Brennan Menell couldn’t make his St. Thomas Academy high school squad as a sophomore; a few years later, he was good enough to merit an NHL contract.
“It’s a dream come true for sure,” Menell said. “Just looking back on it, I definitely don’t think I could’ve pictured this.”
The Wild signed the 20-year-old defenseman out of Woodbury to a three-year entry-level contract Tuesday before sending him to their Iowa farm team. The 6-0, 181-pounder played in one preseason game, the 2-1 victory against Colorado this past Saturday, registering an assist.
Menell first worked with the Wild back in July’s development camp before playing in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in early September. He’s been working toward this professional contract since training camp began.
Assistant coach John Anderson admitted before the prospect tournament, what he knew about Menell amounted to: “None. Zero.” But after a few weeks, he’s learned Menell is “calm with the puck,” “confident” and “not afraid” despite not being a “huge guy.”
“Miracles can happen,” Anderson said. “And it just goes to show you, there’s always a spot open for a guy who really stands out. … Really happy for him. And we hope he progresses the way we project and [can] be in one of our uniforms very shortly.”
Menell first heard of his contract Monday night, but it wasn’t official until shortly after his skate Tuesday morning at Xcel Energy Center when he signed the contract. Menell said he’ll go home to celebrate with his family before heading down to the AHL team in Des Moines later Tuesday night, where his goal is to make the team. Goaltender Steve Michalek will join Menell on that trip to Des Moines, as the team assigned him Tuesday, which trims the current roster down to 35.
“I know they want what’s best for my development, so if they think I can get the ice time there, it’ll be a great deal,” Menell said. “If not, I’ll always have a place back in Lethbridge [Western Hockey League]. You know, right now, I’m just trying to focus on making Iowa.”
Leaving St. Thomas Academy, he played in the North American Prospects Hockey League and High Performance Hockey League before spending the past three seasons as a high scoring defenseman in the WHL, two with Vancouver. Menell had 17 goals and 83 points in 90 games, including playoffs, with Lethbridge last season. He could play this season as an overage junior.
“[The contract] is a big relief,” Menell sad. “I’ve put in so much effort and work. This was always the team I wanted to be playing for growing up. This is the best-case scenario for me.
“It’s the first step,” Menell said. “I want to be a regular in the NHL. I know that I can’t stop working hard now. If anything, I have to work even harder. I’m definitely not done.”
A model to follow
Despite signing his first professional contract, Menell said the best memory from the past few weeks at training camp was actually from the first practice skating with top defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
“He was always a guy I looked up to and being out there next to him was definitely a surreal feeling,” Menell said. “I went from watching him in the stands last year to being on the ice with him. That was definitely a moment that stuck out for me.”
Spurgeon also serves as a source of inspiration for Menell, as Spurgeon also worked his way up from the WHL.
“I’ve always tried to emulate his game,” Menell said. “I’ve definitely been watching him. He’s a guy that I idolize. “
Parise and Cullen back in
After not skating with the team Monday, both Zach Parise and Matt Cullen practiced Tuesday. Anderson said both looked “really good.”
“I was happily surprised,” he said. “You know, they looked a lot better than I thought they were. Again, with Zach, little day-to-day thing with him and same with Cullen. I think Cullen will be ready to go for sure next game [Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at the St. Louis Blues]. So, very happy with their progress.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau was again absent while dealing with the death of his brother, Bryan. A team spokesman said the coach is tentatively expected to be back with the team Thursday.