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The Big E 09-12-2006 02:47 PM

James Sheppard knows his time will come
 
James Sheppard knows his time will come

Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune
Last update: September 12, 2006 12:00 AM
Wild's No. 1 pick: Added strength is only the beginning


In June at the NHL draft in Vancouver, Wild first-round pick James Sheppard found himself engulfed in another man's shadow.
But that's OK, he insists.

"My time will come," Sheppard said Monday afternoon from Traverse City, Mich., where he's playing in a prospects tournament with the Wild. "Just getting drafted was an accomplishment. I'm not going to worry about being overshadowed."

Sheppard (6-1, 204 pounds), a strong two-way center, got a one-way ticket into the background on draft day when the Wild traded with the Los Angeles Kings for veteran star Pavol Demitra. On a day normally all about a team's long-term future, Sheppard -- the ninth overall pick -- was upstaged. He understands why.

"Demitra is a great player," he said. "I just hope I get a chance to practice with the guy a few times."

He might get that chance when the Wild opens training camp Friday. But he almost certainly will not make the team this season.

There was a time when being a first-round pick of the Wild guaranteed a player a good shot at NHL ice time. Gaborik in 2000, Pierre-Marc Bouchard in 2002 and Brent Burns in 2003 all made that jump.

But times have changed. For one thing, the Wild has more veteran talent on its roster than in past years. Also, the league's new collective bargaining agreement forces teams to be more careful when bringing up young players because their path to free agency is quicker.

And so Sheppard might get an opportunity to skate with Demitra, Marian Gaborik and all the other veterans if he is invited to camp. But he'll most likely wind up back with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in pretty short order.

That's OK with him.

"The way that I look at it, I have the rest of my career to play in the NHL," he said. "It would be nice to play this year. But I think I could use another year in juniors to progress as a player, to become more mature."

Maturity is something the Wild feel Sheppard already has.

He's a steady power player, adept at both ends of the rink.

"He's a bit like Mikko Koivu," Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson said. "But he's quicker than Mikko was at that stage."

A straight-ahead thinker

Sheppard impressed Thompson off the ice, as well. During his predraft interview with Sheppard, Thompson tried to get a read on the potential draft pick.

"His dad [John] is a civil engineer," Thompson said. "I remember asking him what he'd be doing if he wasn't playing hockey. And he said he'd be a civil engineer too. It makes sense. He's a logical, straight-ahead thinker. A calm guy."

Sheppard's also a patient guy. He has been playing in Traverse City despite a sore back he first hurt in mid-August while lifting weights. Still, he has been among the steadiest of the Wild's collection of prospects. Sore back or no, Sheppard hopes he has the opportunity to take part in Wild camp. After that, though, he'll probably be heading back to the juniors while waiting for his time to come.

"It's not where you were picked, it's how you ultimately perform," he said.

Etc.

Single-game tickets for the Wild's upcoming season will go on sale Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center box office and at noon on the team's website (www.wild.com) and at all Ticketmaster locations. A limit of four tickets per game can be purchased.

The Wild finished 0-3 in preliminary play in the NHL Center I.C.E. Prospects Tournament, losing 6-3 to St. Louis on Monday in Traverse City, Mich. Cal Clutterbuck and Morten Madsen had a goal and an assist for the Wild, and Peter Olvecky scored a goal. The Wild will face Tampa Bay at 1:30 p.m. today for seventh place.


Kent Youngblood kyoungblood@startribune.com


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