Eric Staal

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Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

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If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

“Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?

Looking to make the leap: Joel Eriksson Ek

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This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.

But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.

Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.

An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.

Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.

That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”

It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.

Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).

But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.

Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.

That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.

As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.

Now we wait to see if grabs it.

Boudreau hoping for bounce back season from Ennis

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One of the Minnesota Wild’s big moves this offseason was to try and strengthen their forward depth by acquiring Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Jason Pominville.

Foligno has already set some pretty high expectations for himself by aiming for 20 goals this season.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau seems to have some pretty high expectatinos for Ennis, telling Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press this week that he thinks if Ennis can stay healthy he could see a resurgence in Minnesota similar to the one Eric Staal experienced this past season.

Via the Pioneer Press:

Tyler Ennis, I’ve seen and talked to and met. I don’t want to put pressure on him, but three years ago, he was a great player in this league. He’s missed 90 games in the last two years due to injury. If we can keep him healthy, I think he’s going to have a rebound year like Eric Staal had. I’m very excited about having him. In our top-9 forwards, I think we’re as strong as anybody in the league.

When the Wild signed Staal as a free agent a year ago he was coming off of his worst season as a pro and there was an expectation that he was washed up as an elite player. He rebounded in his first year with the Wild by scoring 28 goals and being one of their absolute best forwards.

Ennis, of course, was never the type of player that Staal was at his peak but he was still better than the player we saw in Buffalo the past two seasons. Injuries were obviously a major factor for Ennis (as Boudrea noted, he was limited to just 74 games the past years … total) but even when he was on the ice his production plummeted.

Having better luck when it comes to health will certainly help, but so to will playing on a better team. The Wild were one of the best teams in the league for the first three quarters of the 2016-17 season and have a pretty solid collection of forwards. He is going to have more talent around him and should at least be in a better position to succeed.

Flyers make Nolan Patrick second pick of 2017 NHL Draft

The Philadelphia Flyers selected Nolan Patrick with the second pick of the 2017 NHL Draft after Nico Hischier went first.

Injuries plagued Patrick’s 2016-17 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, as he was limited to 46 points in 33 games. His stock was higher after 2015-16, when he generated 102 points in 72 contests.

The general argument between “Nico vs. Nolan” has been that Patrick is the all-around player while Hischier was viewed as more “dynamic.”

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy joined those who tempered expectations for Patrick (while also praising his abilities) in this draft profile for PHT.

“Patrick is not on the same level as Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, but he does have the pedigree to be a pretty good NHLer – think Aaron Ekblad’s impact, but playing an Eric Staal kind of game.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall admitted he wasn’t sure which pick would be available at second overall.

Nolan reflects on joining the Flyers in the video below.

Report: Wild’s Haula agrees to sign with Vegas

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It appears the Minnesota Wild have lost forward Erik Haula to the Vegas Golden Knights, according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Wild had exposed Eric Staal, Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella, but apparently had been in talks with Vegas general manager George McPhee to make a deal. It was reported later yesterday that Haula could sign with the Golden Knights, which would mean Minnesota keeps Staal, Dumba and Scandella.

It’s still costly for Minnesota, which reportedly also loses 2014 first-round pick and prospect winger Alex Tuch.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Haula, who would have become a restricted free agent July 1, agreed to a multi-year deal with the Golden Knights during their exclusive free-agency window that ended at 7 a.m. Pacific time this morning. That was also the deadline for Vegas to submit its initial 30-player roster to the NHL and sign and submit unprotected free agents.

In exchange for the Golden Knights choosing Haula in expansion and steering clear of, among others, defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella and center Eric Staal, the Wild has agreed to trade prospect Alex Tuch and a conditional future draft pick to Vegas, sources say.

Haula turned 26 years old in March. He played in 72 regular season games for Minnesota this past season, scoring 15 goals — a new single-season career high — and 26 points. He was in the final year of a two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $1 million.

He was a pending restricted free agent.

The deadline for Vegas to submit its expansion draft selections was today, 10 a.m. ET.