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Fletcher going deep...real deep, prior to Free Agency

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Minnesota decides to shore up their minor league system in preparation for the bigger fish in the FA sea

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New York Rangers
Pat Cannone: the 30-year-old rookie
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

When I originally started doing research for this story, it was all quiet in the office of one Chuck Fletcher. The trade rumors surrounding the d-corps wafted in the summer breeze, we listened for pings from our Twitter feeds, and Mike Russo was crouched in attack position. There were very few certainties to look at this off-season, but “facts can be so misleading. But rumors, true or false, are often revealing.” This off-season thus far, the only certainties were: Erik Haula and Alex Tuch are going to be playing hockey in the desert. And then on the eve of Free Agency, the phones arose such a clatter, and Jason Pominville with Marco Scandella were sent to Buffalo, and for some that was the matter. What rumor was finally put to bed was which defenseman was inevitably going to be dealt, and Scandella’s $4.0 mil hit provides some immediate relief, but the other uncertainty that abounds is free agency.

What did Minnesota get in return? Tyler Ennis coming off of careers lows with a nagging groin injury, the perceived prize of Marcus Foligno, and a little bit of spending money for Christmas in July (but not that much). After the media conference calls with Foligno aka “Moose” and Ennis, came words from our benevolent overlord, Chuck Fletcher:

The cap space left from the trade does leave little for Minnesota to work with given the current Free Agency pool. They still need to work out some deals with the four players that they tendered qualifying offers to (Nino, Granlund, Oloffson, Haula and Reilly). Despite saying that the Wild won’t be flashing the cash tomorrow, Fletcher has already have planted some minor moves that hopefully blossom into long term benefits for the Wild.

Another certainty at this point is that Gustav Olofsson is going to be on Boudreau’s third pairing after signing his two-year, one-way $1.45 million; emphasis on the one-way. Expected to join Olofsson playing reserve minutes is Mike Reilly, his top-line, defensive partner at down in Des Moines. After a QO, you’d have to assume that this contract is still in the works. With Scandella leaving for wings and a view of Niagara, it becomes more of a likelihood how Reilly’s contract might look as far as the “one way/two way” part. That can still be debated, though it could be beneficial to have Olofsson with his boy from Des Moines. After the marquee trade with the Sabers, the trade machine turns down and attention turns to 11 am today where Minnesota will look for the third/fourth line centerman, but for now, Fletcher has signed a center that can pay some dividends.

Enter Pat Cannone

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild
A great candidate for the “C” next season for Lalonde’s sqaud; Pat Cannone
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

This is another one of those minor deals for a minor league player that will have, personally, a minor impact on the success of the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17. Where Pat Cannone’s contract is major is in the world of player development. If you’re looking to see Luke Kunin make some noise, Cannone is going to be the guy feeding him the puck. If you’re wondering just who the hell Pat Cannone is, he’s the 30-year-old, AHL journeyman who made his NHL debut with the Wild on December 20th in a home tilt against the Colorado Avalanche after spending six years in the AHL with Binghamton (Ottawa Senators) and Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues) before signing a one-year deal to return to Iowa (he played juniors for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL).

Down I-35 in Des Moines, he was the top-six centerman for Derek Lalonde’s offense that set a franchise record in goals scored this season (182...). He was also the team’s leading scorer. That’s right, new Vegas Golden Knight, Alex Tuch (sorry Noogie), finished behind this guy as did other prospects like Sam Anas and Mario Lucia. He was also in the Central’s top 15 assist makers with 29 apples and was also featured on both the power play and penalty kill. The aesthetics might be lacking for a guy far removed from his playing days at Miami-Ohio under Enrico Blasi, but his one-year, $650k ($225k in the A) deal is worth it’s weight in veteran leadership and how he moves the puck for younger players in the system:

It took a few games in the 2016-17 season, but Cannone went no more than five games without a point during the regular season en route to his team high 38 points and second highest in point shares with 2.06 (Tuch had 2.30), though he did take a dip in his goal scoring. When looking at this assist chart, you can read into a few things. First, his role as a primary assist maker, which accounted for 19 of the 29 assists dished out (76.0%). Of those 19, nearly a third of them came without a secondary assist, bringing attention to his eye for the ice in the AHL (31.6%). The player-development angle comes into play with all but five of his assists were turned into goals by either a Wild draftee in the last five years or by an acquired prospect at/under the age of 25. Yes, most of the gold is Pulkkinen and the green by Tuch, but the philosophy remains the same: put Cannone in with the young guys and goals are going to happen.

He’s not a “fill-in” guy. You can argue, at the AHL level, he’s a playmaking guy. Judging by the names of the goal scorers, Derek Lalonde and the Iowa Wild staff see his veteran presence as a bridge to youthful success. Of the 29 assists, 13 were scored by picks made by Chuck Fletcher; Pulkkinen coming as a big scoring partner in terms of generating assists. Alex Tuch benefited the most with Cannone running the offense with nearly half of his goals (7 of 18) coming from the stick of the Bayport, New York-native. On that list is also Reilly and Olofsson who appear primed for NHL minutes next season. Also of note is Luke Kunin, who has been playing the wing in Des Moines. If Fletcher and Boudreau want Kunin on the wing, Cannone is a good guy to be feeding him biscuits, but if you’re in the “Kunin is a center” camp, hopefully he won’t be on a line with Cannone much longer.

Obviously Pat Cannone’s role with the Minnesota Wild will never amount to more than a few cups-o-coffee, but with the Iowa Wild he’s an integral part of player development. Chuck Fletcher will try and fill needs at the third and fourth lines of the NHL positions, but for now the Cannone signing is one that can be lauded and will hopefully yield results for Minnesota’s future offensive prospects. Happy to keep you here Pistol, looking forward to seeing you in this upcoming season.

While it is to be determined whether or not anyone will actually be dealt for money, prospects, or draft picks, the Minnesota Wild have recently tendered qualifying offers for the pro-level talent of: Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund; minor-leaguers: Kurtis Gabriel, Steve Michalek, Zack Mitchell, and Zach Palmquist; and pro-ready defenseman, Mike Reilly. There are also rumors of Minnesota going after some defensive depth.

Happy Free Agency! And Happy Canada Day.