There is an old saying that goes, “the devil you know, is better than the one that you don’t.” It wasn’t the first time in the Wild’s history that the team brought a player back after a season or two away from the organization. The team brought back Sergei Krivokrasov after trading him late during its inaugural season for the start of the following campaign. More recently, the team brought back Stephane Veilleux after he spent 3 years with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils with a stint in Europe before returning to the State of Hockey. This summer the Wild also brought back Cody Almond who had been playing in Switzerland the last two seasons. So perhaps Wild fans should not be all that surprised the team decided to bring back defenseman Justin Falk with a 1-year, 2-way contract. The Wild originally drafted Falk in the 4th round (110th Overall) in 2007. He spent 5 seasons with organization, playing in 108 games for Minnesota during that time, registering a very modest goal and 14 points along with 100 PIM’s. The Wild traded Falk to the New York Rangers for Benn Ferriero in the summer of 2013 just prior to the opening of free agency. Ferriero had never played a single game for either Minnesota or Iowa as the team chose not to tender him a contract making the trade somewhat curious at the time.
Falk’s addition rounds out a Wild defensive picture which had still be in search of a physical presence to replace the one lost by the departure of Clayton Stoner due to free agency. Falk’s return is interesting when you consider the team decided to part ways with Elk River-native Nate Prosser. The Snowflake, Manitoba-native at times tried to provide that physical edge in his time with the Wild showing a willingness to drop the gloves and also by throwing his 6’5″, 215lbs frame around. Yet if memory serves me correctly he was not an overly punishing defenseman and it was almost as though he had to remind himself to use his big body. The Wild obviously felt that was better than having no one for that role. I am also going to speculate that Prosser’s unwillingness to go back to being a two-way contract defenseman probably was the two sides couldn’t reach a deal. Falk’s two-way status will likely mean he could split his time between Iowa and Minnesota. He will be battling with defensemen Jonathon Blum, Christian Folin and youngsters Mathew Dumba and Gustav Olofsson for the 6th and 7th spots on the depth chart. So why the interest in this new Wild ‘Reunion Tour’?
One must remember that Falk would have the familiarity of Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo who leaned heavily on him during the Houston Aeros’ Calder Cup run back in 2010-11. Yeo seems to be asking for some of the loyal soldiers he had during that memorable AHL season, come back and be leaned upon in supporting roles of a team that is now far deeper in talent. One should not forget the solid play of Jonathon Blum in a few stints throughout the season. He provided solid play on an awful Iowa team when he was not up with the big club. Blum is confident with the puck and has plenty of professional experience under his belt between this time with the Wild and the Nashville Predators’ organization. Toss into it he was named the Iowa Wild’s Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts with local charities in Des Moines. Toss into the mix, college free agent Christian Folin who has more of a two-way game and while he was noted for being willing to hit at the college level it remains to be seen if he will play with the edge at the professional level. Folin brings a 6’3″, 210lbs frame, and some offensive ability that might be attractive on the 3rd pairing. While these are perhaps the front runners for the 6th and 7th spots on the team’s blueline there are some youngsters that are going to trying to challenge for a spot as well.
One player who has been vocal about his want to make the team out of training camp has been Mathew Dumba. Dumba got a small taste of the NHL in a 13-game stint last season that started the first year of his 3-year Entry Level contract. The Calgary-native had a goal and an assist in those two games, but he was far from the dynamic defenseman that dazzled with flashy puck handling, big open hits or blistering slap shots. For the most part he looked like a deer in headlights in my opinion. He was later released to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships where he struggled. Some blame the flu for this; but being sick or not I don’t see why that means you have to handle the puck like you have a live hand grenade on the blade of your stick. However, he will be very determined to try to compel Minnesota to keep him on the roster as he told nhl.com here. He did look more like the dynamic blueliner we drafted at this summer’s Wild Development Camp but we’ve yet to see that same reckless abandon at the professional level.
Another player who must also be considered a darkhorse candidate to make the roster is the lanky Gustav Olofsson. Olofsson had a roller coaster 2013-14 season with a dismal Colorado College squad. He is a player who models his game after Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin. He plays the game with an uncanny awareness that allows him to think the game a few steps ahead of his peers and uses his stick to take away the puck and then make that accurate first pass out of the zone. The Wild coaching staff have shown a history of having a strong preference for a defenseman with decent puckhandling skills over their physical tools and that might give a player like Olofsson to sneak up a few places on the depth chart.