This article was originally written in September, 2016.
As Las Vegas has been awarded a National Hockey League expansion team that will begin playing in the 2017-18 season, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the league’s last expansion draft which saw the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets officially join the NHL prior to the 2000-01 season.
The rules for the 2000 expansion draft stated that each existing NHL team, save for Nashville and Atlanta (now Winnipeg), had the option of protecting either one goaltender, five defensemen, and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. Focusing specifically on the Wild, we’ll examine each pick they made along with their respective impacts on the franchise as it started out.
A review of the players selected by the Blue Jackets can be found here.
Expansion Draft Selections: The Goalies
Probably more well-known these days for his work as a broadcaster and analyst for TSN and the NHL Network, Jamie McLennan would only play a single season in Minnesota where he was relegated to backup duties.
The goalie nicknamed “Noodles” put up respectable numbers during the Wild’s inaugural season despite finishing with a record of 5-23-9. He would spend the next full season playing solely in the AHL before being traded to the Calgary Flames for a ninth-round draft pick.
Leading up to the expansion draft, the Devils traded for a handful of players whom they thought Minnesota might be interested in. Their hope was that their backup goaltender, Chris Tererri, would go unclaimed in favor of one of these new acquisitions.
New Jersey’s plan failed to materialize, however, as Minnesota general manager Doug Riseborough ended up taking the New Jersey puck stopper and forced GM Lou Lamoriello to make a deal to get him back. The Wild ended up acquiring defenseman Brad Bombardir from the Devils in exchange for a ninth-round draft pick and the return of Tererri.
Post-playing career, Tererri has continued to make a living in the game of hockey. He spent nine seasons as an assistant and goalie coach for the Devils’ AHL affiliate before he was named as New Jersey’s goalie coach in 2010-11.
Mike Vernon was 37-year-old and nearing the end of a spectacular career when he was picked in the expansion draft. The veteran goaltender was a five-time NHL All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup Champion but didn’t play a single game as a member of the Wild.
Mike Vernon’s number was eventually retired by the Calgary flames. Photo by Wikipedia/ Resolute.
Deciding to go with a younger tandem of McLennan and Manny Fernandez, Minnesota shipped Vernon back to Calgary where he had broken into the NHL some 18 years prior. He would spend two more seasons wearing a Flames uniform before calling it a career and having his #30 sweater retired in the rafters of the Scotiabank Saddledome.
A former recipient of the OHL Goaltender of the Year award, Zac Bierk served mostly as the starting goalie for Minnesota’s minor league affiliate, the Cleveland Lumberjacks, during the 2000-01 season. Bierk managed to get into one rather forgettable game with the Wild before quietly moving on to the Phoenix Coyotes organization as a free agent the following season.
Expansion Draft Selections: The Defense
Sean O’Donnell (Photo/Wikipedia Commons)
Minnesota chose to rotate the captain’s ‘C’ on a monthly basis when the team was starting out, and Sean O’Donnell went down in history as the first player to sport the letter for the Wild. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2000-01 season, the stay-at-home defenseman was sent to the Devils at the trade deadline in return for another defenseman who would wear the ‘C’ at one point in Minnesota, Willie Mitchell.
O’Donnell would go on to play another 10 NHL seasons following his brief stint in Minnesota and hung up his skates in 2011-12.
Ladislav Benysek shuttled back and forth between North America and the Czech Republic for a few years and only dressed in two NHL games prior to joining the Wild. Benysek was a regular on Minnesota’s blue line during their first two seasons but found himself relegated to AHL duty midway through 2002-03.
The demotion to the minors triggered a move back overseas for Benysek and he spent time playing in Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Denmark, Italy, and Scotland before retiring at the end of 2012-13.
The 3rd overall selection in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, Curtis Leschyshyn was a well-travelled veteran of 779 regular season games when he arrived in Minnesota. Leschyshyn would only spend part of the 2000-01 season with the Wild before being traded to the Ottawa Senators for a third-round draft pick.
Leschyshyn played three more years in Ottawa, where he passed the 1,000 career games milestone before calling it a career. He has since spent some time coaching in the Canadian junior ranks.
The Defense, Part 2
Chris Armstrong has the rare distinction of being selected in two expansion drafts as he was selected by the Predators in 1998 and then again by the Wild in 2000. Armstrong only played in three games with Minnesota during his tenure with the organization and would go on to play four more with Anaheim in between stints in the minors. The defenseman also saw some time in Switzerland and Germany before his playing days came to an end.
One of the names most commonly associated with the Wild’s early years is that of Filip Kuba. The Czech defenseman carries the title of most games played with the organization amongst all of its expansion draft selections.
The defenseman played five strong seasons with the Wild, twice donning the team captaincy. He also represented the organization in the 2004 NHL All-Star Game, before leaving for Tampa Bay as a free agent.
Filip Kuba (Photo by Andy Martin Jr)
Kuba would go on to spend another seven seasons in the NHL including a memorable 2008-09 campaign that saw him record a career-high 40 points and break an NHL record by registering a point as a defenseman in each of his team’s first eight games. The rearguard saw his career reach its conclusion following the buy-out of a two-year deal he had signed with Florida valued at $8 million.
Oleg Orekhovsky is a three-time Russian Super League champion and former eighth-round draft choice of the Washington Capitals. The Russian defenseman never suited up for an NHL game and played his entire professional career, save for two seasons, with Dynamo Moskva. He now spends his time coaching in the KHL.
Despite having 65 games of NHL experience, Ian Herbers spent the 2000-01 season playing for Minnesota’s IHL affiliate in Cleveland before heading overseas to play in Great Britain.
Ian Herbers was the assistant coach for the San Antonio Rampage. (Photo: Wikipedia.)
Herbers retired from playing partway through the 2003-04 season to become assistant coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. He would go on to coach in the OHL, ECHL, and CIS ranks before landing his current role as assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers.
Another defenseman who spent his entire playing career in his native country, Artem Anisimov racked up 36 points while dressing for 400 games in the RSL. Since retiring, the native of Kazan has turned his attentions to coaching and currently helps run a bench in Russia’s top minor league, the VHL.
Expansion Draft Selections: The Offense
Stacy Roest spent two respectable seasons in a Wild uniform before returning to the Detroit Red Wings’ organization in search of one last shot at an NHL career. When things didn’t materialize, Roest took his talents to Switzerland where he would spend the next nine years playing for the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. The former center may be best known for the six times he represented Team Canada at the Spengler Cup.
Technically a member of the 1998 Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings, Darryl Laplante never had his name etched on the cup as he was only a member of the team’s practice squad and didn’t meet the games played threshold in the playoffs. The forward failed to get into any games while sporting a Wild jersey and spent one year playing for the Lumberjacks before being traded to the Boston Bruins in March 2002. He wouldn’t make it past the AHL level again prior to his retirement.
The Detroit Red Wings won their second Cup in two years in 1998, a squad that Darryl Laplante was technically a part of. They won again 10 years later.
Scott Pellerin led the Wild in scoring during their inaugural season despite being traded to Carolina at the trade deadline and finished the 2000-01 campaign with a career-high 44 points split between the Wild and Hurricanes. The New Brunswick native spent the next couple years as a utility forward and only saw action sparingly as a member of the Bruins, Stars, Coyotes, and Blues.
Pellerin spent eight years in various AHL coaching roles before accepting his current position as the director of player development with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A true journeyman, Jim Dowd rarely spent an entire season in one city throughout his career. Dowd had the honor of being the first New Jersey native to ever suit up for the Devils and won the cup with his hometown team in 1995.
Jim Dowd (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
Minnesota provided Dowd with the only real stability of his career as he spent four seasons in the State of Hockey before he had to pack his suitcase again. In all, the veteran would suit up for 16 different professional hockey teams over the course of his 17-year career.
The Offense, Part 2
Sergei Krivokrasov is a former first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks and had led the Predators with 25 goals during their first season in the NHL. The Wild hoped that Krivokrasov would rekindle some of his expansion team magic but he struggled to make the same impact in Minnesota.
Krivokrasov’s time with the Wild was short-lived as he was traded to Anaheim shortly after the beginning of his second year with the team. The forward was later demoted to the AHL before returning to Russia where he would play for six more years.
Jeff Nielsen was coming off a career-high 18 point season when he was selected by the Wild. The American winger would play for Minnesota during their inaugural campaign in what also turned out to be his final season. The forward retired from hockey at the age of 30.
Best known for his fisticuffs and grittiness, Jeff Odgers didn’t play for Minnesota as he was selected by the Thrashers in the waiver draft prior to the start of the 2000-01 regular season. Odgers wore a letter on his jersey in nine of his NHL seasons and for four different franchises including the last three years of his career with Atlanta.
Marian Gaborik is the last active NHL player from the Wild’s inaugural season. (Photo/Wikipedia Commons)
A hulking winger standing at 6’8?, Steve McKenna had played 137 career games with the Kings before he was selected in the expansion draft. McKenna would only briefly be a part of the Wild roster as he was traded to Pittsburgh in early January of 2001 in exchange for center Roman Simicek.
Following stops with the Rangers and Penguins, McKenna went on to play the next six years in various pro leagues overseas including three seasons in Asia.
The Offense, Part 3
The Wild decided to take a flyer on Michal Bros, a center coming off a nice season in the Czech league and who had just won a gold medal at the World Championships. The former Sharks’ draft pick never did cross the pond and played his entire professional career in the Czech Republic and Finland.
Joe Juneau was well past his days as a high-scoring forward when he was selected in the expansion draft at age 32. Juneau didn’t see the ice with the Wild and was actually traded to Phoenix the same day as the expansion draft in exchange for Rickard Wallin. For his part, Juneau would play four more seasons before finishing his career in Montreal.
Darby Hendrickson and the Wild seemed like a match that was bound to happen. On top of being a Minnesota native, Hendrickson also won the Minnesota Mr. Hockey award in 1991 as the most outstanding high school player in the state and went on to play two years for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Hendrickson was a popular player in his time with the Wild and scored the team’s first-ever goal at the Xcel Energy Centre. The winger was traded to the Avalanche in 2004 and spent some time playing in Austria before returning to Minnesota as one of the Wild’s assistant coaches.
A big scorer in his youth, Cam Stewart put up decent numbers in the minor leagues but struggled to put it all together in the NHL. He would play one season with the Wild before being forced to retire due to concussion-related symptoms at the age of 29. Stewart currently serves as Director of Player Development for KO Sports.
Jeff Daw had put up big numbers in NCAA but failed to crack the Minnesota lineup. He silently left the team the following summer in favor of a free agent deal with Colorado. Daw would continue to toil in various minor league systems for the remainder of his playing career but did manage to suit up for one NHL game with the Avalanche.
Twice drafted into the NHL, first by Washington in 1986 and then again by Vancouver in 1988, Stefan Nilsson was a star player with Lulea HF of the Swedish Elite League and also represented his country at various global events. He chose to stay in Sweden where he was Lulea HF’s captain for several years and has his number retired by the team. He now serves as head coach for the team he once played for.
Missed Opportunities in the 2000 Expansion Draft
Martin St. Louis (Icon SMI)
As is always the case, hindsight is 20/20 and selecting a roster from the unprotected lists in retrospect is a much easier task. Keeping in mind the rules of the expansion draft and the selections made by the Blue Jackets, here’s a look at what the Wild roster could have looked like:
Evgeni Nabokov*, Manny Legace, Jamie McLennan
Lance Pitlick, Ladislav Benysek, Jaroslav Modry, Filip Kuba, Nolan Baumgartner, Ian Herbers, Brent Sopel, Jassen Cullimore
Steve Staios (played forward at the time), Eric Belanger, Martin Gelinas, Tony Hrkac, Stephane Matteau, Peter White, Pat Verbeek, Scott Pellerin, Boyd Devereaux, Martin St. Louis, Dave Reid, Rob Zamuner, Darby Hendrickson, David Ling, Len Barrie
*San Jose traded Andy Sutton and third and seventh-round draft picks to Minnesota so that they wouldn’t select Nabokov. This selection is based on Minnesota not accepting that trade.
Where Was Martin St. Louis?
Even today it’s a challenge to pick a competitive team with the limited selection of players that were available. It does, however, prove just how underrated Martin St. Louis was at the time. The diminutive forward was passed over completely in the expansion draft and could have been a cornerstone piece for either Columbus or Minnesota.