Minnesota Wild: Dean Evason weighs in on team’s options at center

Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason says despite chatter to the contrary, the team has, "got a lot of options again at center-ice." (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason says despite chatter to the contrary, the team has, "got a lot of options again at center-ice." (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /
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Q: What does the Minnesota Wild have in common with a donut?

A: Neither has a center.

OK, it’s not that bad for the Wild because Joel Eriksson Ek is a solid one.

But, still some fans might be frustrated at the fact that the Wild have not traded for Buffalo’s Jack Eichel or landed a  top-end center in the offseason so far.

And there’s a chance it doesn’t happen at all.

If so,  Wild coach Dean Evason feels there is solid options on the roster at the position now, despite the criticism and chatter to the contrary that’s out there.

“I know there’s always the talk of, ‘Our center-ice is this and our center-ice is that,’ but we’ve got a lot of center-icemen that can go into those spots,” Evason said during a Zoom conference call with media members on Tuesday. “We put people at different times into our so-called top center positions, and we’re gonna have to do that again.”

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He pointed to the flexibility of the players, including Frederick Gaudreau, who the Wild signed to a two-year contract last week. Evason said the former Pittsburgh Penguin can be slotted at either forward or center.

“As we did last year, we put people at different times into our so-called top center positions, and we’re gonna have to do that again,” Evason said. “So we’ve played around with him being at center and being at the wing, but I liked him at both, for me, in the past. So we’ll see where he lands once camp ends.”

Evason coached Gaudreau at Milwaukee in the AHL and said he is a competitive player who also showed a lot in his time in the minors.

“He’s got a great skill set that didn’t translate early in his career, and that’s why he went down,” Evason said.  “His willingness to go down and accept (the move),  I mean, that says a lot about a person. He found his game and played extremely well at the American Hockey League. He just seemed to get better each and every year.”

Gaudreau is among the new faces added to the Wild this year.

“Obviously we’ve got some changes,” Evason said of the Wild’s active offseason. “Every team is going to have changes  … but we feel we’ve got lots of options to play  guys who have played in the league and evey guys who we feel possibly haven’t been given an opportunity to play that we’re excited about.  It’s nice to have fresh, exciting people coming into your organization and we expect them to fit in well.”

The newcomers also include veteran defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill, who were both free agency signees last week.  The duo are both known for a physical play that they are expected to bring to Minnesota as well.

“The game’s changed,” Evason said. “It’s not the days of having kind of one skilled guy and one real gritty, tough guy, in a (defensive) pair. That’s gone.

“I think everybody that plays (in the NHL) now has bite to them, plays hard, and has different skill sets.,” Evason said. “The people that we’ve signed for our back end, we think they have bite and have grit.”

He added that its nothing new for the Wild.

“We ask everybody to play that style of game and we feel that’ll give us a chance to have success,” Evason said.