ST. PAUL, Minn. — A travel-weary Jason Pominville didn’t have much preparation time upon leaving a team and a city in the Buffalo Sabres that he’d been a part of for nine years.
So when he finally made the trip to Los Angeles to meet up with his new Minnesota Wild teammates, he was still toting a Sabres equipment bag. He’ll soon be able to ditch the bag and wear the Minnesota road white uniform when he makes his debut with his new team on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings.
“There’s a lot of things that come with it,” Pominville said of the trade and travel from the East coast to the West coast when speaking with reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon. “You don’t realize until it happens. Obviously the wife, kids, house, all your stuff, your clothes, what do you bring, what do you do with your house, what do you do with everything in your house? So, I think there’s a lot that comes with it. Bottom line is I’m here to play hockey and the rest will take care of itself, and I’ve got to focus on what I have to do and let my wife take care of the rest.”
Pominville, 30, has 185 goals and 271 assists in his nine-year career since being selected by Buffalo in the second round of the 2001 draft. He’s played in 520 of 529 games since the 2006-07 season and comes to the Wild with 10 goals and 15 assists in 37 games this season.
And switching teams after nine years establishing himself in Buffalo can be a tough transition.
“It was a shock,” Pominville said. “Even though I kind of had a little bit of a feeling that it might happen, it’s still a shock. Obviously, really excited to come to this team, this organization, this city where they’re doing whatever it takes to win and they’re heading in the right direction. They’ve had a lot of success so far and hope I can just fit in and add to the puzzle.”
Pominville will be able to settle in just a bit in Minnesota. He’s signed through next season. But the Wild saw a chance to add an established NHL player and made the move despite the high cost. To pick up Pominville, Minnesota sent goaltender Matt Hackett and forward Johan Larsson, two prized prospects along with a 2013 first-round draft pick and 2014 second-rounder. The Wild also receive a 2014 fourth-rounder in the deal.
“I think it’s great,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said before Wednesday’s game. “It’s the quality of player that he is, but it’s also the type of person he is on top of that. That’s very, very important to me, making sure that we’re bringing in the right type of people. I love the message as much as anything else that this is an organization, much like this summer (when the team added Zach Parise and Ryan Suter), that we’re extremely committed to winning. We’re not satisfied with being good. We want to be great. I think that’s an important statement.”
Pominville can play in any situation, having been a top-line right winger, as well as playing on the power-play and penalty-kill. Yeo said he would slot Pominville in immediately on the right wing on the team’s first line with Parise and Mikko Koivu. He’s sound defensively, ranking fifth in the NHL in takeaways (33) heading into games on April 2. He led all Buffalo forwards in ice time (20:57) and power-play time on ice (3:50) and has scored at least 20 goals each of the last six seasons.
“I think I can play in every situation,” Pominville said. “In the past I’ve penalty killed, I’ve played forward, defense on power play, 4-on-4 on defense, play in any situation. If we need a goal, I can be on the ice. If we need to prevent a goal at the end of the game, I can be on the ice for that. So, I think it’s just being a reliable guy at both ends of the rink.”
That’s what Minnesota is counting on.
“When you have a guy like that it gives you options,” Yeo said of being able to play Pominville in different spots on the power play.
Yeo added: “Speed, skill, competitiveness, and as much as anything else, this is a quality person, this is a character guy, captain of his team. And much of what we are trying to do around here is not only have talented players, players that fit the way we want to play the game, but people that you want to be around and go to war with.”
Pominville had to agree to the trade to Minnesota. With a no trade clause, Pominville had to submit a list of teams to Sabres general manager Darcy Regier that he wouldn’t choose to go to. Thankfully for the Wild, they weren’t on the list.
“All the guys I’ve talked to that live here or are from here have nothing but good things to say about the city and about the organization. With the steps they took this summer to add some big players to their roster and I think they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win. I think that excites you as a player. It’s a place you want to come to. Anytime you have a chance to win, those teams are going to be on top of most guys lists.”
Pominville is just hoping adrenaline can carry him through his first game with his new team after his travel.
“I hope so,” Pominville said. “Obviously it was tough travel, early morning, I was up pretty early, didn’t get much sleep because of the nerves, excitement and everything. So hopefully it will take over and it will get me going for sure.”