BEST WILD PLAYER Minneapolis 2002 - Marian Gaborik
A no-brainer. As the first player ever selected by the Wild (and the third overall in the 2000 draft), expectations were high from the outset for the then-18-year-old Slovak phenom. He hasn't disappointed. A strong, quick skater and top-flight puck handler, Gaborik set the tone in his Wild debut, when he scored the first goal in franchise history. Despite coach Jacques Lemaire's heavy emphasis on building the team around defense, Gaborik finished his inaugural season as one of the league's top rookies in a number of offensive categories, including shots, goals, and points. The Wild's all-time leading scorer showed marked improvements in his second season. In March 2002, he broke an uncharacteristic 12-game scoring drought by racking up seven goals and an assist in four games. The offensive explosion, which included a second career hat trick, earned Gaborik NHL Player of the Week notice, making him the first Wild player to be so honored. The Wild may have a way to go before they become a contender, but Gaborik is already there.