The Minnesota Wild have been very active in signing college free agents since Chuck Fletcher took over as general manager.
While guys like Jarod Palmer and Chad Rau may never be consistently on the NHL roster, they help provide the kind of organizational depth Minnesota was so severely lacking when Doug "Scorched Earth" Risebrough was working as the general manager.
The Wild have already picked up former Minnesota Duluth star Justin Fontaine on a free agent deal, and while most every player who was going to turn pro has already done so, there are still some bodies available for Fletcher to consider.
One of them is a guy Minnesota hockey fans should be very familiar with. North Dakota junior Jason Gregoire recently withdrew from school, and intends to sign a pro contract once he's able to declare himself a free agent. It's a mess to explain, but we'll try to make some sense of it all.Gregoire is using the same loophole Atlanta Thrashers forward Blake Wheeler used to get away from the Phoenix Coyotes -- who drafted him -- to sign a free-agent deal with the Boston Bruins. It's a rule that allows college players to become free agents if they go unsigned for 30 days after leaving school, provided that they are at least four years removed from their draft year.
Since Gregoire played a year of junior hockey before starting school at UND, it's now been four years since the New York Islanders drafted him. That means he will be an unrestricted free agent once this waiting period passes.
Gregoire is saying all the right things about the process, saying he is simply working to keep all available options open to him, and he is still considering inking a contract with the Islanders.
That said, Gregoire has one or more of a few things on his mind here. I'll try to break down the possibilities for you.
- He wants to use the other 29 teams in the league to get a better offer out of the Islanders.
- He wants to get a better offer from a specific team (or, maybe, anyone else) so he doesn't have to commit to the Islanders organization.
- He has no intention of signing with the Islanders, and while he's hoping for a bidding war, he will take whatever he can get to play for the team he wants to play for.
There aren't really a lot of other options. Gregoire and his agent aren't stupid. The loophole exists, and he's taking advantage of it. This is a smart business move, and the real motivation behind it is largely irrelevant.
Of course, a player of Gregoire's ilk -- 25 goals in 39 games this season, 55 goals in his three years with the Fighting Sioux -- is seemingly a great fit for the scoring-starved Wild.
Matt Frattin may have gotten all the attention for his marvelous senior season, but those who forgot about Gregoire missed out. He's a talented scorer who has a little more size and less speed than Frattin. He has good hands and a good shot, and he can score from anywhere.
Once his 30 days are up, don't be shocked if the Wild give this guy a call. Minnesota has some decent centers available for consideration on the NHL roster next season, but they're very low on wingers who can put the puck in the net.
It's never easy to take someone's college game and try to translate it to the NHL, but Fontaine is a guy who has the skill set to help this team, and so is Gregoire. Lighthouse Hockey calls him a "nice prospect," and I can't disagree with that notion.
He's not a Frattin -- who was drafted and signed by the Maple Leafs. But he's on that next tier of college players, a tier that likely includes guys like Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg. Not blue-chippers, but quality AHL players at the worst, with the chance to make something of themselves in the NHL if they find the right fit and don't stop working hard.