Chuck Fletcher said he had planned all along to add another veteran NHL defenseman this season. It’s probably not a coincidence, though, that the day after dressing five blue-liners with 140 games or fewer of experience Sunday against Vancouver, the Wild general manager called Brett Clark’s representation.
“You can never have enough defensemen,” Fletcher said.
Clark is a two-way defenseman who has played 681 games over parts of 13 seasons with Montreal, Atlanta, mostly Colorado and most recently Tampa Bay.
Since the lockout, he was playing for Edmonton’s farm team in Oklahoma City, averaging nearly a point a game and looking for a home. He has found it in Minnesota, signing a prorated $900,000 contract for the rest of the season.
Clark, 36, passed his physical Wednesday and will take the ice for the first time Thursday. He won’t play, however, until he participates in a few practices, coach Mike Yeo said.
“I think the defensive group has been doing a really good job for us, but this is a guy that adds veteran presence, adds puck-moving ability and has been around and thinks the game well,” Yeo said. “It adds a little bit of internal competition, which is not a bad thing.”
For now, the Wild plans to keep eight defensemen, Fletcher said. Yeo will have options, but more than likely Justin Falk and Nate Prosser will both become extras.
“You realize how quickly things can change in this league,” Yeo said, referring to injuries. “We’ve been fortunate — knock on wood — but things can change very quickly, so to have depth is very important.”
Clark, a native of Wapella, Saskatchewan, and a college player at Maine, was drafted by Montreal in 1996. He can play the penalty kill and power play, moves the puck well and is known as a shot blocker.
In 2006-07, he led the NHL in average shifts per game (35.1). In 2008-09, he was second in the NHL with 238 blocked shots. In 2010-11, he scored 31 points, blocked 157 shots and had 117 hits to help lead the Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals
Last year for Tampa Bay, he was second in the NHL with 199 blocked shots but was minus-26 in 82 games, which ranked 890th.
Clark said he suffered a fracture in an ankle around Christmastime and was never the same player.
“It’s very exciting to get back up here,” Clark said. “The lockout put a kink on a lot of things, but it helped me get fully healthy. … I went down to O.K. City. I was playing a ton down there and the opportunity came and it was very exciting.
“I knew I had to go down there and give everything I had like I was playing in the show.”