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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Posts about Rookies

Wild's on verge of bringing back Cody Almond

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 7, 2014 - 8:46 AM

The Wild's on the verge of bringing back a familiar face.

Cody Almond, a fifth-round pick by the Wild in 2007, played the past two seasons in Geneva of the Swiss Hockey League.

But Almond is expected to re-sign with the Wild in the next few days, I have confirmed. The news was first reported by the Tribune deGeneve. Almond's decision to again chase his dream of becoming an NHL regular comes a few weeks after he signed a five-year contract to remain with his Swiss team.

This move comes two summers after the Wild couldn't reach a contract agreement with Almond, who was then an up-and-down minor leaguer who opted for a big contract in Switzerland.

At the time, it seemed a bit of an impatient move on Almond's part because he was just 22 and about to earn waiver rights, which would have given him a real good chance at making the following season's team.

But Almond is turning 25 later this month and by all accounts has developed into a pretty solid player. Over parts of three seasons, the Calgary native played 25 games for the Wild, scoring two goals in limited minutes on the fourth line. He's a big, left-shot center who can skate, hit, play with an edge and play wing, too. Last year, he broke out offensively with Geneva, scoring 18 goals and 34 points in 44 games with 75 penalty minutes.

For Almond to spurn a five-year deal with Geneva means he will likely be armed with a one-way contract from the Wild. That will give him an inside chance of making the team. Coach Mike Yeo knows him well from his time in Houston. Basically, he provides depth.

I added on a few Cody Almond articles from yesteryear. One is when he traveled almost 9,000 miles to play eight games in 10 nights -- four for Houston, four for Minnesota.

The other was in 2011 when Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan crashed the Wild's rookie dinner in Chicago.


Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
January 30, 2011 Sunday
METRO EDITION
MICHAEL RUSSO'S SUNDAY INSIDER;
The kids are all right;
Two sports superstars dropped in on the Wild's "rookie dinner," dispensing some advice with a little hazing mixed in.

BYLINE: MICHAEL RUSSO; STAFF WRITER, STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul)

SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 10C

LENGTH: 964 words
 

No matter what Cody Almond accomplishes in his hockey career, the Wild rookie always will consider singing for Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan "icing on the cake."

Last Sunday at the Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Barkley, the former NBA great-turned-TNT commentator, and Strahan, the former New York Giants star defensive end-turned-Fox commentator, were dining at the same restaurant where the Wild was having its rookie dinner.

Wild center John Madden used to live in the same neighborhood as Strahan when Madden played for the Devils and Strahan for the Giants, so next thing you know, "Sir Charles" and the NFL's single-season sacks record-holder entered the room to, as defenseman Nick Schultz said, "hold court for two hours."

Barkley and Strahan told stories, especially about past rookie dinners during their careers. Rookie dinners are a pro sports tradition where the rookies buy the team dinner.

"Suddenly, Charles started getting all these crazy ideas in his head. I was just like, 'Oh man, here we go,'" rookie defenseman Jared Spurgeon said.

Yup, the rookie hazing of Spurgeon, Cody Almond and Clayton Stoner began.

"We gave a speech, told a joke, did three skits and sang a song," Almond said, laughing. "All the boys were howling pretty good and [Barkley and Strahan] were loving it, too," Almond said.

Spurgeon, who made his NHL debut on his 21st birthday Nov. 29, sang Travis McCoy's "Billionaire," where Spurgeon wants to be "on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen."

Guess the teammates' reaction on that one. "It was the first song that popped in my head, and the lyrics are pretty easy," Spurgeon said.

Almond, 21, did a scene from "Step Brothers" where Will Ferrell sings Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" -- the scene where John C. Reilly tells him, "You've got to know, that's a voice of an angel ... a combination of Fergie and Jesus."

"I got a positive reaction from it," Almond said.

Stoner, Spurgeon said, couldn't think of a song so "he just told some joke."

For Spurgeon, the thrill of meeting Barkley and Strahan just adds one more unforeseen experience during a dream few months.

"At the start of the year, I was never expecting to be at my first NHL rookie party," he said. "It was just great to hang out with the guys, laugh, tell jokes, eat some good food and meet Charles Barkley and Michael Strahan."

Spurgeon shelled out $5,000 for his share of the check. "It was the most expensive meal I've ever paid for and probably ever will," Spurgeon said, laughing. "I'll be eating microwaveable dinners for the next little while to save up some money."

Almond "got off the hook" and didn't have to contribute to the dinner bill because he didn't play during his four-game call-up. He said Barkley and Strahan jabbed each other over Barkley's Taco Bell commercials and Strahan's Subway commercials.

"They're two of the funniest guys I've ever met in my life. Strahan kept calling Bruno [Andrew Brunette] the 'White Oprah,'" Almond said, in hysterics.

The two former athletes also gave Wild players sound advice, telling them to cherish team dinners like that one.

Barkley told the players that they have "hit the lottery" and "have the best jobs in the world and to appreciate what you've got every day, always have fun coming to the rink in the morning and really take advantage of it because your careers are short and when it's over, you're going to miss it every day," Almond said.

Barkley spent much of his career reminding everyone that, "I am not a role model."

But he made quite an impression on Almond. "This is a great year for my development," said Almond, drafted in the fifth round in 2007. "I'm on the same page with all of management and the coaching staff. I'm going to keep developing and learning in the AHL. But next year is my year. Hopefully, next year I'll be there in Minnesota the whole season."

------------------------------


Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
November 15, 2010 Monday
METRO EDITION
Prospect's callup turns into a travel whirlwind 2.36.2 news hed rej hed righerej righerej

BYLINE: MICHAEL RUSSO; STAFF WRITER, STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul)

SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 12C

LENGTH: 447 words
 

TAMPA, FLA. - Cody Almond slept in Sunday, waking up in Peoria, Ill., after 12 o'clock -- understandable considering the odyssey he's taken across North America the past 10 days.

On Monday -- providing he's not retrieved by the Wild again -- the Wild prospect will complete an exhausting schedule, flying from Chicago to Houston after playing Sunday in his fourth game in four nights, sixth in seven and eighth in 10.

That's even abnormal for an up-and-down minor-leaguer. The eight games consisted of four games with the Wild, four with the Houston Aeros.

"I'm ready to come up at any time, but it'll sure be nice to go home, get some clean clothes and sleep in my own bed for a change," Almond, 21, said.

Almond has been recalled and reassigned twice since Nov. 4, a whirlwind that's taken him from Houston to Minneapolis to Columbus to Vancouver (Abbotsford) to Minneapolis to Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale to Tampa to Chicago (Peoria) to, Monday morning, Houston.

That's 8,769 air miles.

"I'll tell you what, with the mileage, that might be a record," Aeros GM Jim Mill said. "It's excellent for career."

This season, Almond has played four games with the Wild totaling 24 minutes, 9 seconds, almost what the two-way center played Saturday alone in Peoria. The Wild decided it was best to return Almond to the Aeros after he played only 6 1/2 minutes at left wing Friday at Florida.

"There's positives and negatives to both," Almond said. "A lot of ice time [with Houston] will help me develop, but it also helps being called up just watching the guys and practicing up there and learning from the coaching staff."

Almond's 10 days traveling the continent was with very few clothes. When he found out he was being recalled, he was dropping off his girlfriend at the Houston airport. He didn't have time to return home and pack, so roommate Carson McMillan "threw a bunch of stuff in a bag for me" and rushed it to the airport.

"He's not the smartest packer," Almond said. "He didn't pack me [normal shoes]. All I have is flip-flops and dress shoes, and no coat. It's been a struggle, but I've made it work."

Almond has been wearing the same two suits, "and they've been under in the belly of the plane quite a few times, so I'm not looking too hot."

Wild youngsters soaring this postseason; El Nino on kissing Bryz; Bollig suspended

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 10, 2014 - 6:10 PM

Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I’m taking a quick hop over to Chicago for Game 5 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (8 p.m., CNBC, KFAN).

The Wild and Blackhawks mostly had the day off. The Wild had an optional but a good amount of players were around. The Blackhawks made coach Joel Quenneville, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus available, so slim pickings.

Coach Q said Andrew Shaw (lower body) is unlikely to play Game 5.

Similarly, coach Mike Yeo said Keith Ballard (upper body) and Matt Moulson (lower body) didn’t made the trip to Chicago. Ballard, two games after returning from two months off with a groin injury, was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who got away with a head shot in my opinion on Zach Parise in the final regular-season meeting.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety got him this time, suspending him for two games. Not sure if that helps the Wild or not. 

Yeo said that Nate Prosser will likely slide back into the lineup. The other option is Jon Blum, who played well down the stretch for the Wild when Clayton Stoner and Ballard were both out at the same time.

The Wild improved to 5-0 at home with last night’s 4-2 victory to even up the series. It has outscored opponents 16-5 at home, holding Colorado and Chicago to an average of 19.6 shots per game. The Blackhawks are 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 20-7.

The Wild is 1-5 on the road, having been outscored 26-17. As we learned last round against the Avs, even though the Wild held a third-period lead and nearly won Game 5, it took its foot off the gas and lost. That put the pressure back on Minnesota, and the Wild had to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road in order to advance to its first second round in 11 years.

By winning two games at home, the Wild has turned the momentum in the series. The players and coach Mike Yeo know that can easily change with a road loss on Sunday night. On the other hand, if the Wild can sneak out a big ‘W’ at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that is clearly frustrated right now, the Wild will put itself in position to win the series at home Tuesday in front of its raucous crowd in an arena where it has been dominant all postseason.

“Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time, it’s not like we were that far off,” Yeo said. “We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we’ve picked our game up since then. Certainly when you look back to those two games, there were parts of it that were going well and then it was a big mistake that came back at us. I think we’ve cut down on our mistakes the last couple games and we have to make sure that we bring that in there. But with that, there’s been sort of a little bit more of an aggressive mindset in how we executed the last couple games and that’s allowed us to get on the attack a little bit more. It’s a fine line. We have to make sure that we’re playing smart, but we can’t be playing safe. We’ve got to take that attitude into their building.”

Big game, to say the least, which is why Yeo spent the afternoon reminding his team not to let its guard down. It’ll be a challenge, but the Wild has to somehow figure out a way to carry the same type of game it has played all playoffs long at home and carry it into the Windy City.

“It’s a huge game,” Dany Heatley said of Sunday. “But I don’t feel the vibe in here that we’re too confident or over-cocky right now. We know they’re a very good team, they play well in their rink. We’ll be prepared for that.”

The Wild continues to get tremendous play from its youngsters. From the Wild game notes, the five youngest forwards -- Wild rookies Erik Haula (23) and Justin Fontaine (26), playoff rookies Nino Niederreiter (21) and Mikael Granlund (22), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (22) – have combined for 13 goals (Granlund, 4), 27 points (Coyle/Granlund, 7), 81 hits (Niederreiter, 31) and 27 blocked shots (Granlund/Haula, 10).

“They’ve been great,” Heatley said. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re here. They've been great for us all year. Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success there having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work really hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.

“I think everyone needs to step it up to win games in the playoffs. I thought towards the end of the year those guys got better as did our whole team. We went into the playoffs playing pretty well and those guys have taken it to another level.”

We always talk about the youngsters, but we rarely include Jared Spurgeon because he has been around for four years. But he is 24 and he has been dynamite since the first couple games of the playoffs. Look at the skill plays he made last night, having his head up to make the stretch pass to Coyle for the Niederreiter winner, the settling of Mikko Koivu’s pass and the patience to score the power-play goal.

“I think as we’ve asked our team to get better, he’s taken his game to another level,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that we have so much respect for as a coaching staff. Not just the way that he executes, the poise that he has, his ability to create offense with his execution, but he’s a very good defender. He’s got a great stick, he’s very smart, he’s a great skater and he’s sneaky strong. He’s a huge part of our team but again to see where his game is at right now obviously offensively this time of year especially playing against a team like this, you need some offense from your defensemen, you need to create some offense from secondary guys whether that’s from your defense or whether that’s from third or fourth line guys. If you’re going to have any success, guys like that are usually stepping up.”

And then there’s Niederreiter, who is coming of age this postseason.

It seemed to start in Game 6 last round.

“I remember that game that even his first period was sort of OK, but then something just flipped,” Yeo said. “He flipped a switch there, and it was just an opportunity for us to say OK, there it is, that's the blueprint for what we need night after night. It's been a work in progress, but certainly that game, for me, was one where obviously, he played a great game, had all of the heroics of the Game 7, but for me, a lot of that started in Game 6.”

In Game 7, on Spurgeon’s tying goal that he set up, Niederreiter gave Spurgeon a kiss on the helmet. Last night, after Ilya Bryzgalov made back-to-back huge saves in the third to rob Jeremy Morin and keep the lead at 4-2, Niederreiter similarly pecked Bryzgalov on the helmet.

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez

“Yeah, that was such a big save. I was just so happy,” Niederreiter said, smiling. “It happened so quickly. Just being thankful I guess. I did that to Spurg when he scored the tying goal in Game 7. It’s silly but you appreciate stuff like that.”

The Wild leads the NHL with 16 goal scorers this postseason. Quite amazing for a team that lacked scoring depth during the regular season.

"Are you saying that we didn't see it during the year?" Yeo said, laughing, when I asked in probably a bewildered tone. "I feel like we're all improving. Everything's kind of cyclical, there's no question, but everybody's going out, everybody's contributing in the same way, but they're all doing it in their own way, too. The roles have been identified, guys have really bought into them, but just the team game, I think we've been very strong in that regard. Like we've asked of our guys, we've gotten better as a team, and that's what we want to keep doing here."

Talk to you after the morning skates Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.

Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.

Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.

So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).

Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.

With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.

Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.

If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?

The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.

You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.

With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:

On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."

Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”

Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”

Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”

Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”

Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting  to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.” 

Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”

Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”

Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.

Postgame: Wild pulls out a North Carolina 'W' by going 3 for 3 in the extra-extra session

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 9, 2013 - 10:34 PM

The Wild enjoyed its first trip to Raleigh in almost four years exactly. A little hoops, a nice dinner and two points.

It wasn’t the prettiest game of the Wild’s season, but the Wild played plenty of pretty games early in the season against L.A., Anaheim, Nashville and Toronto and didn’t grab the full two-point allotment.

So, as they say in the biz, they’ll take it.

3-2 shootout winners against Carolina. The Wild entered 0-3 in shootouts and 0 for 7 in shootout shooters this season. That blemish disappeared tonight when Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville scored career shootout goals No. 33, 31 and 19, respectively, to ruin Justin Peters’ night. The kid has given up eight shootout goals in 11 attempts in his career.

Parise said somebody (probably goalie coach Bob Mason) radioed from atop prior to the shootout that Peters bites on the fake. Parise deked and deked until Peters was faked out of his breezers.

The goals came after the Wild killed off a 67-second 4-on-3 disadvantage to end overtime. Boneheaded play by the Hurricanes as they much to the chagrin of their moaning fans working the puck astonishingly for 30 or 35 seconds on the delayed penalty.

“If it were me, I would have thrown it right on net and tried to get a whistle and get a 1:40 4-on-3,” Parise said. “We were all on the bench confused why they would do that.”

In regulation, Pominville scored a breakaway goal after he shrewdly read a blocked shot and took off in the neutral zone. Ryan Suter indeed blocked the shot and sprung Pominville for a breakaway goal, the 200th goal of his career. He now leads the team with 11 and has 7 in his last 7 games. He has 14 goals in his career vs. the Canes.

Josh Harding stopped 27 of 29 shots and was only beaten once in the shootout. He leads the NHL now with a 1.22 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Suter only (kidding) logged 35 minutes, 28 seconds. He was a horse. Yeo joked the Wild cut him a break tonight because he played 36:51 in Washington.

Yeo said playing Suter this much is not ideal, that he doesn’t want to play him 35 minutes every game, but if the game is on the ice, “who do you want on the ice? And if he’s not showing he’s tired and still can perform at a high level, when there’s two points hanging there for you, you want him on the ice.”

Marco Scandella was outstanding, assisting on Justin Fontaine’s tying goal in the second. Fontaine now has six goal, tied for third among rookies, and five in his past nine games. He also had a nasty gash around his right ear after the game from being clocked by a Suter clear.

Scandella was just solid as I said and Yeo said he hasn’t seen him play at this level.

In 12 games since he was scratched for three, Scandella is a plus-7 with only one minus-1 game included.

Sloppy game overall. Ice was awful. Carolina pressures well. Matt Dumba had a bunch of turnovers and only played 10 minutes. If Clayton Stoner can play Wednesday, he will likely sit again. But a lot of guys just seemed off tonight. Even Charlie Coyle played one of the poorest games I’ve seen him play.

Kyle Brodziak had a real good game with Fontaine and Matt Cooke. Brodziak had five shots and they were out there a lot against the Staaaaaaaals.

The Wild (10-4-4) has 24 points, tied for the most points in franchise history after 18 games (2006-07, a team I actually thought was better than the 2008 division winner).

Parise’s 33 shootout goals are tied for first in NHL history (9 years) and Koivu’s 31 are tied for fifth (but second-most). 

The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Pominville line has been the Wild’s offensive engine during its hot streak. The trio has 10 goals and 22 points in the past seven games.

That’s it for me. Wild is off Sunday, which means no blog unless there’s news. I didn’t see it, but Jason Zucker got a five and game for his second checking to the head penalty of the season. So he could see his second suspension on the horizon.

Rachel is covering for me Monday. I’ll be back with you Tuesday, although I plan a story on Niklas Backstrom in Monday’s paper.

Clutterbuck dealt to Islanders, reunited with Tavares; Wild acquires El Nino

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2013 - 5:53 PM

 

Early look at the trade...Clutterbuck and Garth Snow quotes are below
 
Chuck Fletcher didn’t trade into the first round of Sunday’s NHL draft, but in the mind of the Wild general manager, he did the next best thing.
 
Fletcher traded hard-hitting fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck and one of its two 2013 third-round picks to the New York Islanders for the Swiss kid known as “El Nino” -- Nino Niederreiter, a 20-year-old projected power forward who was drafted fifth overall in the 2010 draft.
 
“Two years from now it’ll be interesting to see how many of the kids that were selected today are at the level that Nino is right now,” Fletcher said. “This is a guy that’s knocking on the door. All the hype around the top picks today, and deservedly so, were on this guy two years ago and we’re just two years further down the road.”
 
The highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history, Niederreiter finished 10th in goal scoring in the American Hockey League last season, scoring 28 goals and 50 points in 74 games for Bridgeport. He’s a European who decided to play Canadian juniors early, scoring 130 points in 120 games for the Portland Winterhawks.
 
"I’ll try to bring my size, my physical play as a power forward, and would like to bring the game I played in junior. I’m capable of scoring goals," Niederreiter said.
 
Clutterbuck, 25, a third-round pick in 2006, scored 62 goals and 110 points in 346 games for the Wild. He gained a reputation as one of the NHL’s most physical forwards, leading the league in hits (1,010) his first three full seasons.
 
But Clutterbuck was in the last year of his deal, coming off a tough year and the Wild, which is also strapped for salary-cap space, felt it was time it could parlay him into a player it hopes can contribute offensively.
 
“We’re acquiring a 20-year-old guy who’s been a proven goal scorer at every level short of the NHL so far,” Fletcher said.
 
Clutterbuck’s will be reunited with John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009, draft. The two were linemates in Oshawa, where Tavares was a superstar.
 
Fletcher said there was a lineup of teams in the East that sought Clutterbuck. He told teams from the West not to bother.
The trade gives the Wild three of the 30 first-round picks in 2010 (Mikael Granlund, 9th overall and Charlie Coyle, 28th overall). In fact, two hours before that 2010 draft, Niederreiter said the Wild, which was undoubtedly taking a forward with its first pick, called Niederreiter for one final meeting.
 
There, he said, the Wild told him how much it was interested in selecting him. The Islanders chose him four picks earlier.
 
But the relationship between Niederreiter and the Islanders became strained last year when he was called up from Bridgeport and played a handful of minutes a night on the fourth line. He was in and out of the lineup.
 
The summation by many in New York and Niederreiter’s camp was that the Islanders only had Niederreiter on the team so they could stay above the cap floor.
 
Niederreiter asked to be traded. That upset the Islanders. Niederreiter wasn’t invited to training camp, nor put on the playoff roster despite the fact he had a strong year in the minors.
 
“I didn’t have a strong year [in 2011-12], I didn’t get the chance I was hoping for, and then I didn’t get invited to camp, but I knew I had to work as hard as I can,” Niederreiter said. “I never really heard anything from the team, so I was just a little bit of disappointed about that. I wanted to see if they still wanted me and stuff.
 
“Now I got a new opportunity and I’m very excited about it.”
 
He has a $2.795 million cap hit, but that's including performance bonuses. You can go 7.5 percent over the cap, and his bonuses are major award-laden. So it may not be an issue. If it is, that's a good thing.
 
Fletcher said it's good to have four guys on two-ways like Niederreiter, Coyle, Granlund and Jason Zucker and nothing will be promised to them.
 
Islanders GM Garth Snow

We got a good young player that’s established in the NHL. We love the element of grit and he obviously has had success putting the puck in the net and creating offense. He brings immediate help and we’re happy about the trade.

Whenever you have a good, young player it’s tough to make a deal. But if we didn’t get Cal in return, it’s not something we would have considered. We got a quality player that’ll be inserted into our lineup to help our team win.

(Problems with Nino?) I’m not going to speak from (Niederreiter’s) perspective, but for us, no.

You’ve got to give up something to get something, and that’s what we did.

Clutterbuck

I had some foresight that I might be traded ahead of the draft, so it wasn’t a total shock. It’s a good situation for me and I’m excited.

I’ve known John (Tavares) since he came into the OHL as a fresh-faced, 14-year-old. We go back a ways. And he’s obviously a great player. It bodes well for the franchise going forward.

It’s tough to leave (Minnesota) for sure. It would have been a whole lot tougher if it were a midseason thing -- the summer is a little different, you have a little more time to let it sink in.

 
More later
 
Here's a Clutterbuck-Tavares story from a few years ago
 
By MICHAEL RUSSO
 
If you want to witness a trash-talking extravaganza tonight, keep an eye on Cal Clutterbuck during warmups.
Just for fun, the Wild’s king of smack is planning to hurl a bunch of one-liners at the direction of Islanders prized rookie John Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft.
“Just to get him thinking, I’ll be in his ear,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “I know too many things about him, so it’ll be easy. Some of them I probably won’t even use because I’d probably break his heart if I did. I’ll make sure to tell him I still run his show.
“I’m excited to know what it’s like to play against him.”
Clutterbuck sure loved playing with Tavares, who scored the most goals in Ontario Hockey League history (215).
“He definitely helped my career, which I’m appreciative of,” said Clutterbuck, 22, who’s three years older than Tavares.
At the 2005 OHL trade deadline, Clutterbuck was dealt to the Oshawa Generals. The Generals were awful and were able to draft Tavares, then a 14-year-old phenom, first overall after the league created an “exceptional player” clause so Tavares could enter a year sooner than rules permitted.
“I used to make fun of him being so young. I called him, ‘My little pigeon, my little puppet,’” Clutterbuck said.
For two years, Clutterbuck and Tavares were linemates. In 2006-07, Tavares scored 72 goals to break Wayne Gretzky’s OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old and registered 134 points. That same year, Clutterbuck scored 35 goals and 89 points.
When Clutterbuck, the Wild’s third-round pick in 2006, left for Houston the following season, Tavares’ production “slipped” to 40 goals and 118 points.
“I realized last year how much I missed Cal’s presence,” Tavares said earlier this year. “He always had guys looking over their shoulders. He made guys second guess things and turn pucks over, and that created a lot of opportunities for myself.”
Clutterbuck said the most infamous hit was on superpest Patrick Kaleta, the former Peterborough Pete who now plays for the Buffalo Sabres. Kaleta used to take runs at Tavares every game until …
“I hit him with a football block,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “He was going into kill Johnny and I came out of nowhere and just hammered him. Just laid him out. He never hit Johnny again. Johnny was the franchise guy and my job was to make sure nothing too crazy happened to him.”
Tavares said Clutterbuck “wasn’t always the most-liked guy in the league. I think he probably was the least.”
After several false rumors minutes before the NHL draft that the Islanders were going to select Matt Duchene, Snow snatched up Tavares. He hasn’t disappointed, leading all NHL rookies with nine goals and 19 points.
“He’s exactly as good as everybody said he was,” Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said.
Like the debate currently going on now between 2010 draft-eligible OHL stars Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, every facet of Tavares’ game was picked apart last season.
“Go back and look what he did in junior hockey and just go look at his numbers. They’re ridiculous,” NHL analyst and former North Stars Director of Player Personnel Craig Button said. “I go back to [1984] with Mario Lemieux and Kirk Muller. There were public arguments that maybe Kirk should be No. 1.
“Mario Lemieux had more goals than Kirk Muller had total points. But people watched them so much, they were picked apart. It’s like in [2005]. People were saying if Phil Kessel was in that draft that Sidney Crosby might not go No. 1. That’s laughable.
“Last year, it was one thing if you were going to debate taking a 6-6 unique defenseman like Victor Hedman over Tavares. You can make that argument. But when people were trying to make the argument between Brayden Schenn and John Tavares, or Matt Duchene and John Tavares, I mean, come on.”
Clutterbuck found all the second-guessing of Tavares hysterical.
“There’s always been a question about his skating. Well, look at any level he’s played at, his skating has never hindered his ability to do anything,” Clutterbuck said. “He just manages to score. He’s 19 and he’s already a dangerous offensive weapon in the NHL. He’s going to score a lot of goals in this league.”

 

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