When analyzing James Sheppard, many point to his low point total last year (six), and his high draft position in 2006 (nine). There's one other number to look at when it comes to "Shep" (22).
While yet to find his niche on the Minnesota Wild, the 22-year-old Sheppard will have at least another year to show why he was so highly coveted as a big, young center. On Wednesday, the restricted free agent signed a one-year deal to remain in Minnesota for the 2010-11 season.
The Wild also sent qualifying offers to Guillaume Latendresse
, Josh Harding
, Anton Khudobin, Nate Prosser
and Matt Kassian
. Morten Madsen and Jamie Fraser did not receive offers.
The Sheppard deal comes as a relief to a player who is disappointed in a rough 2009-10 season, but says he is completely focused on raising his game in a Wild sweater.
"Last year was not an ideal year for me," Sheppard admitted. "There is a lot I want to accomplish, and a lot of work I have to do to accomplish those things. It really is a relief to have this out of the way early, and it shows that Chuck Fletcher wanted me to be here to raise my game. He made that clear to me by signing me early in the summer, and he also made clear that there is a lot of work to be done for me in Minnesota."
Sheppard is confident he has a lot more to offer, but he makes no excuses for the inability to make an immediate impact. He acknowledged that several facets of his game need improvement, and he is devoted to improving all of them.
"It's broad," he said of where he needs to get better. "It's not one thing you can point to. It's a lot of little things. And it's not just physical, but mental as well. I need to take better care of myself and commit myself to getting better."
Fletcher told Mike Russo of the Star Tribune that Sheppard has the opportunity to prove he is ready to elevate his game, starting in September's training camp.
"We’re going to give him every opportunity to be whatever he can be in camp," Fletcher told Russo. "He’s not going to be given anything. But by the same token we’re not going to walk away from him at this stage. The organization’s put four years into him and why not put a fifth?"
To read Fletcher's interview in it's entirety, click here
Sheppard ended last season in crutches after suffering a knee injury in the final week of the season. He has been rehabbing ever since, and is nearing full recovery, but he hasn't started any on-ice conditioning as of yet.
"Physically, it's 100%, but there are still things I'm doing to prevent it from happening again, and getting it stronger. Soon, I'll be able to work on pushing it and doing agility drills."