The sixth installment in this series has arrived after previously looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first five drafts. If you missed any of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:
- 2000: Franchise’s Inaugural Draft
- 2001: Minnesota Gets Its Captain
- 2002: Late Round Woes
- 2003: Most Disappointing Draft Yet
- 2004: A Draft With No Standouts
The 2005 NHL Entry Draft was an interesting one because it was coming off the heels of the 2004-05 lockout season. The Wild faired well in the draft lottery, managing to land a top-5 pick at No. 4. Considering how Minnesota missed the playoffs the last time we saw them, the team needed to walk away from this draft looking better than they did beforehand.
The Wild left the event with seven selections, which was down compared to the 12 from the previous draft. But would they have a better success rate in developing these new prospects? Read on to find out.
Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)
Round 1, 4th Overall – Benoit Pouliot, LW (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)
After watching Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson get taken off the board to start the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Wild followed it up by selecting Benoit Pouliot from the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). A 6-foot-3 winger, he impressed in his draft year, scoring 67 points in 67 games while tallying up 102 penalty minutes. On paper, he was the perfect big forward for Minnesota. He didn’t make his professional debut until the 2006-07 season. Pouliot played 67 games for the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League (AHL) that campaign, recording 19 goals and 17 assists. The Wild were impressed by his work, though, calling him up for three games that season. He went pointless during that stretch, which, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of his Wild tenure.
Pouliot could never prove to the Wild that he had what it took to stick around in the NHL. In fact, he never suited up for more than 37 games in a season for the team that drafted. Injuries played a role, too, which made it tougher for the winger to find his spot in the lineup. His time in Minnesota came to a screeching halt on Nov. 23, 2009, when he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Guillaume Latendresse. Neither team truly won the trade, as both players only played a handful of seasons with their new team.
This was just the first of many moves for Pouliot. Whether it was through trade or free agency, the 2005 Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year just couldn’t stay put, never sticking with a team for more than three seasons or so. By the time his career was over, he played 625 NHL games with seven different teams, registering 130 goals and 133 assists for 266 points. It wasn’t a bad career by any means, but it was certainly disappointing from a fourth-overall pick. The Wild certainly would’ve loved if Pouliot had developed differently, but there’s nothing they can do about it now. Nevertheless, he ended up being the best player that the team selected this draft, which says a lot about what’s to come and not in a good way.
Round 2, 57th Overall – Matt Kassian, LW (Kamloops Blazers, WHL)
When the second round of the draft came around, the Wild decided to add more size to the lineup with Kamloops Blazers left-winger Matt Kassian. If one thing was clear, it’s that he wasn’t drafted for his skill, as he only had four goals in 106 Western Hockey League (WHL) contests before Minnesota drafted him. Nevertheless, Kassian stayed with the Blazers for two more seasons, piling up 309 penalty minutes in his final 139 WHL games before turning pro.
Kassian spent a majority of his first four pro seasons in the AHL and ECHL, acting as the organization’s enforcer. Eventually, his hard work and dedication paid off, earning his first call-up in the 2010-11 season. His first run with the Wild only lasted four games; however, he received an additional look the following season, suiting up in 24. He finally recorded his first NHL goal in the 2011-12 season, potting the first two goals of his career in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Kassian continued splitting his time between the Wild and Aeros for the next couple of season, never finding a permanent spot with either organization. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2014 sixth-round pick (later used to select Pontus Själin) on March 12, 2013. Kassian spent the duration of that season and the next with the Senators, coming into the lineup whenever the team needed grit. He left the organization in 2014 and played two games for the AHL’s Portland Pirates in the following campaign before ending his hockey career. He later pursued a Bachelor of Commerce after retiring and now works for TSN as an on-air analyst in Edmonton. While it’s nice to see how he’s managed to develop a career outside of hockey, it’s a shame that his stay with the Wild didn’t last long.
Missed Opportunity: Pittsburgh Penguins Select Kris Letang, C (Val d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL) – 62nd Overall
Five picks after the Wild selected Kassian, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted one of the top defensemen in the franchise’s history in the form of Kris Letang. The right-handed blueliner was impressive for the Val d’Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), tallying 68 points over 60 games. Considering his offensive potential at the time, it’s hard to imagine that the Wild wouldn’t have loved him in their lineup. Perhaps they overlooked him because Letang stands at 6-foot-0, which was a bit small as the NHL was still transitioning from its “size” era.
Nevertheless, Letang is having an amazing career with the Penguins. Whether it was the three Stanley Cups he helped Pittsburgh win or the six NHL All-Star games he was a part of, there’s no doubting his talents or resume. Even at 34 years old, he is still one of the Penguins’ top defensemen on the roster. He currently sits at 863 games played, having scored 582 points during that time. While he never was the NHL’s No. 1 defenseman, there’s no doubt that Letang has been a game-changer that could’ve taken the Wild to another level had they went with him and not Kassian at the end of the second round.
Middle Rounds (3rd – 5th)
Round 3, 65th Overall – Kristofer Westblom, G (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)
The team’s lone goalie pick of the draft, the Wild went back to the WHL to select Kelowna Rockets goalie Kristofer Westblom with the 65th-overall pick. This pick seemed premature, to put it lightly. Westblom only had one junior hockey league season under his belt, posting a 12–2-4 record with a 1.81 goals against average (GAA), 0.919 save percentage (SV%) and four shutouts. Apparently, that was all the Wild needed when it came to their decision to draft him in the third round; however, it also could do with the fact that the Rockets were WHL champions in his draft year.
Unfortunately, Westblom regressed the following season, dropping to a .892 SV% and 2.87 GAA despite going 16-6-2. He hovered around the same skill level after that season, never taking that next step that the Wild hoped he would. He decided to attend Acadia University after his WHL stint was done, joining the school’s ice hockey team. He couldn’t get any NHL’s club attention during his time at Acadia. Even though he did play a few games in the ECHL and Central Hockey League, it was evident that Westblom didn’t have what it takes to make the professional level.
Westblom joined the Tiger Hills Hockey League in 2015, which is a senior league in Manitoba, Canada. While it’s far from the highest level of hockey, the former Wild draftee has kept on playing there as recently as 2019. Nevertheless, it’s another case of a Minnesota prospect failing to reach the club’s projections for him.
Round 4, 110th Overall – Kyle Bailey, C (Portland Winter Hawks, WHL)
The Minnesota Wild’s scouts must have loved the WHL in 2005 because Portland Winter Hawks center Kyle Bailey was the club’s third draft pick in a row from that league. He was coming off of a 33-point campaign in his draft year when the Wild took a swing on the right-handed center. He stayed in the WHL for the next two seasons, showing minimal development. The Wild didn’t end up offering Bailey a contract, leading to him playing hockey for the University of New Brunswick where he was a point-per-game player for five straight seasons.
Bailey eventually got a professional look in the 2011-12 AHL season, joining the Rochester Americans for a five-game stint. When his time with the Americans was over, Bailey was left pointless and never made it back to that level again. After one season in Austria, he returned to his home province of Alberta to play in the Allan Cup Hockey West before retiring in 2018.
Round 4, 122nd Overall – Morten Madsen, LW (Frolunda Jrs, Sweden)
The Wild had high hopes for Morten Madsen when they drafted him. The Danish left-winger scored 21 points in 32 games as an 18-year-old for Frolunda’s junior team over in Sweden. He continued to develop, recording 42 points in 36 games the following season before jumping over to the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. His experience playing in Sweden wound up benefiting him as he ended his only season with the Tigres tied for the team lead in points (100).
With his NHL contract signed, Madsen began his professional North American career with the Aeros in 2007-08. Much to his dismay, he didn’t have the same success in the AHL that he had in previous leagues. He only found the back of the net three times in his first season with the Aeros, adding 17 assists in 50 games. Things didn’t get much better the following campaign as he managed to bump his point total up by two to 22. That was the end of his tenure with the Wild, though, as he returned to Europe, spending time in Sweden and Denmark. Madsen is still active in the European hockey scene to this day where he’s currently a free agent.
Round 5, 129nd Overall – Anthony Aiello, D (Thayer Academy, Mass.)
Finally taking a break from drafting forwards, Minnesota took a swing on a defenseman by selecting Anthony Aiello at No. 129 in the fifth round. After being drafted, Aiello began attending Boston College to continue his hockey career. He assumed a defensive role for the team, scoring just four goals in the 132 games he played over four seasons with the Eagles. He never joined the Wild organization, though. Instead, he spent two seasons between the ECHL and AHL before calling it a career in 2011.
Late Rounds (6th – 7th)
Round 7, 199th Overall – Riley Emmerson, LW (Tri-City Americans, WHL)
Riley Emmerson was the Wild’s fourth pick from the WHL in 2004, as well as the fourth winger they drafted. At 6-foot-8 and 248 pounds, it’s pretty obvious that the team didn’t expect the winger to develop into a 50-goal scorer. The Vancouver native was brought in to be an enforcer, as seen by his 170 penalty minutes in 101 career WHL games. Nevertheless, the game of hockey was starting to evolve when Emmerson was getting his career going.
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The NHL was becoming more about speed and less about size, which is a good reason why he never got a look at hockey’s highest level. Instead, Emmerson’s career consisted of him bouncing back and forth between the AHL, ECHL and Central Hockey League before heading over to England in 2014. After two seasons with the British Elite Ice Hockey League’s Edinburgh Eagles, Emmerson’s hockey career came to an end.
Overall Grade: F
No matter how you look at it, this draft was a bust for the Wild. The seven drafted prospects went on to play a combined total of 93 games for the organization. Considering the only two players who played NHL games period were Pouliot and Kassian, it’s not like the Wild left the draft with a stud. It meant another disappointing draft class for the team in hopes that things would get better next season.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!