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Wild Signs Rookie James Sheppard

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild
James Sheppard has signed an Entry Level contract to remain with the Wild for the 2007-08 season.
Minnesota Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire said recently that for a young hockey player to develop, he'd rather work with the kid himself than rely on another coach in another city. Lemaire will now get that chance with rookie center James Sheppard, arguably the Wild's top prospect.

At 19 years old, the Wild's first round pick (ninth overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft would have had to return to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League if he did not sign a contract. Now, Sheppard will be with the Wild for the 2007-2008 season as he cannot get sent down to Houston of the American Hockey League. If he plays nine NHL games or less, he could be sent to Cape Breton without a year being charged to his contract. However, Wild President and General Manager said Sheppard is here for the long haul.

"We're pleased with James' development since we drafted him in the summer of 2006 and we feel that his development will be best served by his being on our club," said Risebrough.

"This was the situation that was best for me," said Sheppard from his hotel room in downtown St. Paul. "Doug talked to me and said that I'm not here to sit on the bench. I may be playing less, but even when I'm not playing, I'll be practicing with the team which will help me progress enough to get better."

Sheppard appears to be Minnesota's fifth option at the center position with the four other spots seemingly controlled by Mikko Koivu, Eric Belanger, Wes Walz and Dominic Moore. His spot on the roster was facilitated by four players being sent to Houston earlier in the day. Defensemen Shawn Belle and John Scott and forwards Petr Kalus and Benoit Pouliot were assigned to the AHL club without having to pass through waivers.

The fact that playing time will be a daily battle did not deter the youngster's excitement.

"This is still sinking in," he said. "I finally get to play in the NHL. It's always been my dream. It's so cool to get the chance and to tell my family. They were pretty teary when I told them."
Sheppard recorded 96 points (33-63=96), a +39 rating and 62 penalty minutes (PIM) in 56 games with Cape Breton last season. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound center ranked tied for eighth in the QMJHL in assists and tied for 13th in scoring and was named the February Offensive Player of the Month and a Second Team All-Star.  The native of Halifax, Nova Scotia also notched 12 power play goals, seven game-winning markers and two shorthanded goals in the regular season and added 18 points (7-11=18) and a +9 rating in 15 playoff contests as the Screaming Eagles advanced to the QMJHL semifinals.

Sheppard has tallied an assist in three preseason games for the Wild this season.  He will wear sweater #15 with Minnesota.

Sheppard's performance in training camp was a bit of a roller coaster, but as his playing chances increased, his confidence rose as well.

"I just try to play my best, and as the final few cuts were made, I thought I had a chance. I'm just lucky they think I can keep progressing."

This is just day one of Sheppard's promising NHL life. With the regular season just days away, he'll have a lot on his plate, including the living situation. Like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns, Sheppard expects to stay with a host family.

"There's still a lot of stuff to get sorted out, but it's hard enough with everything so I don't want to have to worry about cooking all my own meals."
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