Revisiting Minnesota Wild Drafts – 2001

In the previous installment of this series, we took a look at the Minnesota Wild’s first-ever draft in 2000. Aside from Marian Gaborik and Nick Schultz, the team’s selections that year were mostly forgettable. At the conclusion of the 2000-01 NHL season, the Wild finished with a 25-39-13-5 record that left them at the very bottom of the defunct Northwest Division. Gaborik finished in a three-way tie for the team lead in goals with 18, while Scott Pellerin led the team in points with 38. All things considered, it was clear that the team still needed help in all areas, and the 2001 NHL Entry Draft was their next opportunity.

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This draft was a huge one for the franchise, as they selected one of their best and most memorable players with their first-round pick, along with another fan favorite later on. In total, the Wild made seven selections in 2001, with five of them coming in the first four rounds.

Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)

Round 1, 6th Overall – Mikko Koivu, C (TPS Turku, SM-liiga)

It’s hard to find a more beloved player in the Wild’s history than Mikko Koivu. Despite playing just 21 games and only registering a single point in 2000-01 with TPS Turku, the Wild didn’t hesitate to take Koivu 6th overall. It would be a few more years until he’d make his eventual NHL debut, but he still wound up winning several medals at the World Juniors along the way.

Eventually, Koivu made his North American debut with Minnesota’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros, during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He registered 48 points in 67 games before getting called up to the Wild in the next season. Koivu’s NHL career started slowly, finishing his first campaign with 21 points as he adjusted to the league. However, after that, his career took off. The 2006-07 NHL season saw Koivu reach 20 goals for the first time, adding another 34 assists for 54 total points. He then went on to score at least 40 points in 10 of the next 11 seasons, with his only one below that total happening during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season. Even then, his 37 points in 48 games put him on pace for 63 in a normal season.

Before the 2009-10 NHL season, the Wild’s captaincy was always changing, as the club had yet to name its first permanent captain despite being around for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, the organization knew how important Koivu’s leadership was to the locker room and decided to name him the team’s first permanent captain in October 2009. He kept that honour until he left to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year deal in October 2020. That experiment was short-lived, though, as Koivu ended up retiring in February 2021 after recording just two points in seven games.

Despite his quick experiment with the Blue Jackets, it’s hard not to think of Koivu when thinking of the greatest players in Wild history. He’s currently the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (1,028), assists (504) and points (709). He played consistently throughout his tenure in Minnesota, providing the team with reliable play for over a decade. While it was sad to see him retire, his contributions to the team and the legacy he left will never be forgotten by Wild fans.

Round 2, 36th Overall – Kyle Wanvig, RW (Red Deer Rebels, WHL)

Kyle Wanvig was the first of four prospects that the Wild selected from the Western Hockey League in 2001. It was actually his second time being drafted after he was taken 89th overall by the Boston Bruins in 1999, but he decided to re-enter the draft. The team selected him 36th overall after he led the Red Deer Rebels in goals with 55 in 69 games. Unfortunately, Wanvig’s junior goal-scoring ability never translated to the same success in the NHL, where he played more of a physical/enforcer role instead.

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Wanvig spent most of his time with the Wild in the AHL, where he was a part of their 2002-03 Calder Cup-winning roster. Still, he’d make some occasional appearances with the NHL club, playing 64 games and putting up 14 points between 2002 and 2006. He left the organization following the 2005-06 NHL season, making brief stops with the Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the writing was on the wall for Wanvig’s time in the NHL as he only played 11 more games in the league before finishing the remainder of his career overseas.

Middle Rounds (3rd – 5th)

Round 3, 74th Overall – Chris Heid, D (Spokane Chiefs, WHL)

At 74th overall, Chris Heid was the only defenseman that the Wild selected in this draft. He was coming off of a modest showing with the Spokane Chiefs, and the team was hopeful that he could eventually slide into their core. While you probably shouldn’t put a lot of stock into a third-round draft pick turning out, Heid was a disappointment as he never made it beyond the AHL.

He did play some meaningful games for the Aeros, scoring 19 points in 81 games over three seasons, but that was it. By the time his North American career was over, Heid had played for five different AHL and ECHL teams between 2003 and 2006. No other team on the continent was interested in his services, leading to him playing in Germany, where he’d spend eight seasons before retiring in 2014.

Round 3, 93rd Overall – Stephane Veilleux, LW (Val d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL)

Thankfully, Minnesota managed to have some third-round success when they drafted Stephane Veilleux at No. 93 from the Val d’Or Foreurs out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Veilleux was a part of an extremely talented junior team in his draft year, being one of four Foreurs players who had 100 or more points that season.

Veilleux made his pro debut with the Aeros in the 2001-02 season and split his time between them and the Wild over the next few seasons before becoming a mainstay in the NHL lineup in 2005-06. He was the perfect energy player for the team, willing to get physical while contributing the occasional goal.

Stephane Veilleux finished his NHL career with 106 points in 506 games. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

Veilleux hit free agency in 2009 and decided to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by a short stint with the New Jersey Devils. However, Veilleux’s absence from the Wild organization didn’t last long as he was traded back to the team, along with Nick Palmieri, Kurtis Foster and a second-round pick in exchange for Marek Zidlicky in 2012. Veilleux spent the next few seasons bouncing back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL before retiring with the team in 2015.

At the end of the day, even if he didn’t end up being the most skilled player, Veilleux still had a memorable career in Minnesota.

Missed OpportunityPhiladelphia Flyers select Patrick Sharp, LW (University of Vermont, ECAC) – 95th overall

While Veilleux had moderate success with the Wild, it’s hard not to imagine what Patrick Sharp could’ve done with the team. He was selected two picks after Veilleux to the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 95. While he struggled with the organization that drafted him, recording just 15 points in 66 games, Sharp blossomed when he joined the Chicago Blackhawks. He was consistently a 25+ goal-scorer with them, helping the Blackhawks to win three Stanley Cups in the 2010s.

Patrick Sharp played 15 seasons in the NHL, suiting up in 939 games while registering 287 goals and 333 assists for 620 points. (Mandatory Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

There’s no guarantee that Sharp would’ve become the same player had he been with the Wild, but it’s hard to deny that the potential was always there. He could’ve been a big part of the team’s core, providing goal-scoring support alongside the likes of Koivu, Gaborik, Brian Rolston and Pavel Demitra.

Round 4, 103rd Overall – Tony Virta, RW (TPS Turku, SM-liiga)

With the No. 103 pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, the Wild selected Koivu’s teammate from TPS Turku, Tony Virta. He was coming off a season where he won the Lasse Oksanen Award for the SM-liiga’s best player after recording 27 goals and 33 assists in 56 games. However, one of the main differences was that Virta was 28 years old by the time he was drafted, and much like the older players the Wild took in the previous draft, Virta’s NHL career never really panned out.

He played just eight games with the organization, all within the 2001-02 NHL season. He spent most of that season in the AHL and even began the following campaign with the Aeros. However, Virta didn’t stay for the whole season and wound up returning to Europe to play for Södertälje SK in the Swedish Elite League. He continued playing across Europe until 2010, when he retired. While Virta may have had better success if he came over to the NHL earlier in his career, his time as a member of the Wild is largely forgotten.

Late Rounds (6th – 8th)

Round 7, 202nd Overall – Derek Boogaard, LW (Prince George Cougars, WHL)

Few players were able to capture Wild fans’ hearts as easily as the late, great Derek Boogaard. The team didn’t draft him because of his skill. Oh, no. He only had one goal in his junior career before being selected. Boogaard was drafted because of his toughness and size, which were both valuable qualities that scouts were in love with during that era of the NHL. After spending a couple more seasons in the WHL and a brief stint in the ECHL, he made the transition to the pro level. He made his AHL debut during the 2003-04 season and spent two seasons with the club, racking up an astounding 466 penalty minutes in 109 games.

Nicknamed “the Boogeyman” by fans, Boogaard made his NHL debut in 2005-06. Standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing 258 pounds, he became one of the toughest customers in the league. His 158 PIMs in 65 games were the most he had in a season and set the tone for the rest of his career. Boogaard remained with the Wild until the end of the 2009-10 NHL season. He signed a four-year contract with the New York Rangers but only played in 22 games with the team before concussions took their toll, effectively ending his career.

Tragically, Boogaard passed away from an accidental overdose at the age of 28 in 2011. His family donated his brain to science, where it was later revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that sometimes plagues athletes in contact sports.

Boogaard’s story is a tragic one, and his passing is still felt around the sport to this day. However, he still forged positive memories both on and off the ice with the Wild and their fans. There’s no doubt that those who knew and cheered him on will never forget Boogaard or his legacy.

Round 8, 239th Overall – Jake Riddle, LW (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)

With their final pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, the Minnesota Wild decided to go back to the WHL to selected Jake Riddle from the Seattle Thunderbirds. The left winger, who’s a Minneapolis native, had a decent showing in his draft year, which was also his rookie year, scoring 13 goals in 67 games while adding 109 PIMs. He spent three more seasons in the WHL before transitioning to the pro level.

Much to his dismay, Riddle didn’t have any real success and never got to play any games for the Wild organization. He bounced around from team to team across various leagues before retiring in 2012. When all was said and done, he played for nine different teams across the AHL, ECHL and the Central Hockey League in an eight-season span.

Overall Grade: C+

The 2001 NHL Draft was far from the worst in the Wild’s history. While some prospects were either too old or never went on to play a meaningful role in the organization, the team still walked away with Koivu, Veilleux and Boogaard. The overall draft class was relatively weak in general, so it’s a good thing that the Wild walked away with who they did. Like with every draft, there’s always going to be a couple of “what-ifs” or situations the club would like a redo on, but that’s just life.

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