This week the "Stephane Da Costa Sweepstakes" ended rather unceremoniously for The Minnesota Wild, when the French-born center chose to bring his talents to Ottawa. Despite Chuck Fletcher's best efforts, which included a recruitment video extolling the virtues of playing in and for Minnesota.
Jokes aside, the chase for Da Costa was an attempt in bringing in more talented youth into the prospect pipeline, which has slowly increased from a slow drip into what looks to be a steadier trickle of talent.
Fletcher made three NCAA free agent signings last year; Casey Wellman, Nate Prosser, and Jarod Palmer. While Palmer is plying his trade in the AHL, both Wellman and Prosser have seen time at the NHL level, and look to challenge for roster spots this fall. Wellman, in particular, was a curious case in regards to his inclusion to roster last fall.
He generated excitement amongst the fans- or as Nate Wells playfully (I hope it is anyways) puts it, Wellman's our "saviour." In a season that in the annals of history will be glossed over as a non-descript playoff-less season, the 12 games he played in created a buzz; not just that the signing of his ilk- an American NCAA free agent- was in strict contrast with the previous regime's theology, but that he young player that the fans could really invest themselves in. Let's face it- goal scorers are sexy in the grand scheme of hockey, and Wellman had scored 23 goals at UMass-Amherst before signing with The Wild; the prospect of getting a goal scoring forward for a team who historically struggled the put the puck in the net largely blew up the skirt of many a fan.
(I was at that game- he got a HUGE crowd pop when he scored. The video doesn't do it justice.)
27 games in, and Wellman has just two goals and five assists at the NHL level, but a respectable 32 points in 40 games in Houston, where he's battled injury. The jury is still out on whether or not he'll be a productive NHLer, but there is a lot of things to like about him.
This brings me to a larger point.
The Wild fanbase desperately wants a young player to hook their wagon to- you look at Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay (who ironically will be at the X in a few hours,) Jeff Skinner in Carolina (who was compared to Justin Bieber in terms of popularity in that market by Canes Captain Eric Staal,) Taylor Hall in Edmonton, John Tavares in Long Island, and so on and so forth- not just a steady contributor per se, but a kid with star quality. In a way, not unlike a few players of Minnesota hockey past; Mike Modano of the North Stars, and Marian Gaborik here. Kids who put butts in the seats, kids worthy of the price of (an increasingly steep) admission.
You can see that yearning when it comes to all things Mikael Granlund; so few of us, as Wild fans, have seen the kid in live action- we can only go off of the Youtube highlights, scouting reports, and updates from Wild fans in Finland who so diligently assist in the dispersal of information from the other side of the pond. So collectively we held our breath as concussions were reported, waiting for a sign to return to the hope of a brighter future- as of this point, Granlund doesn't seem to have lost a step at all as his HIFK team fights through the playoffs.
All signs point towards young Mr. Granlund coming to North America for next season.
So we wait patiently, hoping that he can be what we want him to be- a generator, a contributor, a horse to hook our wagons to.
A kid worth sitting on the edge of our seats for.