Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said he would likely be busy during Sunday’s NHL Draft from a trade perspective, but it wasn’t just about adding more picks in what some are calling one of the deepest drafts in several years.
Fletcher followed through on his plans, making two trades Sunday. The biggest deal didn’t net more picks for Minnesota, which was without a first-round selection for the first time in team history. Instead, Sunday’s trade of Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders was about adding a talented player that the Wild had their eyes on in a past draft.
Minnesota traded Clutterbuck and a third-round pick in Sunday’s draft to acquire young prospect Nino Niederreiter from New York.
“We had the ability to get different assets, but to me it wasn’t about getting into this draft,” Fletcher said after making the trade for Niederreiter. “It was about getting an asset that could have an impact on our organization. You’re talking about a guy who was selected in the top five, so that’s a pretty high level of prospect. Two years from now, it will be interesting to see how many of the kids selected will be at the level that he is now. This is a guy that is knocking on the door. All the hype about the top kids today, and deservedly so, was around this guy two years ago. We’re just two years further down the road.”
Niederreiter, drafted No. 5 overall in the 2010 draft, is a talented winger, who had 28 goals and 22 assists while playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League last year. Niederreiter, 20, was rushed to the NHL, playing nine games for New York in 2010 before being returned to his junior team to retain his eligibility.
A big (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) forward, Niederreiter had a goal and assist in his nine games in 2010 before finishing the season with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League in juniors. Niederreiter played 55 games for the Islanders in 2011-12, scoring one goal and finishing with a minus-29.
He spent the entire 2012-13 season with the Bridgeport Sound and reportedly requested a trade after not being invited to Islanders training camp. But Fletcher said he has no reservations about Niederreiter.
“The hockey world is pretty small; it’s not hard to get information on people,” Fletcher said. “There’s no red flags from our perspective. At the end of the day, he’s a 20-year-old player. I’m sure like every 20-year-old kid maybe he made a couple of decisions that five, 10 years later you look back and say, ‘Why did I do that?’ Like the rest of us. But he’ll certainly have a clean slate with us. His size and scoring ability are two ingredients we could certainly use.”
Niederreiter has one more season on his two-way, entry-level contract in which he is due $2.975 million this season. Minnesota could still decide to send Niederreiter to its AHL team in Iowa if he isn’t deemed ready and Fletcher said much of his NHL salary is tied to performance bonuses with much of it due for winning “major awards.”
“If that happens, that would be one of best checks we’d have to write,” Fletcher said.
The Wild also retain his rights in future years as a restricted free agent in 2014.
Niederreiter is the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history. He led Switzerland with five goals and had three assists during the 2013 World Championships where Switzerland won a silver medal, the first World Championships medal for the country in 60 years.
Clutterbuck, 25, was a restricted free agent for the Wild, who had talked about using Clutterbuck as a potential trade chip to alter a roster that is close to the salary cap, which is decreasing this coming season. Minnesota didn’t have much salary-cap space to address needs in free agency, so Fletcher had stated trades might be necessary.
“We’ve been working on a lot of different options the last week trying to accomplish two things,” Fletcher said. “One, we have a cap situation obviously where we need to move a player or two to get cap compliant for next year. We’d rather have that happen sooner rather than later. Second of all, you’re always looking at an opportunity to improve your team.
“So, with a player like Cal who provided great service for us the last few years, he was highly sought after. Several teams contacted me. We had a lot of different possibilities to pursue. We had some options on other players as well, but the more we got into it, it seemed liked this would be a trade where we could get the most value. We’re still a team that’s looking to add skill, trying to improve our ability to score goals, our offensive production. In Nino we’re acquiring a 20-year-old guy who’s been a proven goal scorer at every level, short of the NHL so far. He’s a young man that we expect to contribute at the NHL level in the near future. It seemed like a trade that made a lot of sense for us at this point of our development.”
Fletcher said he refused to trade Clutterbuck within the Wild’s division. The fan-favorite Clutterbuck had 62 goals and 48 assists in 346 games for Minnesota. Clutterbuck is good friends with Islanders star John Tavares. The two played together in juniors.
“They wanted him badly,” Fletcher said. “I’m not sure how much that relationship played into (Islanders general manager Garth Snow’s) decision-making. There was a lineup of teams in the Eastern Conference that liked Cal, and that was one of the reasons that led to trading Cal was we were able to get, in our opinion, pretty good value and yet, hopefully, help our cap situation as well.”
Minnesota also sent Justin Falk, another restricted free agent, to the New York Rangers earlier Sunday in exchange for forward Benn Ferriero and a 2014 sixth-round pick in another salary-cap related move.
“He was going to have the ability to get a one-way contract in arbitration,” Fletcher said. “I think from our standpoint, we got an asset in return. Justin is an NHL player, but to have that ability maybe to get off a one-way contract was important for us, just from a cap perspective. That was a cap-related move. We’re going to have to find some players on two-way contracts this summer to give us some depth. That’s why a guy like Niederreiter and these young kids – (Jason) Zucker, (Mikael) Granlund, (Charlie) Coyle — the fact they’re on two-way deals and have that flexibility, it’s going to be incredibly important for us this year. Two-way contracts are going to be valuable.”
With the third-round pick acquired from Minnesota (No. 70 overall), New York drafted American goaltender Eamon McAdam, who’s played three seasons for Waterloo in the United States Hockey League.