Jordan Greenway returned to Boston University with two goals for this season: to win an NCAA championship, and to polish his leadership skills and consistency. While he didn't attain the first, his progress toward the second convinced him he was ready for the NHL.
The 21-year-old made the leap Monday, signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Wild the morning after BU lost to Michigan in the NCAA Northeast Regional final. The 6-6, 226-pound forward was scheduled to join the team Monday night in Nashville, and coach Bruce Boudreau said there is "a good chance" Greenway will make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Predators.
The Wild's second-round pick (50th overall) in the 2015 NHL entry draft, Greenway raised his game this season with a career-high 35 points for the Terriers and a detour to Pyeongchang, South Korea, to play for the U.S. at the Olympics. His combination of size, strength and skill will bulk up the Wild for the playoffs, when physicality and net-front presence are paramount. Neither Boudreau nor Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher wanted to heap too much pressure on a player who just finished his third college season, but they are intrigued by what Greenway could bring.
"It's a pretty big jump from college to the NHL," Boudreau said. "Some people can do it right away, some can't. We're going to give him the opportunity.
"I don't think he's going to play 22 minutes a night. But he's one of the reasons there weren't a lot of moves done by our team at trade-deadline day, because we figured we'd get him, and he'd be a really good addition at this point of the year. … This is a big talent, a talented kid. We'll see. We want to give him the opportunity to help our team win."
To make room on the roster, the Wild sent forward Zack Mitchell to Iowa of the American Hockey League.
Agents Scott and Brian Bartlett said Greenway's contract includes the maximum entry-level salary, $925,000 per season, and performance bonuses for the final two years. Brian Bartlett said Greenway made the decision to turn pro following Sunday's 6-3 loss to Michigan, after speaking with BU coach David Quinn and his staff.
Greenway made the all-Northeast Regional team to cap a career that produced 28 goals, 64 assists and 192 penalty minutes in 112 games. An alternate captain, he has been centering the Terriers' top line. Boudreau anticipates playing him at left wing, where Greenway can use his size to muscle past defenders.
The coach noted that the Wild has lacked players willing to go to the front of the net and stand their ground. That is Greenway's calling card, though he also can get up the ice quickly, has a soft passing touch and possesses a playmaker's vision.
"He's going to have to learn the league and figure out how his game translates at this level," Fletcher said. "But his skill set is pretty impressive.
"I certainly think he can fit in our top 12 [forwards]. He's responsible defensively, he's strong on the wall, he's strong on pucks down low. He has the ability to contribute in a lot of ways."
Greenway picked up his scoring pace for BU after returning from the Winter Games, finishing with a career-high 13 goals. He played all five games at the Olympics, testing himself against older, stronger players, including many from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League — considered the world's second-best league behind the NHL. He also carried a high profile as the first black American to play hockey at the Winter Games, a distinction he embraced.
Quinn saw a difference when Greenway rejoined the Terriers. His confidence had grown throughout his time at BU, but the coach believes the Olympics took it to "a whole new level."
"He came back with a little bit more swagger," Quinn said. "One thing I've said to him all the time is, 'Why can't you be one of the next great American players?' I think he's slowly starting to realize how good he is and how good he can be."
Brian Bartlett said Greenway now feels ready to step in and assume any role the Wild asks of him. He has become more consistent and more assertive, taking it upon himself to deliver the well-timed hit or the critical goal his team needs.
While Fletcher and Boudreau both noted that being part of the team this spring will give him a leg up on next season, his agent said Greenway doesn't plan to just take in the view.
"It's going to be a lot more difficult in the NHL," Bartlett said. "But he has the mind-set that he's not going to sit back and wait for opportunities to come. He's going to go make them."