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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Wild signs draft pick Darcy Kuemper, adds to wealth of goalies

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: May 26, 2011 - 4:33 PM

It looked hairy for awhile, but goalie Darcy Kuemper, the Western Hockey League's Player AND Goalie of the Year, has agreed to his entry-level deal with the Wild.

Kuemper, 21, had a sick year for Red Deer, leading the Rebels to a Central Division title with a WHL-best 45-12-5 record. He led all WHL goalies with a 1.86 goals against average, .933 save percentage and 13 shutouts, which tied for a WHL single-season record.

He was the Canadian Hockey League's Goalie of the Week three times and is nominated for the CHL Player of the Year.

The three-year deal begins next season, when he will turn pro. The deal has been on the table for awhile, and there was a misunderstanding on the side of Kuemper that he could become a free agent if he didn't sign by June 1.

The truth all along was he would have had to re-enter the draft, and then his leverage would have been gone. Because he played his overage year this past season in the WHL, he has to turn pro next year.

So any team that drafted him could have offered him anything less than the rookie max -- or potentially less (but definitely not more) than the Wild.

The former sixth-round pick was always getting his max $90,000 annual signing bonus and $67,500 minor-league salary from the Wild, so basically, this was not the contract to fight over.

Suddenly, the Wild has interesting decisions next season and in the future on the goaltending front.

Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper and Dennis Endras are all signed, with Endras coming over to North America from Germany. There's not room for all three in Houston. Plus, remember, Johan Gustafsson's also in the system.

In Minnesota, as of now, Niklas Backstrom is the No. 1 obviously. Who will be the No. 2?

Do you re-sign Jose Theodore, do you re-sign Josh Harding, do you sign a veteran backup, do you see if you're comfortable with Endras? It won't be Hackett or Kuemper. Goalies take longer to develop (I'd think the Wild would look at Pekka Rinne's development path in Nashville and understand that), so I'd think the kids will get playing time in the minors.

There's suddenly a wealth of goalies in the organization, which means eventually -- not imminently, but eventually -- you can bet GM Chuck Fletcher will look to use these assets as an area of strength in making trades.

After all, there's only one goal in Minnesota. They can't all play here.

This is why it's always important to have depth in the organization.

Regardless, good day in Minnesota. Kuemper's a good goalie, a great prospect, and now he's signed on. Next up, maybe, will be Kris Foucault. He's the only other one of the 2009 draft picks I'd expect the Wild to perhaps sign before June 1 (so long Jere Sallinen, I think, and the Wild doesn't have to sign Erik Haula and Anthony Hamburg now because they're in college).

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