New Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert comes home

Just traded by Edmonton, the only NHL team he’s ever played for,
Tom Gilbert joined his new club and declared, ”it feels like
home.”

Well, that’s because it is.

Gilbert grew up less than 20 miles from the Minnesota Wild’s St.
Paul headquarters and starred for Bloomington Jefferson High School
before a standout college career at Wisconsin. Nearly through his
fifth NHL season, Gilbert was dealt by the Oilers to the Wild for
fellow defenseman Nick Schultz.

Gilbert took part in Minnesota’s morning skate before Tuesday’s
game against the Los Angeles Kings, his scheduled debut on a
revamped blue line after a flurry of trades before the NHL’s
deadline. Defensemen Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon
were traded away, and Gilbert and Kurtis Foster were acquired to
join Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and
Mike Lundin.

The Wild wanted more of a puck-moving, offensive-minded player,
enough that they were willing to move their longest-tenured skater
in Schultz, a popular, reliable, durable leader who was a pure
stay-at-home defenseman. In Gilbert they got a guy who once had a
40-assist season, in 2008-09. The 29-year-old has 33 goals and 158
points in 384 career games.

”It’s something that I take pride in, trying to get the puck up
the ice as soon as possible,” Gilbert said.

He’ll see plenty of time on the power play as well, and he’ll be
asked to hold important opposing players in check. When the Oilers
played the Wild, Gilbert was often lined up against center Mikko
Koivu.

”Not only can he make plays, but they had some confidence in
what he can do defensively. As much as anything else, we needed to
make improvements as far as how our entire group, our back end,
contributes offensively,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Gilbert led the Oilers in ice time with an average of nearly 23
minutes per game. The 29-year-old was drafted by Edmonton in 2002.
Gilbert will become the seventh native Minnesotan to play for the
Wild this season. Prosser (Elk River), Lundin (Apple Valley), Matt
Cullen (Moorhead), Jarod Palmer (Fridley), Chad Rau (Eden Prairie)
and Jeff Taffe (Hastings) are the others.

Gilbert will pair with Falk, for now. He downplayed the
difficulty of adjusting to a new system with only 20 games to go in
the regular season.

”Just go out there and play hockey,” was the way he described
his mindset. ”Most teams are pretty similar. There’s a few tactics
that are different but that comes with time.”

With Gilbert, Foster and forwards Stephane Veilleux and Nick
Palmieiri, the Wild have some fresh blood for their outside shot at
getting back to the playoffs.

”All those guys are coming in here, and there’s no thoughts
about where we were or, `How did we get there?”’ Their only
thought is where we’re at right now, and they’re excited about the
opportunity to try to gain some ground on some teams,” Yeo
said.

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