As we await the beginning of the new NHL season, I’ll be previewing each of the players in the Minnesota Wild system who will be on the roster, or competing for a place this year. My subject for this edition is Justin Fontaine.
Justin Fontaine was signed by the Wild as an undrafted free agent after 4 years with the UMD Bulldogs in the WCHA. He spent two seasons with the Houston Aeros where he scored 55 points in 73 games during his first year and then 56 in 64 last season. There were a lot of calls for Fontaine to get a chance with the big club at the beginning of the offseason now that he was no longer waiver-exempt and had nothing left to prove in the AHL. Generally even the suggestion that Fontaine could make the team was treated with scorn and mockery (I thought he deserved a shot). A lot of people felt that he had messed-up his chance with the organisation through his infamous and boneheaded Tweet that got him into trouble back in 11-12. There was a feeling that he had been passed over several times because of it and the team would be happy to move him on.
Then, once preseason started, quotes began emerging from the Wild camp that Fontaine was very much in the running for a place on the team. He did well in preseason and, lo and behold, he is now on the team for opening night, where he will be lining-up beside Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka on the 4th line. It just goes to show how unpredictable NHL rosters can be.
So, what kind of player is he? Well, according to Elite Prospects:
A skilled, offensive-minded winger. Fontaine has a really good shot and instincts. Is valuable on the powerplay.
On the downside, he isn’t very big and can get pushed around.
-Here are his career totals for his two years in the AHL along with some basic information about him:
AHL CAREER STATS (REGULAR AND POST-SEASON)
|SHOOTING PERCENTAGE / SHOTS ON GOAL||14.09% / 298|
|POINTS PER GAME||0.815|
|PENALTIES IN MINUTES||54|
|+/- (Useless, but good AHL stats are limited)||+3|
Fontaine is 25, so he should be just about to hit is prime, going by NHL averages. He has scored at a good clip in the AHL and put-up a nice points total. He probably will find it hard to shoot at 14% against NHL-calibre goaltending though. His natural position is RW, but he can play on the left too, which is where he is listed to play on the 4th line against the Kings.
He’s a pretty small guy, which is why I worry about putting him in a 4th line role alongside a goon like Konopka. His non-aggressive, skillful game is exemplified by his very low PIM total. His other linemate, Torrey Mitchell, is reasonably skilled too, but he’s aggressive on the forecheck with excellent speed, making him reasonably suited to running-around on the 4th line. Fontaine will probably just be staying on the 4th, out of his comfort zone, waiting for an injury or something to open-up a spot in the top-6.
Apparently he has been working on becoming stronger and fitter so that he can play a more-versatile game. He is an out-and-out scoring forward, which could be interesting on the 4th, but he better not expect much in the way of service from his linemates. It’s probably a better idea for him to try and become better defensively and physically so that he at least will be able to play some kind of role in the bottom-6.
Hopefully he can still find a way to get on the scoresheet and provide the Wild with some offensive depth. Maybe he will be a part of the 2nd PP unit, which would be a good way to get him involved. I’m interested to see if the Wild acquire another centre who might be more compatible with Fontaine and Mitchell’s offensive abilities on the 4th line. It’s starting to look unlikely at this point.
His Season Is A Success If…
His Season Is A Disappointment If…
….he can’t cut it in the big league and ends up getting waived back to the AHL or is a healthy scratch most nights.
Okay, that’s it for Fontaine. Next, I’ll be taking a look at Torrey Mitchell and previewing his 2013/2014 campaign.
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*Numbers in this article courtesy of: