Minnesota Wild Draft Biggest Boom and Bust Since 2000

Minnesota Wild Draft

Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, the Minnesota Wild draft Boom and their Draft Bust.

Minnesota Wild Draft Boom and Bust

Biggest Boom

Erik Haula

Late-round picks, when they make it, generally don’t turn into All-Stars. Fantastic as they are to find out beyond Pick 120, it’s best to keep expectations low. Part of the nature of a late pick who makes it is determination. They aren’t going to be given the benefit of the doubt or a lot of second chances to break in with a team. Often the team drafting that player sees them a specific way, and it’s hard to change their mind.

Then come expansion years, where all that can be tossed out the window. Erik Haula‘s career had been fairly typical of a late pick. He went from the USHL to three years in university, making his professional debut for six games with the AHL Houston Aeros in the 2012-13 season. He played well enough to break in with Minnesota the next year, splitting time between the AHL and The Show. Modest production in the regular season (six goals and fifteen points in 46 games) was pushed aside by a great playoff run. The 22-year old rookie got seven points in just thirteen games, and that was the last he saw of the minors.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t build off that playoff run, remaining on the bottom-six for the Wild. He was reasonably productive, though, and getting picked by the Vegas Golden Knights let him shine.

Golden Year

Even sheltered behind a ridiculously effective top line, Haula saw his ice time leap upwards. He used that plus a power-play role to reach 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games. He was one of five 20-goal scorers on the team, helping the Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Finals. This makes Vegas one of the most successful first-year expansion teams in any professional league, anywhere in the world. Given the intensity of the year, it’s no surprise that the people of Las Vegas feel a deep emotional connection to that team.

A broken kneecap limited Haula to just fifteen games in 2018-19, and he has since been moved twice, to the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. So far, Haula has scored 85 goals and 175 points over 405 games with four teams in seven years. Not an All-Star, but not too bad for the 182nd overall Minnesota Wild draft pick.

Other Notable Booms

Cal Clutterbuck

Most bottom-six players don’t inspire bidding wars when they become free agents. The New York Islanders were desperate to avoid that with Cal Clutterbuck (72nd, 2006), giving him a 5-year, $3.5 million deal at 29 years old. Only one of the 141 players selected after him are within 200 games, and Mathieu Perreault is 197 back. That’s a pretty good pick in the third round of any year.

Anton Khudobin

An argument could be made for Anton Khudobin (206th, 2004) to be listed with the busts. As a Minnesota Wild draft pick, at least: it was five years between his drafting and his first NHL appearance. When he did get his chance, it was brief, playing a total of six games for Minnesota. Unfortunately for them, he arrived just in time to hit the Niklas BackstromJosh Harding years. Even when Harding was out for an entire year with an injury, Jose Theodore was brought in as a one-season replacement. But that doesn’t mean the scouts missed. Khudobin has a league- and career-best .930 save percentage in 2019-20 (so far). In 218 NHL games, he has a .919 SV% and 2.46 GAA with eight shutouts.

In a few years, goalie Kaapo Kahkonen (109th, 2014) may make this list. It’s far too soon to judge, obviously, but his five NHL games so far is a good start.

Biggest Bust

The later in the first round a player is selected, the less they are considered a “bust” compared to the first dozen picks. A higher reliance on deeper statistics, plus extensive scouting, minimizes the odds of teams missing in the first round. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen – though it hurts a bit more when the draft pick used to get our top pick below was the same one the team got when they traded away their Biggest Boom…

Zack Phillips

When Zack Phillips (28th, 2011) was chosen, he was part of a powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs team. That same year the also saw Jonathan Huberdeau and Nathan Beaulieu get drafted in the first round, and Tomas Jurco in the second. Other future NHLers on the team were Eric Gelinas, Simon Despres, Stanislav Galiev, so it’s no surprise the Gerard Gallant coached team were both President Cup and Memorial Cup champions in 2011. Phillips scored 38 goals and 95 points in his draft year, finishing second in goals and points. Another 24 points in 17 playoff games solidified his first-round position in that year’s draft.

In his professional career, he managed 260 games in the AHL, playing for four teams in four years. In 2019-20 he’s played for three ECHL teams and five games in Slovakia before play was suspended. For such a prolific scorer who was hailed as a cerebral playmaker, why didn’t it work?

Patience Didn’t Pay Off

There were warning signs, and Minnesota knew when they drafted him he would be a project. Phillips’ skating would be a work in progress, and he could be thrown off his game with physical play. Against the bigger, faster, and more physical professionals in the AHL he couldn’t produce anything close to his junior numbers. He couldn’t produce offence, and he wasn’t able to take a defensive role, so coaches were left with a player they couldn’t use.

Other Notable Busts

A.J. Thelen

A first-round pick getting kicked off his college team is never something you want, but it’s not necessarily fatal. A.J. Thelen (12th, 2004) was kicked off the Michigan State Spartans for underage drinking one year after getting drafted. The skilled defenceman went to the WHL, joining the Prince Albert Raiders for 2006-07. He got a cup of coffee with the Houston Aeros before winning a Memorial Cup back in junior. Concussions and injuries were a constant companion, and Thelen eventually retired from hockey at age 25. The highest level he reached was nine games in the AHL. Not quite the most disappointing Minnesota Wild draft pick, but the highest to appear on this list.

Colton Gillies

Sending a first and second to the Anaheim Ducks to move up three spots got the Wild Colton Gillies (16th, 2007). Gillies was a standout on a mediocre Saskatoon Blades team. He was a tough, two-way winger that the Wild obviously were high on. He never found an NHL role, however, and has spent the last four years with Riga Dynamo in the KHL. At least Minnesota got 89 games from him – more than Anaheim got from both picks they got in return.

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