I think I finally know how Oprah Winfrey feels when she gleefully tells her audience that they will all be getting some prize for being with them on the show today. After having signed 5 free-agents to two-way contracts early Saturday afternoon they added another with some more local flavor in former Golden Gopher great Kyle Rau. He was signed to a one-year (two-way contract) worth $850,000. The former Mr. Hockey has terrific scoring instincts and great hands who had been performing well in the Florida Panthers organization, the team who had drafted him 91st Overall in the 2011.
While Rau certainly has a lot of familiarity as player who developed in the State of Hockey, his signing fits an intriguing trend that Minnesota has been hording small, skilled players. Rau is generously listed at 5’8″ and while players like Johnny Gaudreau, Mats Zuccarello and Viktor Arvidsson demonstrate you don’t have to be big to be effective those players are still pretty rare. Its not like every team has a sub-5’8″ stud on their team. So its a very distinctive push to add more skill and not worry so much about size as it has in season’s past. The center figures again to give the team more workable depth that it can perhaps call up if needed from Iowa while also giving the farm another player with scoring ability to lift that club towards the AHL playoffs. Rau does have 33 NHL games under his belt so he joins a group of players who do have at least some experience at the highest level even on a limited scale.
Iowa Wild head coach Derek Lalonde should have plenty of smallish, skilled forwards to look to generate scoring for the 2017-18 AHL season. Dante Salituro, Sam Anas, Justin Kloos and now Kyle Rau are all players signed that are 5’9″ or smaller. The Wild are not devoid of size, but even if you stretch this trend to the draft the Wild mainly drafted players that were on the smaller but skilled end of the spectrum which is interesting considering their playoff experience where the team’s lack of strength and desire in the tough areas of the ice saw them make a 1st round exit.
Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau talked about how the Wild’s struggles made it tough to get a quality call up to help the big club when injuries arose. While the team has accumulated a number of players with some NHL experience to their credit to make Iowa better in the short term and provide organizational depth have we committed too much to players of a similar skillset? I know speed and skill are important, but you also need some grit and sandpaper as well as the strength to take the puck to tough areas of the ice. Restricted free agent is the one rugged forward it has in regards to its minor league depth and while Mario Lucia and Adam Gilmour are big, they don’t play with a ton of grit and more skilled, finesse style forwards.
Still, if you’re an Iowa Wild fan you have to be excited at the offensive potential that has arrived and are probably saying “finally” some help from the big club. Fans in Iowa have remained patient and now it looks like they’ll be rewarded for it.