Finally, two long years after signing with the Minnesota Wild as an undrafted collegiate free agent, former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog standout Justin Fontaine is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday night when Minnesota hosts the Los Angeles Kings in their first game of the season. That was a long sentence, but I digress.
Originally from Bonnyville, Alberta, Fontaine would play three seasons with his hometown Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), scoring 57 goals and 100 assists for 157 points in 114 games. From there, Fontaine opted for the State of Hockey, playing all four seasons at UM-D where he would score 62 goals and 102 assists for 164 points in 159 games and lead the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship in his final season. After signing with Minnesota, he would then play the next two seasons with the Wild’s top minor league affiliate–the Houston Aeros–and would collect 39 goals and 72 assists for a very respectable 111 points and plus-7 in 137 games. He broke out offensively in Houston’s short playoff run last spring, scoring three goals and five assists for eight points in five games.
As you can see, Fontaine has been the kind of player that is at (or around) a point-per-game pace at nearly every level of play he’s faced so far. Can he bring that with him to the NHL? That’s highly unlikely–this is the best league in the world. However, a smart hockey player is able to adapt to whatever he needs to be in order to make the team. While it’s very improbable for him to step into an important scoring role, his responsible game on either side of the puck could go a long way in helping him make the team in a bottom-6 role.
That said, Minnesota fans need to remember not to expect the dynamic player he was as a Bulldog. His game has changed, and it’s for the better, because it’s what’s going to keep him in the best hockey league on the planet for a long time to come. Don’t expect a flashy, dynamic player. Look for that from guys like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. But expect a player who isn’t a liability on the ice, hustles, plays a full 200-foot game and always seems to make the smart play at the right time. That’s why he’ll be wearing a Wild sweater on Thursday night; if the game is in your blood, you find a way to adapt and make yourself an important part of the team. Fontaine has done just that, and he’s made UM-D fans very proud in the process.
Follow Dakota Case at Twitter.com/Dakota_case