It has been over a week since the Minnesota Wild were eliminated in Game Six of their Western Conference Semifinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Wild blue liner Clayton Stoner is still tied for eighth in postseason hits by defensemen with 36.
Drafted in the third round (79th overall) in 2004, Stoner is the only remaining member of an utterly forgettable draft class. A veteran of three WHL seasons with the Tri-City Americans, the rugged defender toiled away for four seasons in the minors before cracking the Wild roster with two assists and a plus-1 rating in eight games during the 2009-10 season. He’s been with Minnesota ever since, notching four goals and 27 assists for 31 points and a plus-3 rating in 227 career regular season games.
With promising young defensemen entering the pro ranks this fall, the Wild have decisions to make on Stoner, fellow unrestricted free agent Nate Prosser and restricted free agent Jonathon Blum. Prosser and Blum are both right-shots, but their respective positions within the franchise could be threatened by the arrival of rookies Mathew Dumba and Christian Folin. At the moment, Folin is considered to have an inside track on any open position on Minnesota’s blue line.
However, while less talented than some other Wild defensemen, Stoner is the sandpaper sorely needed on the back end. This was especially true in Minnesota’s most recent playoff run, as the 6’4″ 216-pound heavyweight’s goal, two assists and plus-2 rating in 13 games were dwarfed by his 26 penalty minutes (PIM), 36 hits and a 53.1-percent Corsi rating. He was solid in all situations, useful and effective physically. In many ways, Stoner was actually quite impressive and is bound to walk into some decent money somewhere this offseason. There’s a good chance it won’t be Minnesota, though.
The Wild need another solid veteran defenseman, and there are a few enticing options on the free agent market. However, there’s still Keith Ballard to consider, and, with Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella already signed and playing big minutes, only one or two positions are open with it being highly unlikely any of those five receive significant time in the press box. With that in mind, there’s a good chance Minnesota lets Stoner walk. Still, any team that signs him can rest easy knowing they’ve added a quality defensive corps addition.