The Minnesota Wild department at The Hockey Writers is starting a series that will look at the franchise’s top 10 players all-time in honor of their 20th anniversary last season. THW’s Wild team consisting of myself, Justin Walters, Mariah Holland, and Devon Platana voted on this list, and it will begin with the 10th spot as we work our way down to the best player in franchise history.
It was a close call for the 10th spot, but Brian Rolston landed it because of his lasting mark on the organization despite his short tenure with the team, although it epitomizes the lack of goal-scoring in franchise history.
Few players can say they won the Stanley Cup during their career, but very few can say they won their only Stanley Cup in their rookie season. Rolston did just that with the New Jersey Devils in a shortened season due to a lockout in 1995. He was a good player with the Devils and Boston Bruins, but the best years of his 17-year career were with the Wild.
Rolston was one of the best free-agent acquisitions in franchise history. General manager Doug Risebrough signed him to a four-year contract in 2004, but he only played three seasons with the club because of the 2004-05 lockout that took up the first year of his deal. In June 2008, the Wild traded his negotiating rights to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional draft selection in 2009 or 2010 after the two parties couldn’t agree on a new deal.
Rolston likely regretted his decision to move on because of a contract dispute because he never produced as well as he did during his time in Minnesota. He never signed with the Lightning but returned to the Devils on a four-year deal after negotiations stalled. He was traded to the New York Islanders and later to the Bruins before he announced his retirement after the 2012-13 season.
Tenure With The Wild
Rolston was electric with the Wild. He is fondly remembered for his blistering slapshot – that he also liked to use in the shootout – but there was so much more to his game. He was a top-line left-winger who was dangerous both at even-strength and on the power play. No one was surprised when he reeled off three straight 30-goal seasons.
He was also known for his strong two-way game. He was a mainstay on the penalty kill and could play difficult minutes, which is why he received votes for the Frank J. Selke Trophy in two of his three seasons with the Wild.
One of the main reasons he was so important to the Wild was his versatility. He could play all three forward positions and was a factor at even-strength and on special teams. He was able to do it all. Rolston led the Wild in scoring with 34 goals and 79 points in his first season, which is pretty extraordinary given that he outscored star winger Marian Gaborik.
His time in Minnesota is similar to Eric Staal’s. Both Rolston and Staal signed as free agents and played their first season with the Wild at 32 years old. They were both successful and were among the team’s top scorers during their stints; they outperformed expectations.
Rolston brought a lot to the table that helped the Wild be successful, and thanks to him, the team made the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the club.
Why Is Rolston Deserving?
Rolston is deserving of his place at No. 10 on this all-time list because he had the skill set that helped him thrive at all facets of the game. He is one of the best goal scorers to ever play for the organization and ranks 9th in goals, 17th in assists, and 14th in points in franchise history despite his short tenure. For a player to have that much impact in such a short time is impressive and proves how impactful he was during that time.
Rolston was also a leader, and he was often named captain during a monthly rotation that was established. He helped mentor young players and was a key part of the locker room.
“He was a key fixture in that locker room, too. Ask any Wild youngster from back in the day, and Rolston was the perfect mentor and positive influence to emulate,” (from, ‘The top 20 Wild players of all time: Marian Gaborik tops our fan-voted list,’ The Athletic, 02/15/2021).
Rolston is not only one of the most impactful players in Wild franchise history, but he became one of the best free-agent additions after flourishing under head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.