Wild will look to AHL to populate fourth line
ST. PAUL — After deciding not to make a trade during the NHL draft, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher turned his attention to what's in store for the rest of the offseason.
Fletcher clearly has a main goal of re-signing both Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, both of whom are in line for hefty raises. He also still might trade someone like Marco Scandella to free up salary cap space. Aside from that, Fletcher noted that the Wild might have to "invent a fourth line" using the farm system.
That means some players who spent most of last season with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League could be in line for an NHL role next season, especially considering Chris Stewart is perhaps the only logical fourth-line player currently under contract.
Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde has seen those minor leaguers more than anyone else and said he believes there are a number of players who might be ready for the jump to the next level.
"It was exciting that when guys were called up last season they performed well," Lalonde said. "I think there are guys that are ready to do that again this season."
Here are five players who should have an opportunity to make the NHL roster next season as well as what Lalonde had to say about each.
2016-17 season (AHL): 12 games, 5 goals, 3 assists
Why he could help the Wild: Kunin is the player with the most upside in the farm system. He decided to turn pro after his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin and quickly 3adapted to the AHL, recording a hat trick in his third game with the Iowa Wild. Kunin will be given ample opportunity to make the NHL roster out of training camp.
What Derek Lalonde has to say: "Luke Kunin is a guy that will be battling hard to make the team out of Day 1. If not, he'll be knocking at the door throughout the season."
2016-17 season (AHL): 73 games, 9 goals, 29 assists
Why he could help the Wild: At 30 years old, Cannone is a veteran of the game. He's a solid two-way forward who isn't going to turn many heads when he's out there. That said, he's responsible in both ends, which is exactly what the Wild are looking for out of their fourth-liners.
What Derek Lalonde has to say: "That was a really good signing by Brent Flahr. It gave us consistency up the middle. No matter what happened, he was always there for us. I'm ecstatic that he had an opportunity in the NHL. That experience is going to be very valuable."
2016-17 season (AHL): 62 games, 11 goals, 11 assists
Why he could help the Wild: Mitchell played 11 games in the NHL last season and failed to register a point. Although he was rarely a threat to score, he was normally in the right position in the defensive zone. His experience working with coach Bruce Boudreau last season should help.
What Derek Lalonde has to say: "What he had showed Bruce is that he can trust him. I don't think Bruce needed him to produce offensively or anything like that. He needed to be responsible. He managed the game well. He stayed above pucks. He never got caught in the defensive zone."
2016-17 season (AHL): 49 games, 8 goals, 2 assists
Why he could help the Wild: Gabriel would instantly make the Wild tougher. That said, he also makes them slower. Gabriel played 13 games in the NHL last season and got into five fights. He has to find a way to balance being a tough guy with being a contributor in both ends. If he can do that, then there might be a spot on the roster for him.
What Derek Lalonde has to say: "He needs to be hard to play against. That is how he's going to make an impact in the NHL. He has been that for us. He establishes the forecheck well. He works hard below the circles. Sometimes he will over-handle pucks and try to do too much. Those are areas where he's still growing. As the game starts slowing down, he will see more success. That is a natural progression."
2016-17 season (AHL): 67 games, 11 goals, 13 assists
Why he could help the Wild: Bertschy is on this list simply because he's been called up before, and with certain players gone from the AHL roster, he might be given more of an opportunity to shine this season. Although he isn't considered a dynamic player, Bertschy plays with a lot of emotion, which could endear himself to the coaching staff during training camp.
What Derek Lalonde has to say: "I think a guy like Christoph Bertschy could give them energy and pop. You need those depth guys. That is the nature of this NHL."