named “Hoppy” which he treats like a real child (seriously, he does). His time in Minnesota was short, but suffice to say that it was an entertaining couple of years with Konopka in Minnesota.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov
This one has to be obvious, right? Ilya Bryzgalov was acquired by Minnesota from Edmonton for a 4th round pick and the Russian netminder went 7-1-3 to lead the Wild to the playoffs in 2013-14 where he also helped Minnesota defeat Colorado in the first round.
Bryzgalov started out in Anaheim as a highly touted 2nd round pick for the Mighty Ducks. Though he won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2006, Bryz eventually left Anaheim for Phoenix after being put on waivers. After four successful seasons in Phoenix, he signed a massive 9-year, $51 million deal in free agency with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Unfortunately for Bryzgalov, his best moments in “Phili” came off the ice where he frequently gave very candid and often hilarious quotes in regards to his shaky play. He even offered his thoughts on the “humongus big” universe in a HBO series leading up to a Winter Classic game.
Things never worked out in Philadelphia for Ilya and he ended up in Edmonton before being traded to Minnesota. Like Konopka, Bryzgalov’s time in Minnesota was brief but entertaining if nothing else.
These are my top 5 most intriguing players in Minnesota Wild history, who are yours?
Nate has been a Minnesota Wild contributor at The Hockey Writers since 2014 and previously spent time covering the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team. For everything Minnesota Wild related, follow him on Twitter @natebauer.