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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Prosser signed; Same lineup tonight; Stoner on trip

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 18, 2010 - 3:47 PM

Good afternoon from beautiful Nashville, where it's 60-something degrees and sunny. No local TV tonight, so follow me at www.twitter.com/russostrib for in-game updates.

Nashville, I'd put it on par with Guillaume Latendresse or James Neal or Shea Weber or Patrick Sharp -- underrated.

Just a cool city, and quite the music scene. One of these days I'm going to take the Ryman Auditorium tour, which I never seem to find the time to do. I have been to the Charlie Daniels Band Museum though.

So, the Wild officially signed Colorado College senior defenseman Nate Prosser to a one-year contract.

This is meant for don50 on the previous blog, but I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher this morning and he confirmed the Wild signed Prosser for two reasons:

1) He's from Minnesota

2) He's American

Actually, I can't remember if it's 1) He's American and 2) He's Minnesotan, but nevertheless, the Wild's not even sure Prosser can skate.

Fletcher's about to trade Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse in a package for Erik Westrum and Tyler Hirsch to make don50 happy. I just wish Fletcher would make up his mind. He so values American college kids like don50 suggests, he drafted Nick Leddy for that sole reason and then flip-flopped and traded the guy for some Canadian defenseman. 

For the record, but I did a search, don50, and I never called anybody "uninformed biased homers."

Oh, and for the record, too, the Wild's biggest draft mistake in history was an American college player.

OK, now that I've alienated just about everybody, my point is Nate Prosser is a Wild player today because he's a quality free-agent defenseman that a very Canadian front office and scouting staff, and yes a couple of Americans, Brian Hunter and Shep Harder, value solely because they believe he's a very good hockey player.

To Fletcher, Elk River might as well be in Timbuktu.

The Wild are signing college free agents right now not because they're American college kids, but because the Wild -- recently ranked No. 29 in the Hockey News Future Watch and No. 30 in draft performance (since 2005) -- are trying to influx talent into a very porous system.

One way they're hoping to remedy this is by bringing in more mature 20-somethings like Wellman and Prosser to go along with the unproven 18-year-olds that come in an entry draft that at the very least may need three or four years of developing.  

The Wild seems to be doing a good job at this, but as my new best friends, johnsq316 and gregor22, said, it's just a bonus that these guys are from Minnesota or the great red, white and blue. 

Now, where I do agree with don50, is Fletcher recognized a hole in coverage and reorganized his staff to identify the top college kids and pursue them early and aggressively.  

But I will say this -- from 2005-09, most college free agents turn out to be up-and-down players between the NHL and minors or third-and fourth-liners or fifth-and-sixth defensemen. Very few impact guys. I'm looking at the list now, and I'd say the exceptions are maybe Ryan Carter and what's looking to be Tyler Bozak. Maybe Dan Sexton? Great start, that's for sure. But this is out of 109 pre-2010 signings.

Interestingly, three are on the Wild roster right now -- John Scott (Michigan Tech), Andrew Ebbett (Michigan) and Jaime Sifers (Vermont, and ecstatic with Hockey East "representing," with the Wellman signing).

I don't want to put pressure on the kid, but I've talked to about 10 non-Wild scouts in the last few days and a couple of non-Wild front-office people, and they all think Casey Wellman's got a shot to be a real player.

Now, as for Prosser, he and ill-stricken, but feeling-better assistant coach Dave Barr should be touching down in Nashville in 22 seconds. With all these signing bonuses Craig Leipold's shelling out due to Fletcher's value of Americans, it'd sure be nice if Barr and Prosser shared a cab.

Prosser will attend his first Wild game tonight. He'll meet with the American-hating Star Tribune beat writer right before the game, and by all accounts, this is a great kid. I've gotten lots of emails from very excited friends or fans of his, and they tell me the dude's a good guy.

Now, because of his age -- soon to be 24 -- he had to sign a mandatory one-year deal. He's also not eligible to be sent to the minors because the deal starts this year, it's post trade-deadline, he's a college free agent and not a draft pick. There's like a million loopholes as to why he can't go to Houston.

So he will be on the Wild's charter tonight to Columbus, will get on the ice in his new Wild garb tomorrow morning for the first time and will spend the rest of the season practicing up with the Wild. The plan is for him not to play though.

Now, I know it sounds silly, but like I said, it was mandatory, his contract expires July 1. The Wild will tender him a qualifying offer a few days before to retain his rights and they'll re-sign him after July 1 as a restricted free agent. The signing was simply to secure Prosser's rights.

Truth be told, even though Fletcher values American college kids, he sent us to assistant GM Brent Flahr for quotes because he knows Prosser a lot better. Flahr, who was in Toronto about to scout a bunch of OHL and QMJHL playoff games because the Wild values Canadian juniors too, believes he'll be a good pro, but wanted to caution fans not to think he'll be a point-getter from the back end like his last very good season at CC.

Lastly, same lineup tonight as of now, unless suddenly a Wild player gets sick like I've been for a week now. So Wellman won't play. Clayton Stoner is on the trip and he worked hard this morning with Wellman and Nik Backstrom.

Stoner said he didn't suffer a setback yesterday, that his muscles are just tired and sore. Remember, he only had sports hernia surgery a month ago roughly.

Backstrom, like I joked with him, how far they've fallen? He had the sit-in-the-middle-of-the-room folding chair this morning.

OK, I'm lightheaded. Good day everyone, and I hope don50's got a sense of humor because I mean no disrespect.

Oh, and lastly (there's always a lastly), if you want to know more about me (sad I know), check this out

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