BEST WILD PLAYER - 2003
This pick is a no-brainer. Gaborik is the poster boy for the Minnesota Wild's shrewd past (he was the franchise's first-ever entry-level draft pick), glowing present (they made the playoffs in just their third year of existence), and even brighter future. The 2002-03 season saw the lightning-quick Czech left-winger notch his second straight 30-goal campaign, earn an invitation to the All-Star Game (where he proved to be the league's fastest skater in the special skills competition), and be dubbed one of the NHL's five best players by superstar player-owner Mario Lemieux. That's quite a whirlwind for the wunderkind who turned 21 this past Valentine's Day. Critics who carp that Gaborik's mid-season swoon caused him to score fewer points this season than in the previous year neglect to notice how his adherence to coach Jacques Lemaire's defensive-oriented system has improved his all-around game. In 2002-03, he scored more even-strength and game-winning goals than ever before, while improving his plus-minus ratio from minus-six to zestem has improved his all-around game. In 2002-03, he scored more even-strength and game-winning goals than ever before, while improving his plus-minus ratio from minus-six to zero to plus-12 over the course of his three-year career. The state of hockey in the State of Hockey will remain vibrant so long as he wears the Wild breezers.