By Craig D. Schroepfer, WCCO Radio
Back in the middle of January the Minnesota Wild found itself on the outside of the playoff picture.
The Wild was winless in six straight games and losing ground quickly in the Western Conference. On Jan. 16, General Manager Chuck Fletcher made a trade with Arizona, acquiring goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Coyotes to solidify the goaltending position, which had struggled since December.
Since that trade, Minnesota has gone 15-3-2 and played their way back into playoff contention. They currently hold the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
With the Wild back in playoff contention, the next step was to solidify the depth of the roster and that’s what Fletcher has done over the last week.
The first trade came last Tuesday, when Minnesota acquired forward Sean Bergenheim and a seventh-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft from the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
In Bergenheim, the Wild acquire a player who can play on the second and third line and contribute on special teams. His regular season stats may be average, but in the postseason Bergenheim has delivered. In 2011, when Tampa Bay made its run to the Eastern Conference Finals, Bergenheim was second on the Lightning in scoring with nine goals. The following year, while playing with the Florida Panthers, Bergenheim finished tied for the team lead in playoff goals with three as the Panthers were eliminated in seven games.
The knock on Bergenheim is he has trouble staying healthy. But when Bergenheim is healthy, he is productive and will add some much-needed depth at forward with Jason Zucker out for the year.
The next move Fletcher made was acquiring defenseman Jordan Leopold from Columbus for defenseman Justin Falk and a fifth-round draft pick.
The trade is a homecoming for Leopold, who played college hockey for the University of Minnesota and was a captain on the 2002 team that won a national championship. With Keith Ballard and Jared Spurgeon out of the lineup due to injuries, Leopold provides some much-needed depth on defense. Leopold is also a left-handed shot from the blue line and will probably be a fifth or sixth defenseman on the roster for the time being.
The final trade made by Fletcher before the deadline was acquiring forward Chris Stewart from the Buffalo Sabres for a second round draft pick in the 2017 draft.
Stewart is a power forward who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 231 pounds. He can play on the second or third line and is a player you can park in front of the net to make a goaltender’s life miserable. His presence in front of the net should help out Minnesota’s power play. More importantly, the acquisition of Stewart gives the Wild some much-needed size on the roster, which the team needs if it’s going to compete with Anaheim, St. Louis or Los Angeles in the Western Conference.
With these deals, Fletcher has managed to retool a team that was sinking fast. There are 20 games left in the season, but the Wild now have the depth needed to compete for a playoff spot. If Minnesota does qualify for the postseason, they will be a tough out for whoever they draw in the first round of the playoffs.
Follow Craig D. Schroepfer on Twitter at @CDSWCCO.