| James Sheppard brings big skates, big size and big offense to the Wild at the ninth overall pick. |
James Sheppard took a big step toward realizing a dream of playing in the National Hockey League when the Minnesota Wild selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2006 Entry Draft.
Of course, every step Sheppard takes is a big one. Despite piling up 84 points in 66 games with Cape Breton last year, the prototypical power forward is known more for his size 15 skates.
“It’s not a problem now,” said Sheppard of finding skates that fit him. “It wasn’t fun as a kid, but now it’s more of an inside joke. I think they help with my speed. My acceleration still needs a bit of work, but when I get going, I can go pretty fast.”
In Minnesota, he hopes to be known as a hard-nosed goal-scorer that will do the pushing, as opposed to being pushed.
That was the reputation he built after one year at Cape Breton, where he scored 30 goals and added 54 assists in 66 games. His accolades include: being selected to play in the 2006 Top Prospects Game in Ottawa, a selection to the 2005-06 QMJHL All-Star team for the Canada-Russia challenge, a member of Team Canada at the 2005 Under 18 Junior World Cup.
The Wild had met with Sheppard twice prior to the draft, once at the combine, and on Thursday in Vancouver.
“I knew there was some interest there, but anything can happen,” he said. “I had speculation, but I was just happy to be here and when I put that jersey on, it was an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Two days ago, the NHL honored another big man that can set up goals as well as he can score them. Joe Thornton was named the League’s Most Valuable Player, and he represents the style that Sheppard tries to emulate.
“I like to compare myself to him,” he said. “He’s a big guy and he uses his size to his advantage and he protects the puck. He can score goals and pass the puck. I like the way he plays and he’s good down low.”
“The cliché I think I’m most like is a ‘power forward,’ because I’m big naturally and I’m only going to get bigger. I like to play down in the corners and win one-on-one battles to get my legs moving and create opportunities.”
Sheppard couldn’t be happier about going to a city, and a team, that is so passionate about hockey.
“I had a friend (Jean-Claude Sawyer) that was drafted by the Wild and he only had good things to say about them. I’ve talked to other people outside the organization, and they’ve had nothing but good things to say as well. It’s a good city, a good arena, and overall, a good organization.”