Wild makes move in push to help its lagging offense

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2012 - 9:01 AM

Minnesota gave up Casey Wellman for Rangers veteran forward Erik Christensen.

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Erick Christensen beat Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky during a shootout last April in Philadelphia. Christensen's shootout prowess is one reason why the Wild picked him up from the Rangers for Casey Wellman.

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DALLAS — Chuck Fletcher can't wait anymore for Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse to return to the lineup.

"I have to manage assuming the worst," the Wild general manager said Friday of the two wingers, who are sidelined because of concussions.

In an effort to infuse skill into a lineup desperate for it, Fletcher acquired experienced but out-of-favor forward Erik Christensen from the New York Rangers for once-top Wild prospect Casey Wellman. If the Wild doesn't re-sign Christensen after the season, it receives a 2013 seventh-round pick.

Bouchard has been shut down since Jan. 4. Latendresse has played twice since Nov. 10 and is experiencing symptoms again after practicing this week.

"We can't assume that Bouchard and Latendresse are going to come back," Fletcher said. "We're going to hope for the best but we have to plan for the worst and that's a big reason for this move.

"If either one can come back, that's a bonus. But we lost two skilled players and Erik is a skilled player with experience and versatility and the things he does well, we think will provide much-needed depth to our roster."

Those things? He's a center and will make his Wild debut Saturday in Dallas on the third line between Darroll Powe and Carson McMillan. He can win faceoffs (52.9 percent in his career). He can play the power play. And, just look at YouTube -- he's a shootout whiz, 24 in all, which ranks ninth in NHL history. The Wild has lost four of its past five shootouts, which stings when making the playoffs could come down to one or two points.

"It would be nice to not lose any more points," said coach Mike Yeo, who coached Christensen in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. "It's an art. Certain guys are really good at it, and he's one of them."

Christensen's skill is obvious, but for some reason that skill has never translated to him being a top player. The 28-year-old Edmonton native, who skates all summer with Wild players Kyle Brodziak and Matt Kassian, has scored 62 goals and 156 points in 358 games during seven seasons with Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Anaheim and the Rangers.

Last year, Christensen and Derek Stepan flip-flopped on a line with Marian Gaborik. After the Rangers signed Brad Richards last summer, Christensen was dropped to the fourth line, and as a finesse player he couldn't adjust to the gritty, hard-nosed style that New York coach John Tortorella demanded.

'The right move'

He hasn't played since Dec. 17. Growing dust in the press box, Christensen requested a two-week conditioning stint last month with the AHL Connecticut Whale. He returned after the All-Star break but resumed his position as a scratch.

"It's been unlike any other year I've had," Christensen said. "When you're scratched every night, that's tough to deal with. Most athletes have a lot of pride, so it's been difficult. I can't even explain how excited I am to start fresh. This is the right move for me, and Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher know what I'm capable of."

In 2006-07, Fletcher's first year as assistant GM in Pittsburgh, Christensen scored 18 goals and centered the second line. The next year, the Penguins included him in a deal for Marian Hossa.

"We've been relying on a lot of players from Houston this year, and Erik's an experienced, talented NHL player," Fletcher said. "We want to make the playoffs this year, and we think he can make an impact on our team."

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