When a season is as rocky as the Minnesota Wild’s, you take any victory you can get.
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 collegiate level free agents, was pursued by 21 other teams but chose Minnesota in the end—a victory, to be sure.
The 22-year-old Wellman is tied for sixth in the nation in goals with 23 for UMass this season. According to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, he will not be going to the team’s AHL affiliate Houston Aeros, making it increasingly likely that he could play in Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Wellman is a skilled center with a projectable frame that can skate very well. His signing is yet another step in the right direction for the Wild, as Chuck Fletcher, the general manager of the Wild, is continuing to be active in taking steps to improve the team now and down the road.
The bottom line?
Even if the youngster doesn’t pan out, we’re not out much. It’s a low-risk, high-reward type of move.
But what does Wellman’s signing mean for the current Wild roster?
He was sold on the Wild by the organization’s lack of depth at center, both in the NHL and in the organization. This is pretty much saying one thing: he will be getting a good amount of playing time somewhere next season.
He’ll get a fair amount of minutes on the team this season and be given a good shot at making the squad next season, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll be getting solid minutes in Houston.
What’s more is that this is likely another nail in the coffin of James Sheppard’s career in a Minnesota Wild sweater. There’s a very good chance that Wellman could come in and tank, but even if he does that he’s a better cap option at center than Sheppard, who is looking at the qualifying offer raise that is afforded to all restricted free agents this offseason.
The bottom line is that if Wellman displays even a shade of the offensive talent that he showed at UMass, it is an upgrade over Sheppard, who has been ineffective at an absolute best this season.
Me, personally? I love this move.
I’ve never understood why the Wild didn’t dip into the collegiate free agency market more and go for players with the potential have a huge impact—that is exactly what Fletcher has done with this signing.
When you look at the undrafted collegiate free agents, as Russo points out, most are role players in their NHL careers. Andrew Ebbett and John Scott are very good examples of that.
But every once in a while, you find a diamond in the rough—a player who is either a late-bloomer or who slipped through the cracks somewhere along the way.
Every once in a while, you’ll find a player like a Chris Kunitz or a Dustin Penner or a Dan Boyle—someone who can thrive in the NHL.
So what this boils down to is that, at worst, Wellman will have a brief stint with the Wild and not stick, going out on the league’s minimum salary. At best, he’ll turn into an impact player for the Wild.
Most likely, the Wild will be getting a solid third or fourth line, young center, who has a bit of a scoring touch.
And all without using a draft pick.