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 Brassart, close to signing Gabriel; Talking Kuemper, Halak, goalies

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: March 1, 2014 - 1:58 PM

The Wild has signed Calgary Hitmen free-agent center Brady Brassart to a three-year entry-level deal and I hear the team is close to signing hard-nosed prospect Kurtis Gabriel, 20, a 2013 third-round pick, to his three-year, entry-level contract. An announcement on that should come in the next couple days.

Brassart, 20, has scored 33 goals and 75 points, including 10 power-play goals, six game-winning goals, a plus-17 rating and 90 penalty minutes in 62 games with the WHL Hitmen this season. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder leads Calgary in scoring, is tied for first in assists and second in goals and PIM.

“Brady has had a strong overage season and we are very happy that he chose to sign with the Minnesota Wild,” said assistant general manager Brent Flahr in the press release. “He’s a good-sized center that plays a mature two-way game. He can play in all situations and we look forward to his transition to professional hockey next season.”

As for Gabriel, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound forward is the fourth-leading scorer with 11 goals and 40 points in 52 games for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League. He will officially turn pro in the fall.

If you remember, the Wild faced a tough decision in training camp as to whether or not to sign him then and send him to Iowa or return him to Owen Sound for his overage year so he could play big minutes and a big role for Owen Sound. I think they're happy with its decision.

Gabriel is a character kid, very physical, tough and, most intriguing, has size.

In fact, that's the most intriguing thing about the Wild's next rung of prospect forwards. The Wild's not the biggest team in the world, so it's made a conscious effort the last few drafts to add players with size.

They have Gabriel, Brett Bulmer, Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, Adam Gilmour, Mario Lucia and Avery Peterson off the top of my head. Add Brassart now, too. I'm just talking forward. Defense, guys like stud Gustav Olofsson, Daniel Gunnarsson, Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler are all big.

Obviously, Matt Dumba plays physically, too.

Wild's got the day off today before practicing Sunday in St. Paul. They're coming off a big four points on two games in two nights to Edmonton and Vancouver.

They were running on fumes in the third period in Vancouver, but Darcy Kuemper stood tall and the work ethic exuded on the ice was beyond impressive.

Since becoming the Wild’s No. 1 goalie Jan. 7, Kuemper is 10-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He has made 14 consecutive starts, has won four in a row (four goals allowed) and is 11 for 11 against shooters in two victorious shootouts.

Again, it'll be interesting how Chuck Fletcher proceeds as Wednesday's deadline arrives. The Wild is in the market for a goalie.

Buffalo would love to trade Jaroslav Halak to Minnesota, so we'll see if anything evolves there if the price is right. I know I indicated last night that there may not be a lot of interest, but he's 28, has put up good numbers throughout his career and with the Wild's goaltending situation, there's no doubt the Wild's in the market for a goalie. Halak's numbers are stellar (24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .917 save percentage), but there's always the question of how much is that to do with Ken Hitchcock's system. 

We'll see how things play out if the price is right. There's no doubt Fletcher and Sabres GM Tim Murray are talking. 

There's Martin Brodeur (could be a good mentor for Kuemper), Cam Ward and his exorbitant contract, maybe Tim Thomas if Florida's willing to move him, Ilya Bryzgalov. 

We shall see.

The Wild is 13-4-2 in 19 games in 2014 heading into Monday's game vs. Calgary, a game Kuemper's parents will be in attendance for.

Entering tonight, the Wild has a seven-point lead for a playoff spot, but it's idle from Tuesday to Friday, so Monday's two points would be key.

Anyhoooo, that's it. I have to board a plane. As expected John Curry and Steve Kampfer were returned to Iowa.

Talk to you Sunday.

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