ST. PAUL, MINN. — While the signing of Eric Staal and Chris Stewart were headlining events for the Minnesota Wild in free agency, the offseason has been significantly more interesting than that. It may actually prove to be an important summer for the future of the organization with many draft picks and free agent prospects entering the system, revitalizing a prospect pool that, within the pro ranks, was woefully thin.
Sam Anas getting a pro contract wasn’t the media feeding frenzy that Jimmy Vesey has seen coming out of college. However, the Quinnipiac forward had an impressive junior season. His 24 goals were tied for seventh in the nation. He ranked 10th in points (50), tied for 21st in points per game (1.16), tied for second in power-play goals (10) and tied for 14th in shots (143).
The 5-foot-8 center proved a lot. His hands and offensive skill are strong and his small stature says nothing about his strength on the ice. At the 2016 Frozen Four, he played through a significant shoulder injury, skating hard till the end of the tournament despite taking a number of rough shots to his shoulder from North Dakota throughout the national championship game.
Now, speaking after the Wild’s July development camp at Xcel Energy Center, he says his shoulder is “almost 100 percent” and that he will be ready to go at the start of the season.
“I got a couple extra weeks to train, which is good for me, as I’m rehabbing the shoulder. It’s been a good summer and I’m looking forward to training camp,” he said after looking like one of the team’s best prospects playing on a line with two 1st round picks, Joel Eriksson Ek and Alex Tuch, in a development camp scrimmage.
He’s entering an interesting situation. He’s likely to start the season with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, a team that will have a significantly different look than the last two seasons when they finished dead last in the American League. The arrival of Tuch, Anas, Nick Seeler, Adam Gilmour, Mario Lucia, Chase Lang and Pavel Jenys has the AHL club looking young and promising.
The Right Fit
And though few players have come up from Iowa and made NHL time stick in the last two seasons, it’s the Wild’s track record developing college talent and getting them into the NHL on a regular basis that intrigued Anas when deciding where to take his talents.
“It seemed like the right fit for me,” he said. “It seemed like they had a good success rate of developing guys in the AHL and bringing them up to the NHL, and not just having guys kinda get stuck in the AHL.
“They’ve done well with college guys in the past and seem to have a good understanding of my skill set and the type of player that I am. ”
Nothing but goosebumps seeing Lord Stanley hoisted #dreams
— Sam Anas (@samanas7) June 13, 2016
Anas obviously hopes to get to the NHL, but he enters Iowa as a player who is used to winning and putting the puck in the net, something there hasn’t been an abundance of in Iowa since moving to Des Moines from Houston. Anas averaged over a point per game in his final year of juniors and in all three NCAA seasons. Each season of his collegiate career saw Quinnipiac gain a berth in the NCAA tournament and he helped lead the team to the championship game as an alternate captain in his final season.
That national championship loss was a difficult way for Anas to end his career with the Bobcats. “It was definitely tough,” he said. “That was the worst taste in my mouth at the end of the season. So close. To think I could go back for another year and we would have had such a good group of guys. It was definitely a stressful time to make the decision [to go pro], but I’m glad I’m here now.”
It’s a unique program at Quinnipiac. They aren’t often thought of being among college hockey’s powerhouses and they aren’t stacked with top NHL draft picks. Yet, they entered the 2016 tournament as the number one ranked team in the nation and it was their fourth straight berth in the tournament. In two of those trips they made it to the national championship.
Anas learned a lot from the school and the program’s architect, Rand Pecknold. “I think the biggest thing about Quinnipiac is our work ethic. We don’t have 10, 12 draft picks like North Dakota did or Boston College did. But we had guys that worked hard.
“When you work hard and play to your system, you’re going to win games. Guys don’t play selfishly. They play for the team. You see guys blocking shots, taking hits, making hits. It’s everyone playing team first. I think no matter what level you’re playing at, those teams always seem to find a way to win.”
The Road to St. Paul
There aren’t many of openings on the NHL roster, and there is plenty of competition for those final slots with returning fringe players between Jordan Schroeder and Tyler Graovac, as well as a load of Iowa players looking to work their way onto the NHL roster like Zac Dalpe, Christoph Bertschy, Grayson Downing, Brady Brassart and Zack Mitchell.
The road up isn’t easy, but Anas has talent. His dedication to the team’s system and ability to see the game develop could help him make his mark in Iowa and garner interest for a call-up. However, the team will have an eye on if he’s able to maintain those skills in a significantly more physical game at the pro level. His determination during the NCAA national championship is a good sign for his ability to grind it out and play his game despite adversity. If he can do that at the pro level, the Wild may have found a player capable of adding depth scoring, which could help incoming coach Bruce Boudreau field a team where every line is an offensive threat.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.