Darroll Powe began his professional hockey career at the same time he was finishing his thesis at Princeton University. That's not the typical launch to an NHL career, but he got a well-rounded education in more ways than one.

Powe shuttled back and forth between his Ivy League school and the school of hard knocks as an undrafted player trying to earn a spot on the Philadelphia Flyers's minor league team.

"That was tricky," said Powe, who wrote his thesis on adolescent drug use. "I'm happy I finished [school]."

Powe's ability to multi-task also should come in handy in his current line of work. The Wild acquired Powe in a trade with Philadelphia this offseason with the idea of using him in a variety of roles. He's a self-described "grinder" who can play center or wing on different lines and different situations.

Powe spent most of training camp as a winger on the Wild's third line. Then came word two days before Saturday's season opener against Columbus that he would center the fourth line after the Wild waived Eric Nystrom.

Powe shrugged when asked about his new role.

"I kind of had to learn and adapt," he said. "When coaches ask me if I play a position, I just say yeah because I don't want to be sent somewhere. You just kind of jump in and do whatever you can to help."

Sounds simplistic, but that's his game. Nothing too fancy about it. He brings energy, toughness and a willingness to hit anything that moves. Powe logs a ton of time on the penalty kill unit and tries to create havoc on the forecheck.

He led the Flyers in hits (196) last season and had the second-most shorthanded minutes (257) among their forwards.

Basically, the guy does the dirty work. And loves it.

"I just bring hard work, a grinder game," he said. "Little bit of penalty kill experience. That's something I'm comfortable doing. That's kind of been my role the last few years. It's something I can bring to the table."

Determined to find more toughness and gritty play, the Wild traded a 2013 third-round pick for Powe and then signed him to a three-year, $3.2 million contract. The acquisition didn't spark as much attention as the arrival of scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, but adding Powe's versatility to the mix has the potential to be significant.

The Wild enters the season with major questions defensively, so it needs to be disruptive up front. The team finished middle of the pack in the NHL in penalty killing last season, so Powe should help improve that unit, too.

Plus, he brings experience. He played in 40 playoff games in three seasons with the Flyers.

"He's a hard-nosed hockey player," forward Cal Clutterbuck said. "He's got some skill, and you can see he's a smart guy. He knows the game. He's definitely made us better already."

And smarter. I mean, the guy graduated from Princeton with a degree in sociology. That should raise the Wild's overall GPA, right?

"School was something I always took pride in and something I wanted to continue after high school," he said. "Growing up, my dream was to play college hockey. When I got the opportunity to apply to Princeton, it was a no-brainer."

The same can be said of the Wild's initial plan to pair Powe and Clutterbuck on the same line with Kyle Brodziak at center. Clutterbuck has led the league in hits the past three seasons. Powe is cut from the same cloth. That line combination has the potential to drive opponents nuts.

Perhaps that will happen eventually, but coach Mike Yeo opted to split them up to start the season. Yeo said nothing is set in stone in terms of how he plans to use Powe.

"He's a guy who will be able to bounce around," Yeo said. "One day he might be on the third line. One day he might be on the fourth line. One day he might be even higher than that. He's a guy who adds a lot in terms of the roles he can bring to the table and different ways he can contribute to our team."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com