3 First-Round Picks the Wild Wish They Could Take Back

Minnesota Wild fans have had their sights set on the 2022 NHL Entry Draft ever since the club was eliminated in the first round of this year’s playoffs by the St. Louis Blues. The Wild hold yet another late first-round draft pick next month, and are hoping that they can use it to help replenish their prospect cupboards. Next season’s cap crunch is going to make icing a competitive roster more difficult, which is why general manager Bill Guerin and the rest of management can’t afford to miss on this pick.

As with any first-round selection, there’s always a possibility that the Wild could miss with their 2022 pick. Although the team has hit pay dirt in the past with other Round 1 selections, such as Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Jonas Brodin, the Wild have also had their fair sure of misses. You only have to look as recently as this week to find one when they chose not to sign 2018 first-round pick Filip Johansson.

Here’s a look at the three first-round draft picks that the Wild wish they could take back, along with an honorable mention. The list is also limited to players who played at least one NHL game with the franchise.

Honorable Mention: James Sheppard (2006)

The lone honorable mention on this list goes to James Sheppard, who the Wild selected ninth overall at the 2006 NHL Draft. Expectations were high for the Halifax, Nova Scotia native after scoring 225 points in 187 games over three Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) seasons. Unfortunately, he couldn’t replicate the same results for the Wild.

Although he went on to have a career as a decent bottom-six player, Sheppard recorded just 38 points in 224 games during his time with the Wild. That’s simply insufficient production for a top-10 selection. It looks even worse when you realize players like Brian Little and Claude Giroux were drafted soon after him. Sheppard only went on to play 170 more games after the Wild traded him to the San Jose Sharks for a 2013 third-round pick in 2011, further highlighting that he just wasn’t worth the pick that was used on him.

3. Colton Gillies (2007)

The Wild’s amateur scouts didn’t do a great of a job during the second part of the 2000s, highlighted by Colton Gillies’ selection in 2007. The 6-foot-3 power forward showed promise during his Western Hockey League (WHL) career, mixing around physicality with the occasional goal. Considering how the NHL was still transitioning into the game we know today shortly after the 2004-05 lockout, it made sense for the Wild to take him 16th overall in 2007, in theory.

Colton Gillies Minnesota Wild
Colton Gillies, seen here with the Minnesota Wild (Dinur Blum/Flickr)

Unfortunately, Gillies just didn’t have what it takes to reach the expectations the Wild had set for him. He made his NHL debut during the 2008-09 season, playing a total of 45 games. Offense was hard to come by far him, made evident by his finishing with only a pair of goals and five assists. Anyone hoping for more production was left disappointed as Gillies finished his time in Minnesota with only 10 points in 89 games.

Related: 3 Minnesota Wild Offseason Moves That Must Be Made

The Wild waived the former Saskatoon Blade in January 2012, which led to him being claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He didn’t go on to produce for his new team either and soon found himself in the American Hockey League (AHL) before heading to Russia. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that the Wild should regret using a first-round pick on Gillies, especially after names like Max Pacioretty, David Perron and Mikael Backlund were taken before the first round ended.

2. Benoit Pouliot (2005)

Former NHL journeyman Benoit Pouliot had what was arguably the “best” career out of anyone on this list, but that doesn’t mean the Wild don’t regret drafting him. The franchise selected him fourth overall in 2005, and the former Sudbury Wolves star had some decent goal-scoring potential after totaling 52 goals in 116 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games.

benoit pouliot bruins
Benoit Pouliot, pictured with the Boston Bruins (Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

With Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan and even Jack Johnson being drafted ahead of him, the pressure was on for Pouliot to succeed. He made his professional debut in 2006-07 by scoring 36 points in 67 AHL games with the Houston Aeros, and even ended up playing three games for the Wild without a point. It looked like the only place to go from there was up, but Pouliot just couldn’t get there.

The Alfred, Ontario native only played 65 games with the Wild — the second-fewest of the seven teams he played for — and only had nine goals and nine assists over that span. In November 2009, he was shipped off to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Guillaume Latendresse, who didn’t exactly work out for the Wild either. Pouliot played eight-and-a-half more NHL seasons after leaving Minnesota, but never had more than 36 points in a season. Although his career as a bottom-six forward was decent, the Wild likely wish they could have a do-over with that pick.

1. Tyler Cuma (2008)

The honor of being the biggest first-round regret in Wild franchise history goes to none other than former defenseman Tyler Cuma. Although he wasn’t drafted as high as some other names, the franchise was hoping that he could still become a top-four blueliner when he was taken at No. 23 in 2008.

The Wild had to be patient with Cuma, who spent two more seasons with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s following his draft year. He made his AHL debut in the 2010-11 season, and even had four points in 31 games before disaster struck and his season was prematurely halted due to a torn ACL. That’s the type of injury that can alter a player forever, and it became increasingly clear that his potential was limited when he eventually returned from injury.

Tyler Cuma
Tyler Cuma (No. 65) battling for the puck as a member of the Wild. (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)

Cuma returned to full health for the 2011-12 season, recording nine assists without a goal in 73 games with the Aeros. The Wild called him up to make his NHL debut on April 5, 2012 in a 2-1 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks, ending the night pointless with two penalty minutes. Much to his dismay, that was the first and only time Cuma suited up for an NHL game.

Related: Wild Should Use 2022 First-Round Pick for Immediate Help

The rest of his time in North America was spent playing with the Wild’s AHL affiliates. He eventually moved to Austria to continue his hockey career, and still plays over there as recently as the 2021-22 season. Yes, his ACL injury certainly limited his ceiling, but the fact that he played just one NHL game shows just how underwhelming of a pick he turned out to be. Furthermore, the Washington Capitals drafted defenseman John Carlson four picks after Cuma was taken and he’s the type of player that would’ve helped the Wild become more competitive early on.

Wild Can’t Afford to Miss at the 2022 NHL Draft

The Wild’s drafting department has proven to be better in recent years compared to when Pouliot, Gillies and Sheppard were drafted, but parting ways with Johansson shows that they have a long way to go. Simply put, the Wild must be absolutely certain of who they’re drafting and that they can be NHL-ready in the near future. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s dead money is only going to make icing a competitive team tougher, which is why contributors on cheap rookie contracts are paramount to the Wild’s future success.

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