The Minnesota Wild department at The Hockey Writers is starting a series that will look at the franchise’s top 10 players all-time in honor of their 20th anniversary last season. THW’s Wild team consisting of Aaron Heckmann, Justin Walters, Mariah Holland, and myself voted on this list, and it will continue with the seventh spot as we work our way down to the best player in franchise history.
This pick might be a bit controversial due to injuries holding him back from reaching his full potential, however, the always-creative Pierre-Marc Bouchard comes in at No. 6 on our list.
From the moment that he began playing competitive hockey, it was clear that there was something special about Bouchard. He turned heads as a rookie for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the 2000-01 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) season, leading his team in both goals (38) and assists (57) as a 16-year-old. While that was certainly impressive, Bouchard took an even bigger step in the following season as he led the entire QMJHL with 140 points in 69 games and was recognized as the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year.
The Sherbrooke, Quebec-native’s efforts in his draft year were good enough to catch the Wild’s attention as they selected him eighth overall at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Rather than spending time in the minors, Bouchard immediately cracked the Wild’s roster in the 2002-03 season, playing a total of 50 games as a rookie and putting up 20 points. His following campaign wasn’t much of an improvement as he registered 22 points in 61 games. However, after the 2004-05 lockout, he began playing like a true top-6 forward and one of the Wild’s best players. While injuries prevented him from consistently playing to his potential, he still spent a memorable 10 seasons with the organization.
The Wild and Bouchard parted ways in 2013 when the talented playmaker signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the New York Islanders in free agency. Unfortunately, by that point, concussions had done a number on his health and he was no longer seen as an everyday NHL player. He played only 28 games for the Islanders in the 2013-14 season and spent 44 games in the American Hockey League. That proved to be the end of his NHL career as he took his talents to Switzerland. Playing for Zug EV of the Swiss-A league, Bouchard scored 118 points in 98 games over two seasons before retiring from the sport due to concussions.
Tenure With the Wild
For most of their early history, the Wild were a defense-first team, which is why having a player like Bouchard was so important during that era. During his prime, Minnesota could rely on him any given night and he was consistently good enough to put up anywhere between 50 and 60 points in a campaign.
Bouchard broke out in the 2005-06 NHL season just as the league was shifting to a game that suited his skill set. He finished third in team scoring that season with 59 points, showing chemistry with Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston. Bouchard proved that performance wasn’t a one-off fluke as he scored 57 points in the 2006-07 season, but his most notable moment of that year was when he scored his iconic spin-o-rama shootout goal against the Chicago Blackhawks.
While those two seasons were impressive, Bouchard had the best campaign of his career in 2007-08. He suited up in 81 games during that season, tallying a career-high 63 points as a 23-year-old. He sent a franchise record with 50 assists that year and is still the only player in Wild history to hit that total. His efforts that season earned him a five-year, $20.4 million extension with Minnesota as the franchise hoped that he could be an important cornerstone for years to come.
Unfortunately, Bouchard never hit that peak again, mainly due to concussions. After suffering a concussion in 2008-09, he missed every game except the home opener of the 2009-10 NHL season due to post-concussion syndrome. His presence was certainly missed that season as the team didn’t get a lot of offense from their forwards aside from Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Martin Havlat. Fortunately, Bouchard managed to return the next season, playing 59 games and scoring 38 points. Even though he looked good while he was playing, it was clear that he was no longer the player that he once was. He played a total of 80 games over his final two seasons with the Wild, putting up 17 goals and 25 assists in that span before departing to New York.
Why is Bouchard Deserving?
Due to how short his NHL career was, it’s sometimes hard to remember just how good Bouchard was. As mentioned earlier, no other player in the Wild’s history can say that they’ve had a 50-assist season. In fact, some could make the argument that he’s one of the top playmakers that the team has ever had, as his 241 assists with Minnesota rank third in the team’s all-time records. Bouchard also sits sixth in all-time games played (565) and fifth in points (347). That’s not even to mention how great he was whenever the Wild had a man advantage as the 202 power-play goals he was on-ice for ranks fifth in Minnesota’s record books.
Again, it’s certainly a shame that Bouchard’s peak ended early in his career because of his concussion history. In fact, he’s still one of the biggest “what ifs” in Wild history, especially with his journey beginning in an era when the game was significantly slower. Nevertheless, Bouchard managed to carve out his legacy in Minnesota despite his injuries and still holds a special place in fans’ hearts for his playmaking and creativity. It’s safe to say that he’ll be seen as one of the Wild greats for years to come.
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!