For the month of July, Chris Porter’s agent, Matt Oates, talked to the Wild about a possible landing spot for his client.
It was a natural fit, they felt. The Wild needed a high-speed, physical, bottom-six forward and Porter, a former Shattuck-St. Mary’s player and University of North Dakota captain, lived in nearby Eden Prairie with his wife and newborn son, Kingston, who’s now 2 ½ months old.
But General Manager Chuck Fletcher wanted to “keep our powder dry” because of limited salary-cap space. On Thursday, though, with opening night on the horizon and injuries starting to hit bottom-six forwards Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and Erik Haula, the Wild claimed the 31-year-old Porter off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Fletcher recalled how Porter, a 6-2 depth winger who scored 11 goals and 27 points in 173 career games over six seasons for the St. Louis Blues, looked good against the Wild during last year’s playoffs. Fletcher had talked trade in the past with Blues GM Doug Armstrong and now feels Porter can add a physical presence to the Wild’s fourth line.
“He’s a player who I think can help us,” Zach Parise said. “He’s a big guy, he’s fast, he plays physical, so I think that’s going to fit in well with us and with [fourth-liner Ryan Carter]. He knows what his job is out there. There are no gray areas. He knows what he’s supposed to do. Just as important, he’s a great guy.”
Parise and Porter were teammates at Shattuck and UND. Parise was the best man at Porter’s wedding, and Porter was a groomsman in Parise’s. The two of them and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo skated every Tuesday this past summer with local skating expert Diane Ness.
“It’s pretty neat,” Porter said of being reunited with Parise. “It’s always fun to play with your buddies in the summer, but to be able to play professionally with one of your good friends will be fun. We joked about it in the summer. For it to become a reality, I don’t think it’s sunk in, and it might take some time.”
When the Wild chose not to sign him this offseason, Porter signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flyers. He scored two goals and an assist in three preseason games, but the Flyers are full up front and tried to sneak him to the minors.
With its depth already being tested, the Wild decided to add more. The Wild’s a team that wants to play fast and pressure, and Fletcher feels Porter “fits the identity of the fourth line that we want to have right now.”
“Playing against them, I think they know the style that I play with — a lot of physicality, I bring a lot of speed, and I think I can help with the penalty kill and just try to bring some energy to the team,” Porter said. “I know they have a lot of great pieces there. I just want to try to add to that.”
Fletcher feels Porter will give coach Mike Yeo options. If he wants speed and physicality, he can go with Porter. If he wants speed and skill, maybe turn to Schroeder. Nastiness, there’s Brett Bulmer.
The problem is there’s a finite number of roster spots. On the Wild’s 23-man roster will be three goalies, so Porter’s acquisition initially could affect Schroeder, banged up all camp, and Bulmer, who’s young and needs to play. If Fontaine starts on injured reserve and Tyler Graovac and Porter make the team as expected, Schroeder, Bulmer and defenseman Mike Reilly are conceivably battling for one roster spot unless Haula starts on injured reserve.
Fletcher said the Wild will use the next few days to get more information on the injured players. Opening night rosters must be submitted by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“Too much is made over the opening night lineup,” Fletcher said. “It’ll change often. We’ve seen it change every year whether guys get hurt or somebody plays well down below [in Iowa] or somebody struggles up here.”