We all knew the 2009-10 season was going to mean some big changes for the Minnesota Wild. What we couldn’t have known is that a team with some already daunting challenges was going to be further tested by having to overcome numerous injuries. From a slew of concussions (Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Sykora, Brent Burns), a few players with H1N1 (Kim Johnsson, Antti Miettinen, & Cal Clutterbuck), and you guessed it, a wonky “lower body” (Martin Havlat). Historically in Minnesota(,) a “lower-body injury” was just code for a groin pull, and typically that groin belonged to Marian Gaborik. Enjoy it while it lasts Ranger fans. Gabby has a nasty habit of building up your expectations with frequent scoring outbursts and his sniper like shooting prowess. Then, just as you are reaching a sickening level of giddiness, he goes down awkwardly in the corner and sits out 65 games with a “lower body injury”, but I digress.
Under the previous Wild GM Doug Risebrough, the course of action would have been to stand pat. Or he would have added a dynamite player like Chris Simon. Yes, that Chris Simon. Believe it or not, I saw a Chris Simon Wild jersey the other week at a game. That thing will be worth a lot of money some day. There couldn’t have been more than 3 sold in the 6 weeks he was a member of the Wild. Again, I digress.
The good news is that Chuck Fletcher, the new Wild GM, has come riding into St. Paul like a white knight ready to restore the faith to the throngs of shamefully loyal Wild fans. In the last few weeks, Fletcher has added some good young talent with a myriad of attributes. Those acquisitions started on October 18th, when Chuck Kobasew was traded by the Bruins in exchange for a 2nd round pick in 2011, Craig Weller, and the rights to prospect Alexander Fallstrom. Thus far through 18 games with the Wild, he has amassed 4 goals, 2 assists, and -6 +/-. However, Kobasew electrified the sold out crowd at the Xcel Energy Center on November 27th with his 2nd career hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche. In my opinion, Kobasew is a great energy guy and still has his best years in front of him. Plus, he resembles Brad Pitt, so you know the Minnesota ladies are warming up to Chuck pretty quickly.
Andrew Ebbett doesn’t look like Brad Pitt, but he is quickly making a case as the sexiest man on the Wild’s 4th line. Ebbett was acquired on November 21st off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks, making the Minnesota Wild his 3rd team in 6 weeks. At this point, Ebbett is fighting for his NHL career. He knows that eventually he may be out of second chances. Well, if he keeps playing like he has over the last 7 games(,) then I would be happy to keep him around. The guy has oodles of hockey sense and knows where to be around the net. Obviously, the one knock on the guy is his size, but he sure doesn’t play like a guy afraid to get into the mix. On Monday night in Phoenix, Ed Jovanovski decided to dole out a forearm shiver/butt-end to Ebbett’s grill. No penalty was called on the play, but Jovo-Cop was slapped with a 2 game suspension. Jovanovski’s a repeat offender and clearly went at Ebbett’s head. As a result, Ebbett sat out against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night with concussion-like symptoms. Add him to the ever growing list of concussed NHLer’s. Overall, I really like Ebbett and think he certainly still has a lot to offer at the NHL level.
Two days after Chuck Fletcher surprised the Team of 18,000 with the second acquisition of the season, he shocked us with his third acquisition of the season. Somehow Fletcher managed to unload an injured Benoit Pouliot to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Guillame Latendresse. Both players were drafted in the 2005 entry draft. Pouliot was chosen 4th overall by the Wild and Latendresse was selected 45th overall by the Habs. It’s been said that both players needed a change of scenery to reinvigorate their careers. Well, mission accomplished so far, at least for Latendresse. He’s impressed me practically every shift. He plays physical, has good hands, goes to the net, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. On the other hand, Pouliot has yet to play a game due to an injury, but appears to be close to making his Montreal debut. I will admit that Benoit Pouliot has the talent and skill to be a great player, but I’m not sure he has the drive or mental toughness to bring that to fruition. The verdict is in, Latendresse is solid. I’ve been waiting for the Wild to get a young power forward, and they finally have one. The 3rd line of Latendresse-Brodziak-Clutterbuck is arguably one of the most dynamic 3rd lines in the league. This line is going to be fun to watch mature.
The Wild have begun to add some important pieces to the puzzle. Most importantly, Chuck Fletcher is starting to put his stamp on this team and get his personnel on the ice. As Herb Brooks once said, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.” It appears Fletcher has taken the first few steps towards finding the right players for the new era in Wild hockey.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Go Wild!