When the season is rocky like the Minnesota Wild, you take whatever wins you can get your hands on.
University of Massachusetts forward Casey Wellman is on his way to Minnesota today to sign a free agent, entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild.
Wellman, one of the most sought-after college-level free agents, was chased by 21 other teams but ultimately chose Minnesota—victory, of course.
22-year-old Wellman is sixth in the country in terms of goals with 23 goals for UMass this season. According to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, he won’t be going to AHL team affiliate Houston Aeros, so it’s even more likely he could play in Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Wellman is a skill center with a projectable frame that glides really well. His signing is another step in the right direction for Wild, as Chuck Fletcher, Wild’s general manager, continues to be active in taking steps to improve the team now and in the future.
Even if the youngster doesn’t make it, we don’t go out much. This is a type of move with low risk and high reward.
But what does signing Wellman mean for Wild’s current roster?
He was sold on the Wild by his lack of organizational depth at center, both in the NHL and in the organization. It suffices to say one thing: he will get plenty of playing time somewhere next season.
He’ll get a fair amount of playing time in the team this season and be given a good chance to be in next season’s squad, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll get solid minutes in Houston.
What’s more, it’s likely another nail in the coffin of James Sheppard’s career with the Minnesota Wild sweater. There’s a very good chance that Wellman could step in and tank, but even if he did, he’s a better mid-cap option than Sheppard, who saw an increase in qualifying offers given to all free agents limited to this off-season.
The bottom line is that if Wellman displays even a bit of the offensive talent he showed at UMass, it’s an improvement over Sheppard, who has been ineffective in his best form of the season.
Me, personally? I love this move.
I’ve never understood why Wild didn’t dive into the college free agent market more and look for players with potential who had a big impact—that’s what Fletcher has done with this signing.
When you look at non-designated college free agents, as Russo points out, most are role players in their NHL careers. Andrew Ebbett and John Scott are excellent examples of that.
But every once in a while, you come across a difficult diamond—a player who’s late to progress or who’s slipped through a gap somewhere along the way.
Every now and then, you’ll find a player like Chris Kunitz or Dustin Penner or Dan Boyle—someone who can thrive in the NHL.
So the bottom line is, at worst, Wellman will have a brief stint with Wild and not stick around, exiting the league’s minimum wage. At best, he would turn into an impact player for Wild.
Most likely, Wild will get a solid third or fourth line, a young centre, who has a bit of a scoring touch.
And all without using a draft pick.