Newcomers to Minnesota Wild Starting To Pay Dividends

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2009

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 26: Chuck Kobasew #12 of the Minnesota Wild handles the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 26, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 3-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This article was originally posted at Wild Nation.


Right now, it’s looking like Chuck Fletcher might deserve to be locked away for robbery.


Why, you ask?


Because, at this point, that’s what his additions of Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse, and Andrew Ebbett look like.


Okay, so maybe I’m going a touch strong on the hyperbole, but you can’t deny that the Wild’s newcomers have given the team quite the boost in the last few games.


Chuck Kobasew?


Well, the man with an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt got off to a slow start for the Wild with just a goal and two assists in his first nine games, not to mention a minus-two rating.


Since returning from his injury, however, Kobasew has three goals, all of which came as a hat trick in the Wild’s post-turkey day feast against the Colorado Avalanche, a minus-one rating, and 15 shots.


Fifteen shots in just four games from a checker?


That sounds like someone who’s making a difference to me.


Then you’ve got G-Lat. Dubbed as such by scribe Glen Andresen, I’ve decided to adopt the nickname for my own purposes because, quite honestly, just thinking about typing his name gives me carpal tunnel syndrome.


G-Lat was cast off from Montreal after tallying two goals and an assist in 23 games, including a minus-four rating. For Minnesota? He’s equaled that output in just three games, with a plus-one rating.


Not only that, but G-Lat has seemingly transformed from a lazy, uninspired shadow of a power forward to the energetic, physical mountain of a man that he was billed as coming into Montreal his rookie season. Not only that, but somewhere on the road between here and Montreal, he learned how to play defense.


And then there’s Andrew Ebbett—Mighty Mouse himself.


Proving that it is indeed possible to be smaller than Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ebbett has provided an instant offensive spark to whatever line he’s been put on. 


In his first game for the Wild, against Boston? Game-tying goal.


In the second of back-to-back games against Colorado? Game-winning shootout goal.


In Wednesday’s game against Nashville? Game-winning overtime goal.


Now that’s what I call coming through in the clutch.


Now I know what a lot of you are thinking. 


For Kobasew, it was likely an aberration, right?


But consider that he has scored 20-plus goals in three of the last four seasons. You simply just don’t forget how to score just because you come to a new team. He is capable of putting up goals—it’s just a matter of finding players that he meshes with.


For G-Lat, he’s just trying to impress his new team.


Maybe. I’m still going to hold my judgment on this one until his body of work is a little bigger. But honestly, everyone knew that he had talent. Everyone knew that he was capable of being a solid player in this league.


Consider his circumstances in Montreal. A Quebecois player, playing in Montreal? It takes a special kind of good to be able to withstand the pressure that comes with that. It takes a Maurice Richard-type of talent to be able to withstand that, and no matter how good G-Lat might be for Minnesota, no one will ever mistake him for The Rocket.


So maybe, just maybe he’s playing this way because the pressure is no longer on. His every move isn’t going to be critiqued in Minnesota (just every other move). Maybe, now that he’s free of the expectations that come along with a French-Canadian player in Montreal, he’ll emerge into the player he is capable of being.


But again, I’m going to hold my judgment until he has a larger body of work.


As for Ebbett?


Honestly, I can’t find any reason why anyone should be wary of his performance. Despite his size, the man has put up points at every single level. His last season at the University of Michigan? Fourteen goals, 42 points in 41 games. His last full season in the AHL? Eighteen goals, 72 points in 74 games. His first season with the Ducks? Eight goals, 32 points in 48 games.


He’s capable of scoring and, honestly, has seemed to be a cap casualty in both Anaheim and Chicago this season. But if he keeps playing this way, there’s no way he’s going to be one in Minnesota.


But to be honest, the biggest contribution that these players have brought to the team isn’t necessarily on the ice.


Yes, they’re helping the Wild win games. But what their additions have done is juiced the locker room, so to speak.


The Wild are 4-0-1 in their last five games and are playing their best hockey of the season. The energy that is flowing through this locker room right now is absolutely amazing.


The additions do two things.


First, it shows players in the locker room that they need to perform—otherwise they might be on their way out.


I can tell you that I was quite surprised when I pulled up TSN’s website and saw the article saying that Benoit Pouliot had been shipped off to Montreal.


Pouliot was playing the best hockey of his career and was starting to show signs of improvement on the ice. But it wasn’t enough for Fletcher. He saw an opportunity and took it, and now Benny Pooh is a Canadien.


Second, it forces players to actually earn their jobs.


In Wednesday’s game, James Sheppard was scratched, and not necessarily because of his play. Sheppard has been a force in the last couple games since he’s been slid over to the wing, but the Wild simply do not have the room for him in their lineup—especially not if they feel that it is necessary to skate Derek Boogaard.


The Wild have a full roster right now and still have Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the IR. When those two players get healthy, who knows what’s going to happen?


Players are certainly going to have to start earning their keep.


Players like Sheppard and Boogaard, whose spots on the roster were once assured? They might not be any more. Or players like Martin Havlat who have been underperforming? They might not be assured a spot in the lineup on a nightly basis anymore.


The bottom line is that Chuck Fletcher is putting his stamp on this team, and it’s already starting to pay dividends. As it stands now, not only are the Wild out of the cellar in the division and the conference—they’re just six points back from the seventh seed in the playoffs.


What this has done is sent a shot across the bow of all of the Nervous Nellies in the State of Hockey. It’s sent a message to all of the fans deriding Fletcher, claiming that he hasn’t done a good enough job of setting the team up for success.


It’s told them one thing: Patience is a virtue.


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