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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Wellman, Falk arrive, NHL debuts next?; Injury updates; Sources: Wild close to signing Hackett

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: March 16, 2010 - 5:15 PM

(Update): Hackett deal is signed and sealed. Three-year entry-level deal. He'll turn pro and end up in Houston in the fall. His junior team, Plymouth, begins the postseason Friday.

Tons of news down at the arena today.

First, midway through the morning skate, Casey Wellman, fresh off signing a two-year, $1.8 million contract, arrived. He quickly got into uniform, met the team on the ice toward the end of the skate and got his feet moving during some drills with assistant coach Dave Barr.

He will skate in warmups and be a gametime decision to make his NHL debut, coach Todd Richards said. When he plays, he will become the 24th California-born player to skate in an NHL game. Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik (San Francisco) is the only other active one right now.

Owen Nolan skated today and looks like he'll play, so if Wellman plays, it could be in lieu of a James Sheppard or somebody else.

The native of Brentwood, Calif., not the L.A. burb but Northern California, Wellman was most amazed that he was on the ice with Nolan, the former San Jose Sharks captain. Wellman grew up a Sharks fan, played for the San Jose Junior Sharks and was a huge Nolan fan.

It's been a whirlwind for the kid, who flew in with his parents, Brad and Jodi. It was an intense, nerve-racking three days as 22 teams came after him. They narrowed the list of 22 to six. According to father Brad: Minnesota, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Nashville, Columbus and San Jose.

All six offered contracts, as well as others.

Brad said Ottawa and Philadelphia "pushed really hard." Edmonton pushed hard, but way at the end, so it was too late, said Brad. Why Minnesota? The clinchers were GM Chuck Fletcher swooped in to meet with he and his parents and Casey called Chris Chelios, the future Hall of Famer, to run down the final teams. Casey is close friends and former teammates with Chelios' son, Dean, and used to hang out at the Chelios household.

I've got tons of great stuff on the kid from scouts, his parents, Fletcher and the father of a former teammate, but I'll save most the stuff for my articles, which should appear in both Wednesday's and Thursday's papers.

Just real quickly, the Wild is in negotiations with one other college free agent. They don't know if they'll be able to sign him, but the two high-end guys they were interested in were Wellman and Princeton's Cam MacIntyre. Sources say he's signing with San Jose eventually.

As seasons end, they'll probably get in on a couple other players, but none are nearly as coveted or high-end as Wellman.

Fletcher made very clear how critical it is to get in on college free-agents. He said this will be the norm from now on in Minnesota and he hopes to sign at least one annually. He gave much credit to scout Brian Hunter and director of hockey administration Shep Harder, who scouted Wellman several times, along with assistant GM Brent Flahr.

As for injuries, defenseman Greg Zanon has a sore ankle and skated for 10 minutes this morning. He'll try to give it a go in the morning skate, but if he can't play, Justin Falk will make his NHL debut. Falk did not skate this morning and didn't skate yesterday either as the Aeros didn't practice because they flew from Chicago to Houston.

Niklas Backstrom won't back up tonight because of a groin injury, but he skated this morning and feels a little better. He said he hurt his groin against Florida, but it felt fine in Wednesday's practice but got worse Thursday in Detroit.

Shane Hnidy skated today, but not in the morning skate and won't play. Brent Burns (hip, abdominal muscles) is a ways away. Derek Boogaard (cuts, nose) is out and isn't skating. Clayton Stoner (sports hernia) took part in the morning skate.

Also, according to sources, the Wild is close to signing Matt Hackett, their third-round pick in 2009, to a three-year entry-level deal.

Talk to you later.

 

 

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