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 Wild news

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk once again honored by the NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 30, 2015 - 11:25 AM

For the second time since coming to the Wild on Jan. 14, Devan Dubnyk was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after winning back-to-back, back-to-backs last week. In February, he was named First Star once, Third Star once and the February First Star of the Month. It's the first time a Wild player has gotten four honors in a season.

Last week, Dubnyk went 4-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage to lead the Wild (44-25-7, 95 points) to four consecutive victories, including their franchise-record 10th straight on the road. He opened the week with 35 saves in a 2-1 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 23. Dubnyk followed that performance by stopping 37 shots – and all three attempts he faced in the shootout – in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders March 24. He capped the week with victories on consecutive days, making 23 saves in a 4-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames March 27 and 31 stops in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings March 28. The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has won a career-high 35 games while ranking second in the NHL with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 53 appearances this season. That includes a 26-6-1 record with a 1.70 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and five shutouts since joining the Wild Jan. 15.

When Dubnyk came to the Wild, Minnesota and Edmonton were tied for the worst save percentages in the NHL (.889). The Wild's .940 save percentage since (which included 14 saves on 14 shots by Darcy Kuemper in relief Jan. 20 in Detroit) has the Wild up to a tie for 11th with a .912 save percentage.

Amazing turnaround.

Defenseman Christian Folin got his game with Iowa yesterday and was recalled back up. Folin has been scratched in five straight games and nine of the past 11.

Rachel Blount is covering today's optional practice as I write an enterprise piece on the NHL's Situation Room for tomorrow's newspaper. Should be a fun read.

Wild signs Minnesota State's Zach Palmquist and Vermont's Brody Hoffman

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 30, 2015 - 11:30 AM

UDPATED WITH SCOUTING REPORTS

The Wild has dipped into the college free-agent market again.

Six days after signing University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing to a two-year, entry-level contract, the Wild has signed Minnesota State senior defenseman Zach Palmquist and University of Vermont junior goaltender Brody Hoffman to one-year deals.

Because both players are 24, the one year is the max term for an entry-level deal. They'll be restricted free agents in the summer of 2016.

Palmquist impressed during last year's Wild development camp as an invitee.

The 6-foot Palmquist, a native of South St. Paul, served as an alternate captain this past season and tied for fourth on the Mavericks with 29 points (eight goals). In four years in Mankato, Palmquist didn't miss a single game. He set a school record by playing 160 consecutive games, scoring 96 points and 109 penalty minutes. He tied for first in defensemen scoring in Maverick history (since the Mavs became a Division-I school in 1996-7). Palmquist was named to the All-WCHA First Team in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and a WCHA All-Academic selection in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Prior to playing at Minnesota State, he collected 57 points (13-44--57) in 124 games during parts of three seasons with Waterloo (USHL, 2008-11). Palmquist played at South St. Paul High School and was a finalist for the 2009 Mr. Hockey Award. He will report to the Iowa Wild on an amateur tryout for the remainder of this season.

From Wild scout Brian Hunter: Puck moving D who plays a smart game, will get up in the play offensively to join the rush, competes in all 3 zones, very good skater, with a smooth, long stride. His style and skating allows him to play big minutes like he did at MSU.

The Wild loves Hoffman's 6-foot-4 frame, and I think we're starting to see the Wild believe in what is becoming a leaguewide trend of big goalies. Heck, look at Devan Dubnyk.

Hoffman went 13-6-2 in 22 games this past season. He ranked 18th in the NCAA with a 2.06 goals-against average and tied for 29th with a .922 save percentage. He was 34-33-9 in three years there with a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

The native of Wilkie, Saskatchewan, was recently the NCAA First Star of the Week in part for helping the Catamounts upset Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. Hoffman will not be playing for Iowa this season.

Hunter: Obviously can't teach size at 6'4. Decent puck handler, He tracks the puck well, plays quiet in goal, doesn't get too swimmy, but is athletic enough to have the ability to scramble if needed. But his strengths are cutting angles down, controlling or swallowing up rebounds and using big frame to be a blocker.

The Wild is trying to influx more goalie prospects into the organization.

Darcy Kuemper can not play minor-league games without going through waivers.

Iowa goalie Johan Gustafsson, 23, who once backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the world junior championships, is a restricted free agent this summer and has yet to play an NHL game. He is 8-20-1 this season with a 3.41 goals-against average and .895 save percentage. Last year as a first-year North American pro, he went 12-20-4 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

Fellow Iowa veteran goalie John Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Draft picks Stephen Michalek, Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen are currently unsigned.

Wild close to signing University of Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 29, 2015 - 9:27 PM

The Wild is close to signing 24-year-old University of Vermont junior goaltender Brody Hoffman to an entry-level contract, sources say.

The deal, which will be one year long due to his age, is not yet finalized.

The contract will start next season and he will likely not report to Iowa this season on an amateur tryout. University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing signed an ATO along with his entry-level deal last Tuesday.

Hoffman, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, went 13-6-2 in 22 games this past season. He ranked 18th in the NCAA with a 2.06 goals-against average and tied for 29th with a .922 save percentage. He was 34-33-9 in three years there with a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

The native of Wilkie, Saskatchewan, was recently the NCAA First Star of the Week in part for helping the Catamounts upset Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

The Wild is trying to influx more goalie prospects into the organization.

Darcy Kuemper can not play minor-league games without going through waivers.

Iowa goalie Johan Gustafsson, 23, who once backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the world junior championships, is a restricted free agent this summer and has yet to play an NHL game. He is 8-20-1 this season with a 3.41 goals-against average and .895 save percentage. Last year as a first-year North American pro, he went 12-20-4 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

Fellow Iowa veteran goalie John Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Draft picks Stephen Michalek, Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen are currently unsigned.

Have a question about the Wild? Ask on my blog for a Sunday column Q and A

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 27, 2015 - 7:46 AM

I plan to do a live chat on startribune.com next week, BUT as I just sat down to write my Sunday Insider, I decided to change up the plans and conduct another Russo's Rants Q and A for this Sunday's paper.

I typically write my Sunday columns on Fridays. TODAY IS FRIDAY!!!!

Late notice, I know, so get to work. Here's your shot to ask a question that may be answered in my Sunday column.

Here's the deal though: They have to be quick, easy-to-answer questions because space is at a premium in the newspaper and I'd like to include as many of your questions as possible.

So fire away, and understand that for space reasons, I may have to edit (trim) your question.

Try not to repeat questions asked by others and please don't use this space to comment on reader questions. This way I can easily snip out the questions I'll answer in my Sunday Insider.

You have until early this afternoon.

Wild signs New Hampshire's Grayson Downing

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 24, 2015 - 10:13 PM

The Wild is again delving into the college free-agent market.

The team signed University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing to a two-year, entry-level contract starting in the fall. Downing also signed an amateur tryout and will play in Iowa for the rest of the season.

Downing, 22, scored 36 points in 38 games his senior season and tied for 13th in the nation with 21 goals (coincidentally tied with Mario Lucia, whom I wrote about in Tuesday's paper. Downing also had five power-play goals and four game-winning goals.

He led the Wildcats in goals and ranked second in scoring. His goal total tied for third in Hockey East. A native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, the 6-foot Downing had 56 goals and 56 assists in 144 games at New Hampshire.

It's likely too soon for him to compete for a roster spot next season, but after trading so many draft picks the past few years and with so many of its top prospects playing in college, the Wild's trying to add some depth and skill to Iowa next season.

The Wild also plans to pursue a few other college, junior and European free agents. The Wild has been successful on some of these signings: Jared Spurgeon (junior), Christian Folin, Justin Fontaine and Nate Prosser to name four. Obviously, many don't pan out. The reason why a lot of them are free agents and were never drafted is because they're late-bloomers.

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