Revisiting Minnesota Wild Drafts – 2004

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

After a trip to the Western Conference final in the previous campaign, fans wondered how the Wild would follow it up in the next season. Unfortunately, things went in the opposite direction. The team returned to the bottom of the Northwest Division, finishing with a 30-29-20-3 record. To make matters worse, they only had one player hit the 20-goal mark (Alexandre Daigle). Needless to say, there was a lot of work to do over the offseason.

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By the time the night was over, Minnesota had left the 2004 NHL Entry Draft with a total of 12 selections. Did the Wild have more success with this year’s draft class as opposed to 2003? Continue reading to find out.

Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)

Round 1, 12th Overall – A.J. Thelen, D (Michigan State University, CCHA)

With the 12th overall pick in the draft, the Wild selected A.J. Thelen out of Michigan State University. The move was a head-scratching one, to say the least. After all, the team just selected Brent Burns in the previous draft, and defense wasn’t an issue as to why they didn’t play well in the previous season. Still, Minnesota believed in Thelen after recording 29 points in 42 games in the previous college hockey season. He continued playing in college for the next season; however, he was dismissed from Michigan State’s program for underage drinking.

Thelen joined the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League for the 2005-06 season. The team wasn’t amazing, but he led all of the Raiders’ defensemen with 36 points. His efforts that campaign didn’t go unnoticed, as the Wild assigned him to the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros for a game once the WHL season was over. To management’s and his own dismay, that was the only game that Thelen played for the Wild organization. He played in the WHL again the very next season, while Minnesota never offered him a pro contract. Thelen bounced around the ECHL after that, leading to his eventual retirement at the age of 25 due to concussions and other injuries. It certainly is a shame that the hockey world never got to see him reach his true potential; however, the decision to draft a defenseman in back-to-back first rounds will forever leave the fanbase confused.

Round 2, 42nd Overall – Roman Voloshenko, LW (Krylja Jr., Russia)

With a fairly high pick in the second round, the Wild decided to head to Russia to address their offensive needs by selecting Roman Voloshenko at No. 42. The Belarus native had just registered seven goals and eight assists in 46 games for Krylia Sovetov’s junior team, so it wasn’t like he was setting the world on fire or anything. However, Minnesota seemed to think that he had the potential to one day be a contributor on the pro team. He spent one more season in Europe before coming over to North America for the 2005-06 campaign to suit up for the Aeros.

Voloshenko immediately looked at home in an Aeros uniform, hitting the 60-point mark in 69 games. There was even a sense that, if things continued, he could challenge for a spot on the Wild sooner than later. Things didn’t work out that way, though. The Belarusian winger regressed the following season, dropping to 30 points in 76 games. His North American hockey career ended after that as he returned overseas and never looked back. Voloshenko spent the rest of his career playing in lesser European leagues before retiring in 2017 with HK Sakhalin of the Asia League. While he had the talent and potential, things just didn’t work out that way for him. He was just another example of the Wild’s early European draft picks not working out well.

Missed OpportunityBoston Bruins Select David Krejci, C (Kladno Jrs., Czech Rep.) – 63rd Overall

There were several players taken after Voloshenko that went on to have better careers than him, but none of them could top David Krejci. He was the first of back-to-back picks for the Boston Bruins, and it didn’t take long for him to become a fan favorite. He made his Boston debut in the 2006-07 season but finished pointless in six games. Krejci split the following season between the Bruins and their AHL affiliate in Providence before becoming a full-time member of the NHL club the next campaign. The 2008-09 season saw him hit the 70-point mark for the first of two times; however, he’s consistently recorded anywhere between 40 to 60 points throughout his career.

David Krejci Boston Bruins
Through 962 games played, David Krejci has recorded 215 goals and 515 assist for the Boston Bruins. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

All in all, Krejci has had an amazing career for the Bruins. He ranks 7th all-time in games played (962) and assists (515) and 8th in points (730), with a distinct possibility that he’ll be in the top 5 of all those categories when his career is over. Krejci was also one of the driving forces behind Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup victory, so his legacy with the Bruins is forever. Nevertheless, one has to wonder how he would’ve done with the Wild, considering they could’ve used a center like him to line up behind Mikko Koivu all those years.

Middle Rounds (3rd – 5th)

Round 3, 78th Overall – Peter Olvecky, C (Trencin Jr., Slovakia)

The Wild came back in the third round with another European pick, taking Slovakian center Peter Olvecky with the No. 78 selection. It didn’t take long for him to come over to the United States, as he joined the Aeros for their 2005-06 season. He actually spent parts of four seasons with them, suiting up in 238 games and registering 115 points. His efforts were enough to warrant a call-up, as he made his Wild debut in 2008-09. However, he didn’t impress Minnesota enough in his 31 NHL games, leading to him signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators the following season.

Olvecky didn’t last long in Nashville, only playing a single game for the Predators while spending the rest of the season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba Moose. He decided to return to Europe in 2010-11 and never looked back. He was last seen playing for Trencin Dukla in Slovakia again back in 2019.

Round 3, 79th Overall – Clayton Stoner, D (Tri-City Americans, WHL)

The Wild finally made their first Canadian Hockey League pick of the draft when they took defenseman Clayton Stoner immediately after selecting Olvecky. The 6-foot-4 defender was about as tough as they come for the Tri-City Americans, putting up over 260 penalty minutes in three WHL seasons. Once he made the jump to the pros in 2005-06, Stoner spent four full seasons with the Aeros in the AHL. Eventually, he earned his NHL call-up in the 2009-10 season, where he played eight games for the Wild, recording two assists.

Mikko Koivu Wild Captain
Clayton Stoner ended up playing 360 NHL games in his career, splitting his time with the Wild and Anaheim Ducks. (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)

Stoner never played more than 63 games in a season for the Wild before leaving the organization in 2014 to sign a four-year, $13 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks. While injuries got the better of him, he played three seasons in Anaheim until he was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in their expansion draft. Unfortunately, he never played a game for the NHL’s 31st team due to a returning abdomen injury. He never played a game in the league again, retiring shortly after. While it’s disappointing to see that Stoner’s career was marred by injuries, it’s good to know that he currently works in a junior development coaching position for the Golden Knights.

Round 4, 111th Overall – Ryan Jones, LW (Chatham Maroons, OHA-B)

After being taken by Minnesota in the fourth round of the draft, winger Ryan Jones spent the next season with Miami University, becoming a point-per-game player in his final two seasons (97 points in 84 games). Once the 2007-08 college hockey season ended, Jones signed his Wild contract and made his Aeros debut that season. However, the four games that he played in Houston were the only ones he’d play for the Wild organization. Jones was traded, along with a second-round pick, to the Predators in July 2008 for defenseman Marek Zidlicky.

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Jones’ NHL career was fairly brief. He spent two seasons in Nashville until he was claimed off of waivers by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010. He immediately became a solid bottom-six contributor for the team, scoring 18 and 17 goals in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately, Jones could never find consistency beyond that span, tallying just 13 points in his final 79 NHL games. He moved to Denmark to play hockey in 2014, spending five seasons with the Cologne Sharks until he retired in 2019.

Round 4, 114th Overall – Patrick Bordeleau, LW (Val d’Or Foreurs , QMJHL)

Just three picks after taking Jones, the Wild drafted another left-winger in the form of Patrick Bordeleau. However, he never ended up progressing as the team hoped he would. Bordeleau stayed in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League until the end of 2006-07. He went unsigned by the Wild, leaving him to toil around the AHL and ECHL for most of his career. He finally got his big break with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, playing 46 games for the club in an enforcer’s role. In total, he played 129 games for the Avalanche, recording 16 points and 185 penalty minutes.

Bordeleau spent the rest of his career playing in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey in Quebec until running into legal issues in 2020.

Round 4, 117th Overall – Julien Sprunger, RW (Fribourg-Gotteron HC, Swiss-A)

After tallying just five points in 42 games for Fribourg-Gotteron HC in Switzerland, Julien Sprunger was taken at No. 117 by the Wild. Scouts described him as being a “big winger with a big shot” and a defensive game that could’ve used improvement. However, Wild fans never got to see his play up close because Sprunger never came over to North America. He’s spent his entire hockey career Fribourg-Gotteron, where he’s been the captain since 2015. He’s also played for his country on the international stage, suiting up for both the Olympics and the IIHF World Championship. At the end of the day, Sprunger has had a better hockey career than most. It’s just a shame that he never got to showcase his talents in the NHL.

Round 5, 161st Overall – Jean-Claude Sawyer, D (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL)

Nearly 50 picks since their previous selection, the Wild decided to draft Cape Breton Screaming Eagles defenseman Jean-Claude Sawyer with the 161st overall pick. After having 18 points in his QMJHL draft year, Sawyer continued to improve over each season, recording 32, 53 and 77 points in the following seasons. Unfortunately, his development didn’t impress the Wild enough, as they chose not to sign him to a pro contract or even give him a tryout. Instead, Sawyer signed a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, splitting the 2007-08 season between their AHL and ECHL affiliates. That’s how he spent the remainder of his hockey career, never getting to see a second of NHL action. Sawyer soon retired following the conclusion over the 2010-11 ECHL season after playing a mere two games.

Late Rounds (6th – 9th)

Round 6, 175th Overall – Aaron Boogaard, RW (Tri-City Americans, WHL)

Minnesota took its second Tri-City American of the draft when they selected Aaron Boogaard in the sixth round. The Wild already drafted his brother, the late Derek, in the previous draft, so this was a way to add a family feel to the organization. Much like his brother, Aaron wasn’t known for his skill. He was nearly as tough as his brother, racking up 589 penalty minutes in 273 WHL games. He never ended up signing a contract with the Wild, though. Boogaard signed his first NHL deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 but spent his professional career bouncing around the AHL, ECHL and Central Hockey League. He later retired in 2013 and has mainly stayed out of the spotlight since then.

Round 7, 195th Overall – Jean-Michel Rizk, RW (Saginaw Spirit, OHL)

Jean-Michel Rizk was never the most skilled player during his time in the Ontario Hockey League, hitting the 10-goal mark just one time. Still, there was very little risk for the Wild, as they used a seventh-round pick on him. He stayed in the OHL for his five full seasons of eligibility but did not receive a contract offer from the Wild when his time in the juniors was over. Instead, Rizk spent the next four seasons of his career playing university-level hockey. He then turned pro, bouncing around the ECHL and Central Hockey League before retiring in 2015. At the end of the day, Rizk was just one of the many late-round picks that didn’t amount to anything for Minnesota.

Round 7, 206th Overall – Anton Khudobin, G (Magnitogorsk Jr., Russia)

The lone Wild goalie selection of this draft, Anton Khudobin was nothing short of a steal in the seventh round. It’s just a shame that his Wild career was short-lived. He ventured over to North America in 2007, spending time in the minors until he was ready for his Minnesota debut in the 2009-10 season. He only played two games that campaign, but he backstopped the Wild to victories in both games, walking away with a 0.86 goals against average (GAA) and a 0.979 save percentage (SV%).

With Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore as the team’s top goaltending options in the 2010-11 NHL campaign, Khudobin was traded in the middle of the season. The Wild shipped him off to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Jeff Penner and Mikko Lehtonen, who went on to play a grand total of zero NHL games for their new team. Khudobin, on the other hand, has continued to be one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last decade. He’s managed to man the crease in 282 games for five different teams, going 123-98-39 with a 2.47 GAA, 0.916 SV% and 14 shutouts. Goaltending is far from an issue for the Wild in 2021, but you can’t help it if some fans look back and wish the team had held on to Khudobin for just a bit longer.

Round 9, 272nd Overall – Kyle Wilson, C (Colgate University, ECAC)

Colgate University center Kyle Wilson was the Wild’s final pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, selected at No. 272. He was nearly a point-per-game player in his draft year, tallying 14 goals and 17 assists in 38 games. However, Wilson never developed to the point where the Wild were willing to give him a professional look. Instead, he signed his first NHL deal with the Washington Capitals, spending four campaigns in the AHL before getting called up for two games in the 2009-10 season. He also had brief stints with the Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets but never stuck around in the NHL. He spent the remainder of his career bouncing around the AHL before heading over to Europe, where he played until retiring in 2017.

Overall Grade: D-

While the Wild had more players from the 2004 draft class go on to play games in the NHL, few of them were in a Minnesota jersey. Not only is this draft an example of the club’s poor asset management at the time (Ex. Khudobin), but it continued showing their inability to do proper scouting. At the end of the day, this might have been the Wild’s worst draft (so far), so one could only hope that things went up from there.

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