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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Bagnall promoted for NHL debut, Falk demoted; and a Russo Rant

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild player moves, Wild pregame skate Updated: April 8, 2011 - 12:01 PM

Good morning from lovely Edmonton.

As that awesome Avett Brothers tune goes (that kinda sounds like Adam Duritz from Counting Crows is singing it): "Ahh, Edmonton, Edmonton, take me in."

I sat on the plane from Vancouver to Edmonton next to a middle-aged man who was flying for the very first time.

Now, first of all, imagine flying for the very first time and you pick as your destination: Edmonton!!!!

I mean, nothing against the great Alberta capital, but Edmonton????????

I mean, make it count, dude. Go to Hawaii, Monaco, Vegas, ... the Bronx. 

He was very skittish before the flight. Read the safety card over and over.

He was so nervous, he had me, someone who would rather be in the air than on the ground most days, about to freak out.

When he asked me where the life preserver was, "I said, 'You won't need that. We'll only be flying over mountains."

Of course, when we took off over the water, I said, "Oh sorry, I was wrong."

It was a fun flight. He settled down, I wrote my Sunday column, and all's good in the world.

You know I don't have much to say when I'm repeating my stupid Twitter jokes. By the way, if you don't follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib, you're missing out on some daily stupid Twitter jokes.

Also, at times, you get to see me flip out, like when I went completely off on Justin Falk last night, first for watching Kevin Bieksa run Niklas Backstrom, then I nearly jumped from the press box when I saw Falk do nothing in reaction to Jannik Hansen punching Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the face with the Wild trailing 5-zip.

This morning, Falk was reassigned for big, tough Drew Bagnall.

Now, in complete honesty, as I alluded after the Detroit game the other night, I thought Falk would be flipped for Bagnall because the Wild I felt wanted to reward the kid with his NHL debut. Bagnall's been a good soldier down in Houston. Remember, he was so impressive in training camp, he actually was one of the extra D that traveled to Finland as insurance in case of injury or illness.

But after last night, I was convinced Falk was a goner.

Yes, this was undoubtedly planned to bring Bagnall up, but sorry, a message has to be sent when you're a 6-foot-4 defenseman not playing big.

Trust me, if Bagnall watches an Oiler tonight punch Bouchard, a guy who played one game in 20 months because of a concussion, Bagnall will thump that Oiler all the way to Calgary.

I was thinking about Falk on the plane. He's got the chance to be a good defenseman in the league. What I like about him is he can make a good first pass and he's mobile for a big defenseman.

But you know what?

Jared Spurgeon is mobile and can make a good first pass. So can Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz and Brent Burns.

Want to make it to the NHL, you've got to figure out what's going to keep you here.

Being a big, tough defenseman will do that. Not watching Bouchard get punched in the head in the third period of a blowout loss.

Years ago, I think 1999, I was in Hull, Quebec, at Florida's rookie/training camp.

I was chatting with Ryan Johnson. He was probably 22 or 23 at the time and he thought he had the skill to be a big scorer in the league.

He relayed this story to me that one day Bryan Murray came up to him and told him, "Ah, dude, we have Pavel Bure. You're not going to be a big scorer in this league."

I'm paraphrasing here and if you knew BM the GM, you'd know it was a little more aggressive than that with probably a couple swear words mixed in. Murray's message: "You better figure out what'll keep you here, and that's being a hard-nosed checking center. Focus on defense, grit," in other words.

More than a decade later, Ryan Johnson is still in the NHL for Chicago.

He's a good penalty killer, a courageous shot blocker. And you know what? He hasn't even scored 50 goals in this league.

But he survived because he figured out the asset that he could bring, that would distinguish himself from others, and trust me, he brought it.

Kevyn Adams, same thing. This guy thought he could be a scorer. He turned himself into a clutch faceoff guy and shot blocker, and what happened to him? He broke his wrist blocking a shot and finished the game during Carolina's Cup-clinching Game 7 over Edmonton in 2006.

It was an incredible, incredible moment for a guy that had to turn himself into a certain kind of player to be successful.

Let me blunt: Justin Falk will not make it as a full-time NHLer if he thinks he can finesse his way through games.

He's not Nick Lidstrom. He needs to play big, he needs to play tough and he most of all needs to stick up for Wild playmakers with head issues who get punched in the head.

Onward: the Wild will have an optional morning skate in 35 minutes. I will be exercising my option because I am swamped with work and suddenly am dealing with an actual life issue back in Minnesota.

So if you're on the edge of your seat wondering if Cal Clutterbuck or Chuck Kobasew will play tonight against the Oilers, there's a possibility you may have to wait.

I know that may be tough on your fantasy teams: "Do I sit Kobasew tonight or do I play him?"

I'll try to find out, but if I can't, you're just going to have to be really surprised tonight. Hey, it's something to look forward to.

That's it for me. Work to do. I'll also be on the Team 1260 in Edmonton at 1:25 p.m. CT and the Team 1040 in Vancouver at 2:30 p.m. CT.

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