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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Assessing Clutterbuck-Niederreiter trade; Flahr on Wild's draft selections

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news, Wild player moves, Wild trade news Updated: June 30, 2013 - 10:25 PM
 
I’ll write more on this in Tuesday’s newspaper in a Wild Insider regarding a look at the rest of the summer, but it’s clear the Wild’s not done. Do the math, and there are still holes. Jared Spurgeon isn’t re-signed, although GM Chuck Fletcher tonight progress has been made. Matt Cullen isn’t re-signed, although I still have serious doubts he’ll be back. Tom Gilbert hasn’t been bought out yet. That is likely coming provided the Wild wants that $4 million of cap space to make some moves this summer. The Wild would then be thin on the back end and will likely look to upgrade there. Fletcher thinks he can get some bargains later in the summer, maybe with guys that can't find jobs that would take two-way deals or tryouts. And it sure sounds like Fletcher has other things cooking right now from a trade perspective.
 
I will post an updated depth chart on Monday. I will also be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Monday and am filling in for Common from 12-3 on Tuesday.
 
For scouting reports and thoughts about the draft from assistant GM Brent Flahr, see below.
 
As for the Clutterbuck trade, I ran into Ray Ferraro and Pierre McGuire in the hallway a few hours ago. This is the way they summed it up:
 
Ferraro: “Niederreiter’s upside is a lot bigger. I mean, to me, this is a no-brainer. They traded Cal Clutterbuck for a first-round pick. They got the fifth overall pick, a potential goal scorer, for a bowling ball. I don’t mean that as disrespect to Cal. But they traded a goal scorer for a guy that hits.”
 
McGuire: “I have no problem with Cal Clutterbuck. He’s a useful player. He played junior with Tavares, so there’s chemistry there. But Nino Niederreiter, his upside is gigantic. You’re not talking about an eight-to-12 goal scorer. You’re talking about a guy who can score 20 to 30. Tremendous talent. Clearly there was an issue between he and the Islanders. I mean, I was there for the playoffs and he wasn’t even part of the equation.”
 
Writers I talked to tonight like the New York Post’s Larry Brooks also agree this was a no-brainer try by the Wild. Brooks said sure Niederreiter may flame out, but the talent is obvious and he thinks he’s going to be a player.
 
Clutterbuck was only 25 and obviously physical, but the way the Wild is currently set up, there was going to have to be a time where they move him. The hope is that a guy like Brett Bulmer, who is physical, bigger and plays with a mean streak, will eventually take his role. Obviously, Bulmer still has some development to do after a tough first full year pro.
 
But Clutterbuck, on the Wild, did not look like he would turn out to be the 20-goal scorer I always thought he would become at least. The physicality also seemed to lessen, and I think with a player as physical as Clutterbuck, you have to start to worry if he’s going to wear down and break down.
 
But as you know from how often I quote Clutterbuck, I’m a fan and I think he’ll be an effective player on the aggressive, fast Islanders. And he gets to play with John Tavares, his Oshawa linemate, again, so maybe he’ll put up points.
 
I asked Fletcher about losing the physicality, and Fletcher said, “I think we’re a pretty physical team, and we have a lot of grit in our bottom six and a lot of size and the player we added in Niederreiter, if he’s able to make our team, is a big man. He’s 210 pounds and plays in the hard areas. So I’m not worried about physicality. Goal scoring is always something you want to focus on.”
 
The Wild hopes Niederreiter, who has scored everywhere but the NHL, can develop into a natural goal scorer and power winger. He is only 20. He only has two goals and an assist in 64 NHL games, but he was playing on the fourth line on Long Island. That was why the relationship became rocky. Ask anyone in the New York media, and the belief is Niederreiter was only up in 2011-12 so the Islanders could get to the cap floor. Finally, he asked to be traded, and the Islanders responded by not even bringing the kid to camp.
 
Fletcher says the Wild had interest in drafting him in 2010, but he went fifth and the Wild chose ninth, where it took Mikael Granlund. The Wild also has Charlie Coyle (28th overall), meaning it has three players from that 2010 first round now.
 
Read the story in the paper for the coverage and quotes, and again, I’ll provide a follow Tuesday.
 
Here is Flahr on Niederreiter: “He was a bigtime prospect who deserved to be drafted where he was. He’s 20 years old. He stepped into the league and he wasn’t ready. Last year he was a very good in the American Hockey League and led their team in scoring in the first half. Obviously he was a little frustrated and I don’t all the details behind that. I think they asked for a change in scenery.
 
“He’s a big body, can really shoot the puck and plays a power game, but he’s also a goal scorer. He projects out to be a top-6 forward with size and scoring ability, which is what we’re looking for. We had to pay a price in Clutter, who was a popular guy and physical impact. But to get a potential scoring winger, they’re hard to come by.”
 
Flahr says he has a natural ability that can’t be taught and he should challenge for a spot. Niederreiter gives the Wild another Olympic participant (Switzerland).
 
On the draft, Flahr was very happy (of course, I’ve never met a head scout that wasn’t happy after a draft).
 
The Wild drafted seven players – six skaters. All were 6-1 and over. The Wild want to add size and competitiveness.
 
Here is Flahr on the kids:
 
Gustav Olofsson (46th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-2, 185
Age: 18 (Dec. 1, 1994)
Born: Boras, Sweden
Team: Green Bay (USHL)
2012-13 stats: 63 games, 2 goals, 23 points, 59 penalty minutes
Flahr: “He’s a kid we targeted. He’s a kid that really shot up our draft board throughout the year. He basically played high school hockey in Colorado last year, which is a real low level, and stepped in the USHL, and right from the first tournament of the year, he looked like a player and just get better and better. His mobility, instincts for the game, moving the puck and going back into tight situations. Some of the reads he makes, we were very impressed. His dad is a huge man. He’s already a big kid and he has lots of room to fill out. We’re excited for his future.”
 
 
Kurtis Gabriel (80th overall)
Position: RW
Ht./wt.: 6-3, 189
Age: 20 (April 20, 1993)
Born: Newmarket, Ont.
Team: Owen Sound (OHL)
2012-13 stats: 67 games, 13 goals, 28 points, 100 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Late bloomer (undrafted last two years). He has a huge impact in games because of his physicality. He’s a kid that plays in straight lines. He hits like a train and he likes to drop the gloves. He’s a real character kid and a kid that has really come on and made himself a player.”
 
Dylan Labbe (107th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-1, 180
Age: 18 (Jan. 9, 1995)
Born: St-George, Quebec
Team: Shawinigan (QMJHL)
2012-13 stats: 61 games, 7 goals, 28 points, 57 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Was a kid, he played a team that was decimated after their Memorial Cup, so they had no players. He stepped in as basically a first-year guy and logged 35-plus minutes a night as a kid that’s not very physically strong. But a very intelligent player, really smart with the puck, plays the game with a lot of poise. He’s going to have get physically stronger, but he’s going to have a huge role on his team again next year. He actually made the Canadian Under-18 team at the end of the year, but he was hurt in the exhibition game.”
 
Carson Soucy (137th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-4, 191
Age: 18 (July 27, 1994)
Born: Viking, Alb.
Team: Spruce Grove (AJHL)
2012-13 stats: 35 games, 5 goals, 15 points, 71 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Tier-2 Alberta. Going to Duluth next year. Big kid, 6-4, good mobility and really moves the puck well. Obviously he’s a couple years down the road, but with his size and range and ability to play the game, our guys were excited.”
 
Avery Peterson (167th overall)
Position: C
Ht./wt.: 6-2, 193
Age: 18 (June 20, 1995)
Born: Grand Rapids, Minn.
Team: Grand Rapids High
2012-13 stats: 23 games, 23 goals, 54 points, 2 penalty minutes
Flahr: Local kid. He’s got to grow into his body, but he was a quality, quality high school player. Good two-way player, good-sized kid, good skater. He’ll have to spend some time in the gym getting stronger. He’ll need some time at the NCAA level.”
 
Nolan De Jong (197th overall)
Position: D
Ht./wt.: 6-1, 165
Age: 18 (April 25, 1995)
Born: Victoria, B.C.
Team: Victoria (BCHL)
2012-13 stats: 51 games, 5 goals, 24 points, 16 penalty minutes
Flahr: “Mobile defender. Rated highly earlier in the year because of his mobility. He’s a physically weak kid, but good size. Going to Michigan next year. Our guys feel he has a chance to play down the road.”
 
Alexandre Belanger (200th overall)
Position: G
Ht./wt.: 6-0, 170
Age: 17 (August 19, 1995)
Born: Sherbrooke, Que.
Team: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
2012-13 stats: 44 games, 3.46 GAA, .875 SP
Flahr: “Had a strong playoffs against a good Quebec team from being a backup goalie for most of the year.”
 
 

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