As of right now, Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will not have 2008 2nd round defenseman Marco Scandella at training camp. Scandella has battled through injuries all season down in Houston and is currently out of the lineup with a groin injury. Naturally, 2011 1st round pick Jonas Brodin would be the logical choice as his replacement; however, he is also out of the lineup with an upper body injury and will be for a while. As such, the six healthy NHL defensemen in camp will be Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser.
The next option would be to sign a player, but Minnesota will reach their 50 maximum contracts with the expected signing of Nick Palmieri, the big young forward acquired from New Jersey in the Marek Zidlicky trade. So, Minnesota has four choices: trade player-for-player, trade a player for draft picks and sign a free agent defenseman, recall a defenseman from Houston or Plan “D”—recall 2012 7th overall pick Mathew Dumba from Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.
If Minnesota chooses to trade a player, there is a plethora of bottom six forwards and fringe players to pick from. Perhaps Powe, Veilleux or Kassian or a Houston Aeros player on contract with the big club (McMillan, McIntyre, Palmer or Rau) would be a good choice. According to Cap Geek, among the top remaining free agent defensemen (with reasonable cap hits) are Chris Campoli, Mike Commodore and Kurtis Foster. Of those three, “Fozzie” would be my first choice and many Wild fans would agree. When Chuck Fletcher shipped Marek Zidlicky off to New Jersey, he received a bundle that not only saw a 2nd round pick, a 2013 3rd round pick and a good prospect (Nick Palmieri) come to Minnesota, but also the return of Stephane Veilleux and Kurtis Foster.
While Veilleux was re-signed by Minnesota, Foster was left to seek his fortune somewhere else. Now, with Minnesota desperately needing a defenseman—and Foster more than happy to wear Iron Range Red—he’s certainly the logical choice in this hockey writer’s opinion if the Wild opt to sign a free agent. At 6’5” and 220 pounds, he’s certainly an intimidating prospect on any NHL blue line. What makes him really stand out, however, is his heavy shot from the point. While not entirely accurate, the guy wields an absolute bomb of a slap shot that will, if nothing else, keep the puck in the offensive zone and unnerve goaltenders. The hulking defenseman also has a deceptively accurate wrist shot, as well. The point is that he is a proven NHL defenseman that has notched 155 points in 382 NHL games and Minnesota has had enough experience with him in the past that they know what they are getting. With his shot, Foster would also be a great guy to have on the second power play unit. Not too bad for a defenseman the Wild could probably come to a deal with in the $1-1.5 million per year range.
Another option for Minnesota would be to recall a player from Houston, but their defensive corps isn’t in the best condition, either. Of this group, Kampfer, Cuma, Connelly or Genoway would be logical choices. Cuma, Minnesota’s top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity if he’s invited to training camp. A series of injuries, and the promotion of other prospects, hampered his development soon after he was drafted and the young defenseman has yet to find his place among Minnesota’s top prospects. This could very well be his chance to snatch up a spot in the Wild’s lineup.
The fourth option could be the most intriguing: does Minnesota call up Mathew Dumba from Red Deer for a nine game cup of coffee? They certainly could, but many fans might question the wisdom of it. The young man the Wild drafted 7th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has struggled since returning to the Rebels this season, posting 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points, 51 penalty minutes and a negative-3 rating in 41 games. To make matters more difficult, last month Dumba was the final cut from Canada’s U20 World Junior Championship team for the second year in a row.
Many might conclude that there was too much hype surrounding him, but don’t believe it for a second. The most likely factor is that he’s trying to become more of a well-rounded defenseman instead of a flashy, aggressive offensive defenseman. This is a mistake. To put it simply, Matt Dumba is at his best when he plays as Matt Dumba. Dumba isn’t a stay-at-home shutdown defensive defenseman; he’s an elite, explosive offensive defenseman and he needs to come to grips with that because that is who he is and is what makes him the top NHL prospect that Minnesota drafted. In fact, a big reason Minnesota chose to pass over promising forwards like Grigorenko, Forsberg and Faksa was because Dumba was the perfect complement to the defensive wizard (Brodin) that Minnesota took with their 1st round pick in 2011. While Brodin is still out with an upper body injury, “Matty” sure would benefit from the tutelage of Suter, Gilbert and the other Wild blue-liners and could be used quite effectively on Minnesota’s power play.
Both Dumba and Brodin will play a very important part in Minnesota’s future as elite top-four defensemen, but not so much now as they both acclimate to the speed of the NHL. As such, the seventh man still needs to be addressed and, with all the great prospects and players in the system, most Wild fans hope that the issue can be resolved in-house without having to make a trade that Minnesota may regret in the future. Just ask Chuck Fletcher about Nick Leddy; if Minnesota still had their 2009 1st round pick on the back end we might not even be having this conversation right now.
How will the situation likely be addressed? Fletcher will probably trade a depth player for picks or prospects and sign a free agent defenseman. However, that doesn’t mean prospects in the system—including Dumba—won’t be given every chance to make the team. No matter how it turns out, training camp will sure be exciting here in Minnesota and the residents of the State of Hockey can’t wait. With the Wild’s first game likely to be played on January 19th—Hockey Day in Minnesota—what a glorious day of hockey it shall be!
UPDATE: Instead of signing Nick Palmieri as expected, the Minnesota Wild signs veteran NHL defenseman Paul Mara to an AHL contract. Mara has played with Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Boston, NY Rangers, Anaheim and Montreal, scoring 64 goals and 189 assists for 253 points and 776 penalty minutes in 734 NHL games. More details can be found via Twitter or Startribune.com/sports/wild.