There was a gentleman crossing Kellogg Boulevard with a group of people around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. He was wearing a jersey with No. 22 and the name “Clutterbuck’’ on the back.
Cal Clutterbuck was a popular player during his five seasons (2008-13) with the Wild. The main reason for this was the times he would deliver hits to the opposition. During those stretches of no goals and few assists, the Wild telecasts and other outlets were sure to make us aware of Cal’s hit total.
On June 30, 2013, in conjunction with the NHL draft, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher traded Clutterbuck and a third-round draft choice to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederreiter. He was a fifth overall draft choice in 2010 and, somehow, the Islanders had deemed him to be a major disappointment at age 20.
The Wild did not have a first-rounder in that draft, but Fletcher declared Niederreiter was the equivalent of that and then some. Many Wild followers saw this as sugarcoating by Fletcher, and also upset that their pal Cal had been traded.
We are now early in the fifth season since that trade was made, and Clutterbuck remains with the Islanders, where he has totaled 86 points. Niederreiter has 185 points in that time for the Wild.
The Islanders had banished Niederreiter to a full season in the American Hockey League – and bustling Bridgeport, Conn. – during the 2012-13 season. This came after he played small portions of 55 games with the Islanders in 2011-12, scoring one goal and finishing as a minus-29.
This stands as an all-timer in wretched player development: We’ll take a 19-year-old and let him die on the vine playing short minutes in the NHL, and then as a 20-year-old, we’ll let him fester in Bridgeport without as much as an NHL shift.
Niederreiter asked for a trade. And the Islanders didn’t need such a request to do that. And for this, Fletcher can remain grateful, since when people give him heat for failed bartering (this summer’s deal with Buffalo looks like such a thing), Chuck’s defenders can always say:
“Hey, he got Niederreiter for Clutterbuck and a third-rounder.’’
Niederreiter was moved immediately into the lineup by the Wild in 2013-14. Entering this season, he had played in 325 of a possible 328 games in the regular season, and all 34 playoff games.
Earlier this season, he was one of three casualties in a game in Chicago, and missed six games with an ankle injury. Nino has 12 points in 16 games since then, and there were a few minutes on Thursday night when it appeared he had his 10th goal.
The Wild had taken a 1-0 lead into the third period. And then the expansion team billed as “Vegas’’ popped in a couple of goals for a 2-1 lead.
Prior to the second of those goals, Niederreiter was in close on the left and looking at much open net. It is my theory as a hockey heretic that a high percentage of the occasions when a goalie receives the scream of tribute, “Great save,’’ it’s because the shooter hit him with the puck.
This time, Niederreiter got rid of the puck instantly and Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban – P.K.’s kid brother -- sprawled with a long arm to make the save.
“What did you think of Subban’s save on Niederreiter?’’ a reporter asked.
And Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said: “I don’t know. I haven’t looked at it yet. I did turn on the bench and ask, ‘Did he make that stop?’ ‘’
It appeared Niederreiter had gotten revenge less than a minute after Vegas had taken the 2-1 lead. Jonas Brodin fired from the left point, Niederreiter was in the tangle at the front of the net, and reached for the puck and it went past Subban for a 2-2 tie.
The goal was announced as belonging to Niederreiter. Then, 2 ½ minutes after that, Derek Engelland caught Nino with a blatant high stick.
“If you had managed a little blood, was that four minutes?’’ Nino was asked.
He replied: “Probably. What counts, though, is we played a steady game, and came away with a win and something to build on.’’
Soon after the high stick, there was a stoppage in play and it was announced in the press box that the goal had changed: Brodin’s shot went into the net off a Vegas player, not off Nino’s stick, so Brodin would get credit for his second goal of the season.
The Wild went ahead on Eric Staal’s goal at 12:05, and then Staal swept the puck down the ice ever so slowly for an empty netter with five seconds left. Wild, 4-2, and the panic of 13 goals in the previous two games had subsided.
There are some people out there reluctant to give me full credit for hockey wisdom, but I do know this: If you’re going to go to the St. Paul hockey palace in the winter of 2017-18 with a Wild jersey bearing No. 22, the name attached should be “Niederreiter’’ and not “Clutterbuck.’’
Asked about where Nino stands when it comes to reaching his full potential, Boudreau said: “I’ve seen him play great, and when you see that, you would like to see it every night. He’s a big, strong guy, and for someone who goes to the net – and he’s doing that more often – and when we can get him back to left wing …
“I think he’s a 30-goal scorer every season.’’
Slam dunk, Niederreiter for Clutterbuck stands as Fletcher’s best trade, and probably the best in the Wild’s existence.