Clayton Stoner impressed Wild brass enough at the end of the 2009-10 campaign that they gave him an interesting two-year contract. The first year was a one way deal, meaning he would get his NHL salary no matter where he played. In reality, this operates as meaning he would be with the big club all season.
The second year, however, is a two way deal, meaning the Wild could, and can, send him down to Houston and his half a million becomes average Joe like a clock struck midnight.
Is that why we saw a sudden change in Stoner's performance as the season wore down? Was it because Cam Barker went down with injury and Stoner saw the need to step up? Was he threatened by the young talent in Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, and Marco Scandella?
Whatever it was, something finally clicked, and Clayton Stoner went from press box hero to on ice performer. Was that enough to pass for the season? Make the jump and find out.
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JS- GRADE: B One of the surprises of the year, after the first few games had him pegged as the next team scapegoat, he got himself together and was a revelation as a defensive d-man on the Wild. Good physical presence, nearly no more mistakes and a couple of goals as a bonus. He was also one of only two regular Wild players to post a +, with +5 (the other one was Koivu with +4). He really found his groove in the NHL, and I figure he'll only become better as his confidence continues to grow.
Elise- GRADE: C+ Good at times, bad at times. When Stoner could stay focused and relaxed, he played well and looked comfortable at the NHL level, but there were also times when he looked lost. It was nice to see an improvement near the end of the season, though.
Dan- GRADE: A My personal favorite for the Wild's Calder Award. After starting the season as the team's whipping boy, he has become one of the more consistent physical forces on the blueline. My article on ProHockeyNews goes in more depth. Who would have thought Stoner would become start to log top four minutes after playing only six minutes during the season opener...
Bryan- GRADE: B At the mid-term, this would have been an F, but Stoner pulled his season out, and then some. Playing his size, Stoner was physical, standing up for his teammates more times than not, and led the team with a +5 rating on the year. Next year, he has a two-year deal, so if he slips like this season, he could end up back in Houston. Right now, he is likely the seventh d-man again, so he is on the bubble.
Nathan- GRADE: C+ Coming off season-ending surgery killing his season with only 8 games played last year, Stoner was expected to come in this year provide some presence on the blue-line and be a puck-moving defenseman. The puck-moving part didn't exactly happen, but Stoner did an admirable job playing the defensive defenseman role. A +5 on the year, Stoner was rarely a liability in his own end, but needs to step up his offensive game next season. The up-tempo style fans and coaches want to see requires it.
Cumulative GPA: 2.92 B+
With a two way deal next year, and the talent level of the prospects pushing for the NHL, Clayton Stoner better come into camp fired up and ready to play. His play the second half of the season was most welcome, but if the first half Stoner is what we have to suffer through to get second half Stoner, we'll take a pass. Too much talent waiting off stage to wait for the performance needed.
Step it up, kid. Step it up.