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Back To The Future

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild

 Wild Assitant General Manager Tom Thompson weighs in on who might be in a Wild uniform nexy year.
As far as Tom Thompson is concerned, you do not have to look far when it comes to looking how to improve the Minnesota Wild’s offense.

Thompson is the Assistant General Manager/Director of Player Personnel for the Wild. He oversees the development of the team’s prospects and he feels the future bodes well for the National Hockey League team.

The Wild scored 2.8 goals per game in the 2005-06 season and that left them in the bottom third of the league in scoring for a fifth straight year.

But help is on the way.

“People say you must be lacking offense, but if you look at the young people that are close to being ready, that is probably their strong suit,” says Thompson, referring to the snipers the Wild have in the pipeline. “All that could change in a matter of a short time.”

Minnesota’s farm club is the Houston Aero of the American Hockey League and the Aeros finished fourth out of 27 teams, which speaks volumes about the potential, given how Houston was one of the youngest teams in the AHL this season.

“We’re very pleased with what is happening in Houston,” says Thompson.

Thompson is encouraged when he sees how the Wild’s prospects are developing.

Here are his comments on the prospects:

Benoit Pouliot, C, Sudbury (OHL), 4th overall in 2005:

“He is a real talent. There is no doubt about that and there is no doubt that his play is inconsistent,” says Thompson. “At the top of his game, he is as good as anyone in junior hockey. In order for him to maximize his talent, he will have to increase his consistency level. There is no doubt about it.”

Pouliot had 35 goals and 65 points for Sudbury this season and recently signed a tryout contract with the Wild. He was impressive at the Wild’s training camp last September and was a late cut. The plan is for Pouliot to come to the Wild’s summer camp for rookies and then play in a rookie tournament in September against other NHL rookies before he attend his second NHL training camp.

“We present opportunity and the rest is up to him,” says Thompson. “We are not counting on him to play (in the NHL next season) and there is no slap in the face if you have to go to the minors for a year, develop and round out the package. But the opportunity will be there and we will see what happens.”
Roman Voloshenko, LW, Houston (AHL), 42nd overall in 2004

Thompson is very pleased with how Voloshenko adapted to a new continent, and the North American style of hockey.

Voloshenko arrived on this side of the Atlantic in August and was billeted with a Houston family. He took English lessons and within a month was making phone calls to Thompson and carrying on a conversation.

He had 33 goals and 60 points as a 19-year-old in the AHL.

“Whether he is ready to compete for a job next year or whether he should have one more year to dominate down there, let us see what happens,” says Thompson. “He’s a top prospect.”
Patrick O’Sullivan, C, Houston (AHL), 56th overall in 2003

O’Sullivan was the AHL’s Rookie of the Year and his 47 goals was the most by a rookie since 1991.

“I give Patrick a lot of credit and I give our coaches in Houston a lot of credit,” says Thompson. “They told him what was expected and we wanted him to develop an all-around game and he has done that. We believe he is ready to challenge for a spot.”

O’Sullivan suffered a shoulder separation at the Wild training camp last September and Thompson is anxious to see how he fares in his second NHL camp. “I think he is a much more complete hockey player now,” says Thompson.
Josh Harding, G, Houston, 38th overall in 2002

Harding had an excellent season in Houston. He had a 2.68 goals-against average along with a .922 save percentage. He was injured for about a month but he was as good as any goalie in the AHL.

“He played well for us when we brought him up at the end so I think he is ready to challenge for a spot. Again what the exact strategy will be, I do not know,” says Thompson. “Manny Fernandez is an elite NHL goalie and the question is how many games do you want him to play and how many games should Josh be able to play.

“We will see what the lay of the land is at training camp but Josh is a bonafide National Hockey League prospect.
Danny Irmen, C, University of Minnesota, 78th overall in 2003

Irmen averaged over a point a game for the University of Minnesota this season and Thompson feels he could develop into a solid pro.

“He has the ability to make the other guys on his team better. He is a physical presence who knows how to agitate. He knows when to make a big hit and he has good skills. He makes hits and it results in greasy goals,” says Thompson.

The feeling is Irmen needs to t and he has good skills. He makes hits and it results in greasy goals,” says Thompson.

The feeling is Irmen needs to hone his skills in the minors for at least one season. “If he can challenge for a (roster) spot in camp, more power to him, but he might need a year in the minors to become a regular pro. “But we are pleased with him, no doubt about it.”
Clayton Stoner, D, Houston (AHL), 79th overall in 2004

Stoner has been a big surprise for the Wild. He is a solid two-way defenseman who can handle the puck and play a physical game.

“We are pleased with the way he played and I know our coaching staff in Houston felt that he was as poised and complete as any of the young kids they have sent down in the last few years,” says Thompson.

But the Wild are not counting on Stoner stepping in next season.

“I do not think he is ready for the NHL. He needs to keep plugging and work his way up there.”
Erik Reitz, D, Houston (AHL), 170th overall in 2000

Reitz had a tough year because of injuries but overall the Wild are impressed with his progress.

“His game was in pieces until this year and the coaching staff thought he was the best all-around defenseman they had,” said Thompson.

Reitz was brought up at the end of the season to gauge his game at the NHL level.

“He was solid. He is ready to challenge for a spot on our team this coming year,” says Thompson.
Peter Olvecky, LW, Houston (AHL), 78th overall in 2004

Olvecky was a scrawny guy in rural Slovakia who never played on national junior team but he was the top rookie in Slovakia’s top league and has continued to impress.

“He has come a long way in a short time,” says Thompson. “He is a different type of player than O’Sullivan, Pouliot and Voloshenko. He is a two-way player. He can play center and the wing. We feel he is a potential match-up guy against other team’s good players.”

Olvecky had 14 goals and 32 points in Houston, and Thompson feels he needs another year or two in the minors.

“I would be surprised if he is ready this coming year. Who knows? We thought it was a two or three year project when we brought him over.”
A.J. Thelen, D, Prince Albert (WHL), 12th overall 2005

Minnesota’s top pick in the 2005 draft had a bit of an adjustment year. He went from playing NCAA hockey to logging major minutes on a bad team in the Western Hockey League. Suffice it to say his learning curve was huge.

“In one way he is like Pouliot. His consistency level has to improve,” says Thompson. “It is a tough grind in the WHL and he survived that.  We were pleased with his progress but he has a ways to go.”
Miroslav Kopriva, G, Houston (AHL), 187th overall in 2003
Kopriva is an example of why you never judge a guy by his personality off the ice. At the rookie camp last September, he was meek and mild. He is the type of guy who looks down when he’s talking to you.

On the ice, it is a different story.

“He is by far the most aggressive of our goalies,” says Thompson. “He has a ways to go. He is not an NHL goalie at this point but we like his progress. “
Matt Kassian, RW, Kamloops (WHL), 57th overall in 2005

Kassian was recently voted the toughest player in WHL in a player poll. He had five goals, 11 points and 147 penalty minutes in 67 games this season.

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