In just two days, Minnesota Wild general manager Paul Fenton made his first two trades with the franchise. On Wednesday, Jan. 16, Fenton sent AHL centerman Justin Kloos to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Pontus Aberg. Fenton also traded winger Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask of the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 17.
It took eight months with the franchise for Fenton to make his first trade. These two transactions occurred at a time where the Wild are in desperate need of a spark within their lineup. Trading away Niederreiter is definitely a message from Fenton telling the team that they need to get it together. Let’s take a look into the trades.
It’s about time the Wild gain a right-shot forward. Their offense includes 10 left-shot forwards since Niederreiter was swapped for Rask, another lefty. Now with the right-handed Aberg, it gives the Wild’s offense a bit more diversity and allows for left-handed wingers to play on their strong side, meaning they can play left wing and be on their forehand each shift.
Fenton drafted Aberg while he managed the Nashville Predators seven years ago. He was the seventh pick in the second round, going 37th overall in the 2012 Draft. In 37 games played in the 2018-19 season, he has 11 goals and eight assists, totaling 19 points. He’s also a minus-11 this season.
Aberg was immediately slotted onto the third line, playing on the right side next to Charlie Coyle at center and Zach Parise on the left wing, with both wingers able to play on their strong side. Aberg was also put on the power play in his first game, which occurred against his former team, the Ducks.
Despite the Wild losing 3-0, Aberg managed to see 15:18 of ice time, recorded two shots on goal and was on the ice for a goal against. His speed was evident last night and his ability to create space in the offensive zone was very impressive. He is confident with the puck, and in my opinion, confidence is what this team is lacking.
The 25-year-old Swede has hands. It comes with his confidence and allows him to create that space and score some insane goals, like the one against the San Jose Sharks back in Oct. 2018.
In the game last night, he had glimpses when he looked very comfortable with the puck while under pressure. He was composed and played hard, and as he becomes more familiar with the Wild’s system, I’d expect him to start scoring some opportune goals with this club. His ability to skate hard, plus his individual skillset, will indeed be beneficial to the team. Fenton made a solid trade to pick up Aberg for very little.
It’s obvious that the Wild’s core is getting older, specifically at the center position. Bringing in Rask was not only a change of scenery for him but also a way to provide a bit more ‘youth’ at the center position. In 26 games played in the 2018-19 season, he has one goal and five assists, totaling six points.
Due to injuries, he was struggling to maintain a spot in the lineup with the Hurricanes. When he’s healthy, he can be a solid player to have on both ends of the ice. The struggling Rask hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 27 against the Montreal Canadiens. That was 52 days ago.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) January 17, 2019
It’s pretty simple: Rask needs to redefine his game and hopefully Minnesota is the right fit. With wingers like Parise and the new addition of Aberg, slotting Rask between the two could potentially create a new third line and hopefully kick-start some positive play for Rask.
This change on the third line could allow Coyle to move up to the first or second line and play on his strong side wing. This also creates a bit more depth up and down the lineup to add a right-handed shot on the right side, compared to another lefty playing there, like Niederreiter would at times.
After signing a five-year, $26.25 million extension prior to the 2017-18 season, of course he was going to have some expectations to fill. Especially after recording three straight 20-plus goal seasons. But Niederreiter just couldn’t find any consistency in his game with the Wild this season, which was unfortunate.
It’s tough to see a fan favorite like Niederreiter be sent away in this deal as he spent six seasons in a Wild jersey as he had a large impact on Minnesota’s fanbase. He scored some very memorable goals with the Wild. Especially in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Colorado Avalanche. No Wild fan will ever forget that.
Like any other business, the National Hockey League is just that, a business. Players move around every day, and unfortunately Niederreiter’s time with the Wild was up. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits into Carolina’s lineup and how he’ll react to his new opportunity on the east coast.
The NHL Trade Deadline is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25 and I expect to see Fenton and the Wild make another move before then. In a league that is increasingly becoming younger and younger each season, it’s crucial that the Wild make moves for their future. This team contains an aging core and for them to succeed in future seasons, they need to scrape some of the age off this roster.
Currently, the Wild’s veteran core contains Mikko Koivu (35 years old), Eric Staal (34 years old), Zach Parise (34 years old), Ryan Suter (33 years old) and Eric Fehr (33 years old), who is currently on injured reserve.
Staal, another struggling Wild forward, has only 30 points this season. Two seasons prior he 65 points, and last season, 76 points. He hasn’t been able to find his groove or play on a consistent line like he did last season when he centered Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund. Since Dec. 27, Staal has only notched two goals and five assists, totaling seven points and is a minus-one.
His point production has been progressively decreasing throughout this season. Staal’s time in Minnesota could be coming to a close but he still has a lot of hockey left in him. This season has not mirrored what he’s done with the Wild the past two seasons, similar to what Niederreiter was experiencing.
I would think that Fenton is going to be active in the upcoming weeks and will be shopping around the league. The two trades from this week will add depth to the Wild roster and hopefully rejuvenate a team that is struggling with confidence.