ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild have one of the NHL’s stingiest defenses this season, largely because of a group of young defensemen.
Minnesota added more experience to the mix Wednesday by signing 13-year NHL veteran Brett Clark, a free agent who had been playing with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. Clark, 36, had one goal and 16 assists in 18 games.
“He’s always been a two-way defenseman,” Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He moves the puck well, good mobility. In Tampa Bay, he was always one of the leading shot blockers in the league. He’s a guy that thinks the game well and is solid positionally, and he can move the puck when he gets the chance.
“You can never have enough defensemen, and certainly when we had a chance to add a quality, veteran defenseman who was playing well down in Oklahoma City, it just made sense to do this.”
The Wild surrender the seventh-fewest shots in the league at 27.1 per game and are tied for seventh in the league in allowing an average of 2.40 goals. Their defense has been anchored by star free-agent pickup Ryan Suter, but the team is also relying on five defensemen with fewer than 150 games of NHL experience. When veteran Tom Gilbert missed Sunday’s game because of an illness, all five young players were in the lineup.
The Wild had been watching Clark in Oklahoma City for a while.
“You realize how quickly things can change in this league,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’ve been fortunate, knock on wood, but things can change very quickly. So to have depth is very important.”
Clark spent the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing in all 82 games both years. Last season, he had two goals and 13 assists and played to a minus-26 but said he played through a fractured ankle that limited him.
“I was never the same player after,” he said. “You’re always maybe a step behind, and it reflects a little bit in your play. To have the lockout and everything heals — and you get everything back in your game the way you want to play and the way you used to play — it makes it exciting.”
Clark has played in 681 NHL games. He’s scored 45 goals, passed out 140 assists and has played in power-play and penalty-kill situations. He used the time in the AHL to get healthy and prove to NHL teams he was ready for a call.
“I knew I had to go down there and give everything I had, like I was playing in the show because I was playing for another deal, another opportunity somewhere,” Clark said. “I feel like that gives myself the best opportunity and things seemed to work out. They called me on Monday and everything sort of got rolling from there. It’s been a whirlwind last couple of days.”
Yeo said Clark won’t be in the lineup for Thursday’s home game against the Colorado Avalanche, who Clark played with for six seasons before joining Tampa Bay. Yeo wants to have Clark practice with the team a few times before he dresses for a game, though Yeo did acknowledge the lack of available practices.
“It’s an NHL defenseman we’re adding to our group, a veteran presence,” Yeo said. “Obviously, depth is very important. I think our defensive group has been doing a really good job for us. But this is a guy that we can add, that again adds a veteran presence, adds puck-moving ability, and is a guy that’s been around and thinks the game well.”