Drafting is the blood and bones of any great NHL franchise. While the big wig general manager is the face that gets to stand at the podium each year to announce the names, the real work that goes into is often unseen. During the regular season and winter months, scouts are tasked with catching red-eye flights across continents and countries in hopes of uncovering the next diamond in the rough. The majority of draft picks never step foot on NHL ice, but some shape the identity of a franchise.
In 16 seasons of existence, the Minnesota Wild have drafted 123 players. Of those, only 46 played an NHL game in a Wild sweater, and a fraction of those players actually made a significant impact.
In terms of value and production for the Wild, the following five are the best draft picks in franchise history.
Even this early in his career, Erik Haula is easily the Wild’s best late-round steal. As a seventh-round pick in 2009, the state of Minnesota was already familiar with Haula after three seasons with the University of Minnesota. Only a few years removed from college, he’s gone from longshot to long term with the Wild.
His real coming out party came in the 2014 playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. He was one of the best players on the ice and caught the reigning Stanley Cup champions, and Wild fans, off-guard with his ability. Since then, he’s been a regular on the roster.
On today’s team, he’s become an ideal third-line center that can score on occasion while shutting down the opponent’s best players. It’s unheralded work, but Haula handles it well.
The first ever selection in Wild history, Gaborik was expected to be the face of the franchise for years, and in many ways, he was. His upside featured a showcase of speed and shooting which helped him reach 437 points over 502 games. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gaborik missed his fair share of games due to injury and struggled to coexist with defensive-oriented coach Jacques Lemaire.
Gaborik’s offensive prowess in the prime of his career was undeniable. He was likely the fastest player in the world at the time and received endless praise from analysts for his quick release. The style with which the Wild played at the time was honestly boring and not conducive to his skill set.
At the same time, Gabby didn’t do himself any favors while in Minnesota. He didn’t set the example you’d want from the franchise player of a new organization. He showed little interest in both forechecking or backchecking while lacking most leadership qualities.
You could argue that the situation he entered was less than ideal. Had Gaborik been drafted by a more established franchise with slightly lower expectations and a supporting cast not built through an expansion draft, I’d bet he would have been even more lethal than he was in Minnesota.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the mastermind behind the shootout Spin-O-Rama.
I could stop right here, but there’s much more to his career in Minnesota.
At just 5’10 and 170lbs, Bouchard was as entertaining as it gets. He was by far the team’s most creative player at the time and was a player who always made others around him better with his nifty playmaking.
Selected 8th overall in 2002, his 241 assists rank second all-time in a Wild uniform. It would have been more had he not suffered from concussions throughout the middle stages of his career. He missed the entire 2009-10 season and never fully recovered. After a few more seasons in which he bounced around, Bouchard retired citing health concerns.
There is truly no better individual to captain the Wild and I have a hunch that will be the case for the next few decades.
Koivu was drafted sixth overall back in 2001, the team’s second year in existence. He is the club’s leader in both games (815) and points (594) and has been an ambassador for the franchise through the good times and the bad.
Now in his tenth NHL season at 33 years old, Koivu is in the midst of guiding the best Wild squad to date and continues to play with an edge on a nightly basis.
Also, his recent piece for The Players’ Tribune puts his career into perspective and is required reading for any Wild fan.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining player to ever put on a Wild sweater. He may not have provided the same offensive value as other names on this list, but he affected the game in his own unique way. Coupled with a name straight out of a comic book (one of the best in hockey history) and facial hair to match, Cal Clutterbuck was an immediate fan favorite.
Clutterbuck, as his name might suggest, always made a wonderful mess of things on the ice. His game was basic; skate hard and hit everything that moves.
In his first full season with the Wild in 2008-09, he quickly drew the praise of coaches and the ire of opponents as he shattered the hits record with 356. At only 5’11, he continued to impose his will on opponents with the Wild until 2013 when he was traded for Nino Niederreiter, who currently leads the Wild in goals.
Not bad for a third-round draft pick.
Previous blog experience on GonePuckWild and ISportsWeb.
Winter in Minnesota would be awful without hockey.