Revisiting Minnesota Wild Drafts – 2002

The third installment in this series has arrived after previously looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first two drafts. If you missed either one of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:

Now, we moved on to the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. The Wild had just missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, finishing at the bottom of the Northwest Division once again. The team made a minor improvement of their previous record, going 26-35-12-9 for 68 points. The season wasn’t totally dark, though. Marian Gaborik had his breakout season, scoring 30 goals for the first of many times while finishing with 67 points. However, Andrew Brunette led the team with points, ending the club’s second campaign with 69.

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With 10 total selections, this was the Wild’s biggest draft year yet. Unfortunately, it seemed like history was repeating itself: the team’s earlier picks were good choices while the rest of the draft left a lot to be desired. Regardless, read on to see exactly who the Wild drafted in 2002.

Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)

Round 1, 8th Overall – Pierre-Marc Bouchard, C (Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL)

The Minnesota Wild had a top-10 selection for the third straight draft. After using their first two to draft players from overseas, they turned their attention to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With the 8th overall pick, the Wild selected Pierre-Marc Bouchard from the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. He was coming off of a massive season where he put up a QMJHL-leading 140 points in 69 games. 94 of those points came from assists thanks to his incredible playmaking skills, which obviously impressed the Wild.

Bouchard made his Wild debut in the 2002-03 NHL season, scoring seven goals and 13 assists in 50 games. He also even got some playing time during the organization’s first-ever playoff run that saw them make the Western Conference Finals. However, he only suited up in five games, registering an assist. Wild fans didn’t get a glimpse of Bouchard’s true potential until 2005-06. After spending the lockout in the American Hockey League, Bouchard recorded 59 points in 80 games, solidifying himself as a top-6 forward in the league. It was also the first of three straight 50+ point seasons for the Sherbrooke, Quebec native.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard would impress Wild fans throughout his tenure, recording 241 assists in 565 games. (Icon SMI)

Unfortunately for Wild fans and Bouchard, the center would battle concussions throughout his career. The 2008-09 NHL season was the final time he’d play more than 70 games in a campaign for the rest of his career. In his next four seasons with Minnesota, Bouchard played in just 140 of a possible 294 games. Following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders, where he managed nine points in 28 games. Nevertheless, he didn’t look like the same player anymore and ended up playing 44 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.

The following season saw Bouchard continue his hockey career overseas, signing EV Zug of the National League in Switzerland. Despite having a clause in his contract that would allow him to return to the NHL if a team wanted to sign him, Bouchard remained with EV Zug for the next two seasons. He was arguably one of the best players in the league and was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player of the 2015-16 season. Unfortunately, that was the end of his hockey career as Bouchard decided to retire at the end of that season at 31.

It’s a shame that fans didn’t get more of Bouchard’s prime before concussions plagued his career. Still, he left his mark on the franchise. When it comes to all-time franchise records, Bouchard ranks 3rd in assists (241), 5th in points (347) and 8th in goals (106).

Round 2, 38th Overall – Josh Harding, G (Regina Pats, WHL)

Not many people know this, but Josh Harding was the first goalie drafted by the Wild in franchise history. The team selected him with the 38th overall pick of the draft after finishing the 2001-02 Western Hockey League season with a 27-3-1 record with a 2.39 goals-against average (GAA), 0.906 save percentage (SV%) and four shutouts as a rookie. Harding spent the next two seasons in the WHL until he made his pro debut with the Houston Aeras in 2003-04.

Harding immediately showed his potential in his first two AHL seasons, recording 50 wins in 80 games. He saw the occasional call-up with the Wild until they made him a full-time member in the 2007-08 season. Almost like it was out of a storybook, Harding impressed in his first game of the season, backstopping the Wild with a 37-save shutout to defeat the Anaheim Ducks, 2-0.

Josh Harding Wild
Josh Harding’s was one of the most reliable backup goalies in franchise history, finishing his career with a 60-59-11 record, 2.45 GAA and 0.918 SV%.. (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)

Just as Harding was becoming a fan favorite, his career took a turn when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. However, while this may have stopped some athletes, Harding didn’t let it deter him. After taking some time off, he returned to the Wild’s crease in Jan. 2013, recording a 24-save shutout against the Dallas Stars in his first game back. By the end of the season, Harding won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy because of his dedication and perseverance. Unfortunately, multiple sclerosis continued to take its toll on him, forcing him to retire in 2015.

Harding didn’t stay away from hockey for too long, though. He became the goaltending coach for the Edina Hornets high school hockey team in Edina, Minnesota. He has also helped other athletes who are battling multiple sclerosis, including former NHLer Bryan Bickell. While it’s disappointing that Harding’s career was cut short, Wild fans still have a soft spot for him, thanks to his heart-filled contributions on and off the ice.

Middle Rounds (3rd – 5th)

Round 3, 72nd Overall – Mike Erickson, RW (University of Minnesota, WCHA)

For their next pick, the Minnesota Wild went with an Elk River, Minnesota native by drafting Mike Erickson 72nd overall. Despite only having three points in nine games with the University of Minnesota in the previous season, the team thought his potential warranted the third-round selection. Much to the team’s dismay, Erickson never panned out. He continued playing university-level hockey until 2006 when he played 70 games over two seasons for the ECHL’s Augusta Lynx. He played two more seasons in Europe, retiring in 2009.

Round 3, 73rd Overall – Barry Brust, G (Spokane Chiefs, WHL)

Immediately after drafting Erickson, the Wild were back on the clock one pick later. They used the pick on Spokane Chiefs G Barry Brust, their second goaltender in four picks. Across 60 games in the 2001-02 WHL season, Brust put up a 28-21-10 record as the Chiefs’ starter. After two more junior seasons, it was time for him to sign his pro contract; however, it wasn’t with the Wild. Instead, Brust agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Kings. He’d spend some time bouncing around the Kings’ AHL and ECHL teams until making his NHL debut in 2006-07. Brust appeared in 11 NHL games that season, posting a 2-4-1 record, 3.70 GAA and 0.878 SV%.

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Surprisingly, Brust ended up finally joining the Wild organization in 2007. After a brief stint with the Houston Aeros across three seasons, he continued bouncing from team to team, eventually landing in Europe. He most recently appeared with Bratislava Slovan in Slovakia in 2020; however, there’s no confirmation if he plans to continue playing hockey in 2021. Regardless, you can’t knock Brust’s dedication to being a journeyman, having played with 14 different pro teams in his career. Still, it would’ve been nice if he had turned out to what the Wild hoped he’d be.

Round 5, 155th Overall – Armands Berzins, C (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)

After scoring 35 points in 63 games with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the 2001-02 QMJHL season, the Wild selected Latvian center Armands Berzins 115th overall. But much like most of Minnesota’s late draft picks, Berzins failed to pan out. His North American hockey career lasted until 2005 after playing in the ECHL for two seasons. He returned to Europe, joining several teams across various leagues until he returned to Latvia in 2018. As of this season, Berzins serves as the captain of his team, Prizma Riga.

You can make the argument that Berzins had a successful hockey career, especially having represented Latvia at multiple Winter Olympics. However, considering he never made the NHL, he remains one of the more forgettable draft picks in Wild history.

Missed Opportunity: Chicago Blackhawks Select James Wisniewski, D (Plymouth Whalers, OHL) – 156th Overall

As you’ll see in a bit, the Wild selected only one defenseman in the 2002 NHL Draft. However, they probably wish it was James Wisniewski, who was taken by the Chicago Blackhawks one pick after Minnesota drafted Berzins. It took some time, but Wisniewski eventually became a solid two-way defenseman in the NHL with some offensive upside. Injuries prevented him from ever reaching his full potential, but he still had a respectable NHL career.

James Wisniewski played 552 NHL games between 2005 and 2016, registering 274 points. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Wisniewski played for six different NHL clubs across 11 seasons, finishing with 274 points in 552 games. While injuries forced him to leave the league sooner than he would’ve liked, he still would’ve been a better option than most of the players that the Wild drafted in 2002.

Late Rounds (6th – 9th)

Round 6, 175th Overall – Matt Foy, RW (Merrimack College, H-East)

The Wild returned to collegiate hockey in the sixth round, taking Matt Foy from Merrimack College. The right-winger spent the following season playing with the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. Foy dominated the league with ease, scoring the second-most goals in the league with 61. He made the jump to the pros during the following season by joining the Aeros in the AHL. He provided decent tertiary scoring for the Wild’s farm team, potting 23 goals in 120 games.

Following the 2003-04 lockout, Foy made his Wild debut. Unfortunately, he couldn’t translate his OHL scoring to the NHL level and that led to him bouncing back and forth between Minnesota and Houston for the next three seasons. When all was said and done, Foy suited up in just 56 games without much to show for it (6G 7A). After spending the next few seasons across the AHL, ECHL and Central Hockey League, he continued his career in Germany. Foy returned to North America in 2016 by joining the Dundas Real McCoys of the Allan Cup Hockey league. His run with them last three seasons, last playing with the Real McCoys in 2019.

Round 7, 204th Overall – Nicklas Eckerblom, RW (Djurgarden Jrs., Sweden)

Entering the seventh round of the draft, the Wild chose to pick Nicklas Eckerblom out of Sweden. He was looking pretty good in the season leading up to the draft, registering nine goals in five games with Djurgarden IF’s under-18 team. There really isn’t much else to say about Ecklerblom. He never made it to North American ice, playing in Sweden until retiring in 2009. He’s just one of the many early examples of an overseas pick not working out for Minnesota.

Round 8, 237th Overall – Christoph Brandner, LW (Krefeld Penguins, DEL)

As was tradition early on in the franchise’s history, the Wild drafted another older prospect when they selected Christoph Brander out of Denmark. The 25-year-old forward was coming off of a season that saw him score 30 goals and 25 assists in 50 games with the Krefeld Penguins. Brandner eventually made his North American debut with the Wild in the 2003-04 NHL season; however, he was limited to just 35 games, registering nine points. He spent portions of that season and the next with the Aeros too but returned to Europe in 2005 due to him missing his family. He continued playing in Denmark, Sweden and his home country of Austria before calling it a career in 2012. Once again, drafting an older European prospect didn’t work out for the Wild.

Round 9, 268th Overall – Mikhail Tyulyapkin, D (Novgorod Jr., Russia)

Drafted at No. 268 of the ninth round, Mikhail Tyulyapkin would be the only defenseman that Minnesota took in 2002. He was a decent-looking shutdown player in Russia, but the organization would never get to see what he’d do on North American ice. Tyulyapkin continued playing in his homeland until retiring in 2017.

Round 9, 269th Overall – Mika Hannula, F (Malmo IF, SEL)

With their final pick of the draft, the Wild went back to Europe one more time for another older prospect. This time, they went with Malmo IF forward Mika Hannula. As with most ninth-round draft picks, Hannula never really panned out. He had a cup of coffee with the Aeros in 2003-04, putting up 27 points in 67 games. However, he returned to Malmo IF during the lockout of the following season and never came back to North America. After bouncing around different European leagues for the rest of his career, Hannula last playing in 2014.

Overall Grade: C-

After looking at the 2002 NHL Draft, it’s easy to see the issues that the Wild had early on in their history. Aside from their early draft picks, most of their later prospects through the first three drafts rarely amounted to be anything. In fact, all 10 of the Wild’s picks in this draft combined to play just 846 regular-season NHL games. On the other hand, even the players that did pan out (Bouchard and Harding), unfortunate circumstances ended their NHL careers too early. Did things turn out better the following season? Find out in the next installment of the series!

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