Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Excited, nervous Wellman on his way

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild news Updated: March 16, 2010 - 8:06 AM

Good morning.

I spoke last night with UMass center Casey Wellman, who if all goes as scheduled, should be an hour into his flight from Boston to Minneapolis and touching down in Minnesota some time this morning.

Wellman will sign a two-year, $1.8 million deal with the Wild. As mentioned in yesterday's blog, the first year is prorated to roughly 121K, the plan is for him to stick here the rest of the season, but he would not be eligible for the postseason because he's a post-trade deadline addition.

He could make his NHL debut as soon as tonight, although he's not expected to arrive until after the morning skate and it's been such a whirlwind for the 22-year-old, if I'd have to guess -- and it's just a guess -- I'd think they'd hold off debuting him until Thursday in Nashville. If that's the case, Nashville is another team that pursued him and in fact brought him into Nashville for last summer's Predators development camp.

Of course, the Wild's so banged up right now, the team may need him to play tonight.

According to his agent George Bazos, 21 other teams showed interest in Wellman. Several others were offering him to play right away, not just the Wild.

This was a cap deal, meaning Wellman got the rookie max. So in these cases, teams basically have to somehow woo the athlete because financially, there's nothing more you can offer than other clubs as long as they're also offering the max. GM Chuck Fletcher went all-out in his recruitment of Wellman, displaying to him how thin the Wild is at center, not just on the roster, but on its reserve list, and that he'd have an excellent chance to make next year's club.

Got some emails asking why Wellman was never drafted. Yes, he was a late developer, perhaps, but remember the NHL is an 18-year-old draft. So I think he just wasn't seen as much as he was obviously now when he thrust onto the scene at UMass as a terrific freshman and high-scoring sophomore.

Remember, Wellman grew up in Northern California, and after talking to him last night, his parents had to make an hour's drive every day just to get him to practice. So the family had to make a decision as to whether he'd pursue a hockey career. So as a 14-year-old, he went to boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, (Cranbrook Kingswood) and eventually played at Cedar Rapids (USHL) with his high school linemate Dean Chelios (Chris' son).

So if you look at where Wellman was development wise as an 18-year-old, it makes sense why he fell through the draft cracks. Boy, financially, it sure worked out.

I'll write a lot more on Wellman in the coming days and weeks, but GM Chuck Fletcher, who declined to comment until today, hopes to annually dip into the college free-agent market to augment the Wild’s draft selections. The Wild still has interest in a few other college players still playing.

Fletcher was in Anaheim when fellow Ducks assistant GM Dave McNab made a habit of pursuing college UFA's. Several have worked out. Obviously former GM Bryan Murray (now Ottawa GM) and scout (now Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray) deserve a lot of that Ducks credit, too.

Historically, most college UFA's turn out to be role players in the NHL, but there's no doubt Wellman is going to be given the opportunity, ice time and responsibilities in the future to develop into an impact player. Obviously, there have been a number of college UFA's that turned out to have solid, impact NHL careers, like Dan Boyle, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner and Chris Kunitz.

Wellman is the fifth college free agent the Wild's signed. The others were Steve Aronson (now Minnetonka assistant coach), Travis Roche, John Scott and Mike Madill.

I'll be back after the morning skates, but in the meantime, if you didn't see, here's a cool story written by Brian Stensaas on the Wild's equipment staff and how their night just gets started after the Wild returns from road trips.

Cool photo gallery, too. By the way, Brent Proulx didn't dress to the nines just for his big photo shoot.

The dress code on the team plane is shirt, tie and jacket, and he had just gotten back from Buffalo.

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