Around this same time last year, there were rumors that the Wild were interested in college forward Casey Wellman. After a bit of a chase, finally, the Wild signed the University of Massachusetts sophomore who has found a place centering the Houston Aero's second line, a team that is looking to go far into the AHL playoffs. Wellman is now one of the bright spots of the Wild prospect crop.
All part of the plan. When GM Chuck Fletcher first arrived in Minnesota, he started to focus more on the college free agent market, by adding Casey Wellman, Nate Prosser, and Jarod Palmer to the organization. This was a complete 180 degree turn from the previous regime, who wouldn't sign a college free agent if the guy played for free.
While the Wild have their eye on a handful of college free agents, they are once again aiming high. This year, it seems the Wild have their sights on Merrimack stud forward Stephane Da Costa.
RT @TSNBobMcKenzie: OTT signs college free agent Stephane Da Costa. Done deal.
Da Costa is a 5'11" 180lbs centerman starring as a sophomore at Merrimack College, and leads the team with 45 points (14 goals + 31 assists) in 33 games. He won multiple awards as a freshman, including NCAA (Hockey East) Rookie of the Year and NCAA (New England) Rookie of the Year.
Here a few scouting reports on Da Costa:
At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Da Costa isn’t overly big, but he more than makes up for it with his hockey smarts, vision, and pure goal scoring ability. He is a great skater, very elusive, has outstanding puckhandling ability, a good shot, and is a brilliant playmaker. The NHL quickly came knocking after his electric debut, scoring 5 goals in his first home game with Merrimack, but the youngster has opted to play at least one more year with the Warriors program.
Da Costa is a dynamic 5'11/180 lbs center that possesses tremendous hockey sense with equally good vision, hands and creativity. And it is what he does with those attributes that has gotten so much attention from the NHL. Da Costa possesses an uncanny ability to find and utilize open patches of ice to consistently create smart, effective plays. He follows plays exceedingly well and can make plays in transition. He also possesses great finishing ability as well. While not lightning fast, Da Costa does possess some good speed and does a good job of consistently keeping his feet moving. He maintains very good balance on his skates and despite being a smaller player uses his body quite well in protecting the puck. Another of Da Costa's notable assets is his blistering shot. He is not a particularly physical player, but does play with some competitive edge to his game.
Excellent vision, great passer, great hands, not the best skater but gets in and out of traffic with the best of 'em. Uses his body well in the corners and on the wall to protect the puck. He's definitely a center but needs some work in the circle. Despite what you might hear he's an excellent penalty killer, has amazing anticipation when reading other players, gets his stick in the way of passes a lot. Runs the power play with ease and has a seeing eye shot.
It can be agreed that Da Cosa has excellent playmaking skills, as well as being complimented by a solid package of offensive skills. It is this skill set that has around 20 teams, according to TSN, actively pursuing the talented forward, one of them being Minnesota.
Michael Russo breaks down situation nicely in his article:
The Wild, I am told, is undoubtedly a frontrunner. It becomes a real sales job because everybody's offering about the same contract. So, Fletcher basically becomes a college coach/recruiter trying to prove the Wild and Minnesota is the best place for the athlete.
And why is that? Because unlike many of the teams that are trying to sign Da Costa, Wild have an obvious lack of offensively talented forwards.
As sad is that is, it gives a great incentive for an undrafted free agent who is hoping to crack an NHL roster as soon as possible. Only since the 2010 draft have the Wild had any hopes of producing young, talented forwards but none of them (with perhaps the exception of Mikael Granlund) is ready to challenge for a regular NHL spot in the next 2-3 years.
And the Wild players aren't getting any younger. Andrew Brunette and John Madden are both 37 years old and are both expiring unrestricted free agents. Antti Miettinen and Chuck Kobasew are also expiring free agents and the only players down with the Houston Aeros that can possible provide some form of offense are Patrick O'Sullivan, Cody Almond and Casey Wellman.
But still, let's not get our hopes up. While it will be a great achievement signing Stephane Da Costa and acquiring him without the use of a draft pick, don't forget that there are 19 other teams trying to sign him, all offering similar benefits and perks.
We will just have to wait.