June 3, 2023

The seventh installment in this series has arrived after previously looking at how the Minnesota Wild did in their first six drafts. If you missed any of them or want a refresher, you can find those recaps below:

Even in a new era after the 2004-05 lockout, the Wild were still basement-dwellers in the 2005-06 NHL season. They finished the campaign with a 38-36-8 record, which was good enough to land them at the bottom of the Northwest Division for the fourth time in five seasons. While Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were a reliable offensive trio, the rest of the team just didn’t show up (mostly due to injuries), making it harder to win games.

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Leaving the 2006 NHL Entry Draft with seven selections, could any of them help take the Wild to the next level? Continue reading to find out.

Early Rounds (1st and 2nd)

Round 1, 9th Overall – James Sheppard, C (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL)

For the fifth time in the franchise’s existence, Minnesota had a top-10 pick at the NHL draft. This time, they used the No. 9 pick to select Cape Breton Screaming Eagles center James Sheppard. The Halifax, Nova Scotia-native was an above point-per-game player in his draft year, notching 84 points in 66 games. The Wild thought he could use a little more seasoning, so Sheppard stuck around with the Screaming Eagles for another season.

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Sheppard made his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season, completely skipping over a stint in the American Hockey League. All things considered, his rookie season was respectable for a player of his age (20 at the start of the season). He finished the campaign with four goals and 15 assists in 78 games. His sophomore season saw him slightly raise his point total to 24 points in 82 games, but he failed to improve beyond that. Sheppard’s third season with the Wild was by far his worst as he seriously regressed, recording just six points in 64 games.

James Sheppard’s time with the Wild was short-lived. The Halifax native ended up playing just 224 games with the team that drafted him, finishing with 49 points in that span. (Credit: Xgeorg, Via Wikipedia Commons.)

Nevertheless, Minnesota saw enough of him to bring him back on a one-year contract for the 2010-11 season. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. Sheppard fractured his patella in an ATV accident in September 2010, sidelining him for the entire season. Little did Wild fans know at the time, that this was his last year with the team.

Sheppard was traded in August 2011 to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2013 third-round pick (Kurtis Gabriel). The former Wild first-round pick began his stint with his new organization by starting to rehab with its AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts, playing 38 games over two seasons before getting called up to San Jose. However, Sheppard’s time with the Sharks wasn’t that much of an improvement over his campaigns in Minnesota.

He played three seasons in San Jose, finishing with 40 points in 156 games. The Sharks later traded him to the New York Rangers in March 2015 for a fourth-round pick. Sheppard only picked up two goals in 14 games to end the season with the Rangers, leading to the team not bringing him back.

Since 2015, Sheppard has continued his hockey career overseas, spending time in both the Swiss and Danish leagues. He’s still active over there to this day, recently having a 32-point season with the Cologne Sharks. While it’s nice to see that his career is still going, Sheppard was nothing but a bust for the Wild. No one could’ve foreseen his injuries and quick regression, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wild would probably like a do-over on this pick.

Missed OpportunityPhiladelphia Flyers Select Claude Giroux, C (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL) – 22nd Overall

If the Wild wanted to draft a first-round center from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), they would’ve been better off going with the Gatineau Olympiques’ Claude Giroux. The Philadelphia Flyers drafted him at No. 22 after the center had a terrific draft season, leading the Olympiques with 103 points. Giroux didn’t get a full-time spot with the Flyers until 2009-10, but he quickly progressed into a No. 1 center in the league as soon as his playing time picked up. Throughout his career, he’s hit the 70-point mark six times, including a 102-point campaign in 2017-18. While he hasn’t won any individual awards, Giroux is a six-time NHL All-Star and someone who continues to be a big part of the Flyers organization to this day.

Considering how Giroux has 858 points in 943 games, it’s not hard to imagine that the Wild would’ve loved to have him over Sheppard. The fact of the matter is that while Minnesota had some good centers over the 2000s, most of them were often hurt or didn’t stick around long, aside from Mikko Koivu. Drafting Giroux likely would’ve taken the Wild to new heights, but hindsight is 20/20 and there’s no changing the past now.

Round 2, 40th Overall – Ondrej Fiala, LW (Everett Silvertips, WHL)

The 40th-overall pick in 2006, Ondrej Fiala was the first player with his last name to be associated with the Wild. Nevertheless, the pick was a bit of a strange one. He had just 35 points in 51 games leading up to the draft. He made some improvements in the following season, registering 33 points in a season that capped him at 39 games played. Fiala went on to have his best Western Hockey League (WHL) season to date with the Saskatoon Blades in 2007-08, finishing with 20 goals and 32 assists in hopes that he’d get a shot with the Wild sooner than later. However, things didn’t go as planned and the Wild opted not to sign him to his pro contract.

Fiala decided to head over to Europe following his final junior season, continuing his career in Russia and the Czech Republic. He eventually retired in 2018, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is just one of the many second-round picks that never turned out to be anything for the Wild.

Middle Rounds (3rd – 5th)

Round 3, 72nd Overall – Cal Clutterbuck, RW (Oshawa Generals, OHL)

In the third round of the draft, the Wild took their third Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prospect in as many picks by selecting Cal Clutterbuck with the 72nd-overall selection. He was coming off of an impressive showing with the Oshawa Generals at the time, showcasing his ability to score points (68) and racking up the penalty minutes (139). In other words, he was the perfect example of where the NHL was heading when it came to a mix between skill and grit.

After another season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and a short stint with the Houston Aeros in the AHL, Clutterbuck became a full-time member of the Wild in 2008-09. He finished the season by scoring 11 goals in 78 games, adding seven assists along the way. While he wasn’t lighting up the league or anything, Clutterbuck became a solid bottom-six option for Minnesota, always being reliable to give his team double-digit goal totals. Nevertheless, his time with the franchise didn’t last long.

As a restricted free agent during the 2013 offseason, Clutterbuck was traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for 2010 fifth-overall pick Nino Niederreiter. At the end of the day, the trade worked out for Minnesota as Niederreiter thrived with his new team. Unfortunately, he was eventually traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask, but that’s another story that Wild fans still aren’t over.

Cal Clutterbuck Wild
Cal Clutterbuck (Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

Clutterbuck has remained with the Islanders for each of the eight seasons since being traded. Even though he never peaked above being a bottom-six player, he’s still someone that New York can rely upon for 20 points every season. Just like he was with the Wild, he has become a fan favorite with the Islanders, and that’s a role that not every player is meant to fill. Even though his time in Minnesota was over in the blink of an eye, the Wild fan base still thinks fondly of the veteran to this day.

Round 4, 102nd Overall – Kyle Medvec, D (Apple Valley H.S., Minn)

The Wild decided to shake things up in the fourth round of the 2006 Draft, choosing to select Apple Valley High School defenseman Kyle Medvec. The 6-foot-6 defenseman suited up for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in the following season before making the jump to the University of Vermont in 2007. Medvec remained with the university for four full seasons, registering 38 points in 137 games. With how well he performed in a shutdown role, the Wild decided to sign him to his entry-level contract.

Medvec made his AHL debut with the Astros in 2011, playing 56 games while also spending 12 in the ECHL. He remained with Houston for the following season, scoring a career-high six goals in 53 games while adding a pair of assists. Unfortunately, that’s where his progress stopped. His last season in North America came in 2013-14 as the Wild’s AHL affiliate moved to Iowa. While he had his highest point total yet (nine), Medvec had a minus-24 plus/minus rating.

The Burnsville, Minnesota-native never ended up becoming the local hero that the Wild envisioned he could become. He finished off his hockey career in Slovenia, quietly retiring after the 2014-15 season.

Round 5, 132nd Overall – Niko Hovinen, G (Jokerit Helsinki, SM-liiga)

Minnesota’s lone goaltending selection of the draft, Niko Hovinen was selected 132nd overall in the fifth round. He spent his draft season playing for different levels in Jokerit Helsinki’s organization, including for their under-18 team where he finished with a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA) and .936 save percentage (SV%). When you take those stats and add in the fact that Hovinen was 6-foot-6 at the time, you can imagine why the Wild thought he may have had a high ceiling. He spent a couple more seasons with Jokerit before moving on to the Pelicans in the SM-liiga.

While he did play well overseas, the Wild didn’t end up signing Hovinen to a contract. Instead, he joined the Philadelphia Flyers in May 2011. He came to North America for the 2012-13 season, beginning with the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Trenton Titans. He was unimpressive with his new team, going 4-6-3 (W-L-OTL) in 16 games while tallying a 3.14 GAA and 0.889 SV%. Later in the season, Hovinen was placed on waivers and claimed by the Edmonton Oilers, who promptly assigned him to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. He was marginally better with them, but it wasn’t enough to warrant any sort of extension. He returned to Europe where he still plays to this day, having played in Finland, Sweden, Austria, and several other countries.

Late Rounds (6th – 7th)

Round 6, 162nd Overall – Julian Walker, W (Basel EHC, Swiss-A)

The Wild switched their focus over to Switzerland for the sixth round of the draft, choosing to select Swiss winger Julian Walker. While he was a point-per-game player in Switzerland’s junior league in 2004-05, he didn’t really show much promise in his draft year, tallying two points in 37 games with Basel ECH in the Swiss-A league. His Elite Prospects page indicates that he was known for his size, but “lacks natural offensive flair.” Considering how he topped off at 6-foot-2, it’s hard to imagine just what Minnesota saw in Walker.

Nevertheless, he never came over to play in North America. He showed little to no improvement after being drafted, with his career highlight coming in 2013 when he helped Switzerland’s national team finish with a silver medal at that year’s IIHF World Championships. Walker continues to play in the Swiss-A league to this day, having most recently played for Lugano in the 2020-21 season, notching four goals and four assists in 43 games.

Round 7, 192nd Overall – Chris Hickey, RW (Cretin Derham Hall H.S., Minn.)

With their final pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Wild selected another Minnesota-born prospect in Chris Hickey. The St. Paul-native had an extremely positive showing for Cretin Derham Hall High School’s ice hockey team in 2005-06, scoring 37 goals in 31 games while adding 26 assists. He stuck around with the team for one more season, putting up 36 points in 17 games before joining the USHL’s Tri-City Storm. While it took some time to get adjusted, Hickey finished his Storm stint with 31 points in 56 games.

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He spent the next four seasons between the University of Wisconsin and the University of St. Thomas. To his dismay, Hickey never got a look with the Wild outside of their annual prospect camps. His playing career came to an end after the 2011-12 season. However, he did return to Cretin Derham Hall in 2014, where he served as an assistant coach for the ice hockey team until as recently as 2018.

Overall Grade: D-

While the Wild’s 2006 draft class wasn’t as bad as the previous year’s, it still left a lot to be desired. Clutterbuck was the only real standout and even though he helped Minnesota land Niederreiter for a handful of season, it’s pretty disappointing that he was the only prospect to become an everyday NHLer. Yes, Sheppard played nearly 400 career games, but he’s gone down as one of the biggest first-round disappointments in the Wild’s history. Had Clutterbuck not turned into the fan favorite that he became, this may have turned out to be the worst draft in the team’s existence.

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