Sean Bergenheim wasn't surprised when his cellphone rang Tuesday afternoon, while he was in a taxi headed for Chicago's United Center. The Florida forward expected he would have a new employer before the NHL's trade deadline — and when he heard it would be the Wild, he was delighted.
The 31-year-old Finn traveled from Chicago to Florida on Wednesday to pick up a few things, then continued on to Nashville, where he will join the Wild for Thursday's game against the Predators. Though switching teams in midseason can be difficult, Bergenheim is eager to press the reset button on a season that stalled out in Florida. He's particularly excited to start fresh with a roster full of fellow Finns, including friends Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund.
Bergenheim said on a conference call Wednesday that he will bring versatility, speed, enthusiasm and grit to the Wild. What he hopes to receive in return is a trip to the playoffs, and a chance to pour his pent-up energy into a larger role.
"I'm pretty happy with how I've played this season in the role I've been given," said Bergenheim, who was acquired by the Wild on Tuesday along with a seventh-round pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for a 2016 third-round pick. "But I know there's a lot more energy in me to play a better role.
"I want to bring energy, I want to bring forechecking, I want to bring pressure in the offensive zone. I want to get the pucks to the net, get myself to the net, and hopefully score some goals. I think in that sense I can help the team."
The 22nd overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bergenheim has spent his entire NHL career in the Eastern Conference and is not very familiar with the Wild. He spoke with Wild coach Mike Yeo on Wednesday, though they did not discuss Bergenheim's expected role with the team. Bergenheim anticipates he will learn more about the Wild's system and how he fits in when he joins the team Thursday.
During his junior days in Finland, Bergenheim played with and against Koivu, developing an acquaintance that deepened through their stints together on national teams. The sixth Finn to join the Wild roster, Bergenheim also works out in the summer with Granlund.
Koivu said Bergenheim has good speed and an "honest" work ethic, and he brings the valuable experience of having been part of successful teams. "That's always an important thing," Koivu said. "[He's a] good two-way player. He can help in a lot of areas."
After being drafted by the New York Islanders, Bergenheim played with that organization until he signed with Tampa Bay in 2010. He signed with the Panthers in 2011; though his time there was interrupted by hip and abdominal injuries, he tied his career high of 29 points last season with 16 goals and 13 assists in 62 games. Bergenheim also developed a reputation for shining in the playoffs, scoring 12 goals and adding five assists in 23 playoff games with Tampa Bay and Florida.
As the Panthers gave more ice time to young players this season, Bergenheim's role was reduced. Earlier this month, he asked General Manager Dale Tallon to trade him. Bergenheim, who is averaging 14 minutes, 9 seconds of ice time per game this season, had been a healthy scratch in nine of the past 11 games and last played on Feb. 12 against the Wild.
"I wasn't a healthy scratch once until I asked for a trade," said Bergenheim, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 39 games. "I feel I've played well. It's hard for me to say what went wrong, because I don't have any issues with anybody in that organization in any way."
Bergenheim said he is an adaptable player who can handle many different roles. Though he is in the final year of a four-year, $11 million deal, he said he does not feel pressure because of his contract status.
As a Finn, Bergenheim said, he is looking forward to seeing snow and living in a state with robust Scandinavian roots. Mostly, he is grateful for the chance to start anew.
"They have some great, great players, some fast guys, and I think I'll fit in well," he said. "I'm very excited."
Staff writer Michael Russo contributed to this report.