In addition to the many players the Minnesota Wild have signed to NHL Contracts, they’re now re-stocking the AHL club.
Minnesota’s free agent... frenzy??? has seen them sign Greg Pateryn, Andrew Hammond, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Matt Hendricks. Each of them are depth players that are expected to compete for the NHL roster, at the very least.
This isn’t the case for the next two signings. Both Matt Bartkowski and Mike Liambas have signed two-way contracts with the Minnesota Wild. Their position on the depth chart will likely have both in Iowa for the coming season.
Bartkowski, a defenseman, has 253 games of experience in the NHL. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown himself to be especially impactful on either side of the ice. Among the 174 defensemen with 3000+ minutes in the past 5 years, Bartkowski ranks 119th in points per hour at 5-on-5. That puts him right alongside offensive non-factors such as Kyle Quincey, Roman Polak, and Brooks Orpik.
The underlying numbers aren’t too good, either. Bartkowski has consistently under-performed his teammates in terms of puck possession, and he’s been atrocious in the defensive zone since leaving the Boston Bruins back in 2015.
But that’s why Bartkowski isn’t expected to be in the NHL. Of course, should there be an opening on the NHL roster, Bartkowski could probably step into the third-pairing in a pinch. His primary value, however, will likely be bolstering the Iowa Wild’s defense.
Iowa hasn’t been to the playoffs in their 5-year existence, and a lot of it has to do with their absolute lack of talent on the blue line. Things have gotten slightly better with college players such as Louie Belpedio and Carson Soucy stepping in, but more work needs to be done. And of course, if the 29-year-old Bartkowski can help in any way as a mentor, then that helps, too.
Mike Liambas was an undrafted player who made his way across varying minor leagues before being signed by the Milwaukee Admirals. Liambas played in Milwaukee for 5 years, eventually becoming an alternate captain. He then played for the San Diego Gulls for last season, getting a 7-game cup of coffee with Anaheim.
Liambas, 29, is a pure enforcer, to be polite. He has 86 fights in his AHL career, and just 37 points. I’d say it’s unlikely that Liambas sees any NHL time, but it should be noted that new assistant coach Dean Evason coached the Admirals during Liambas’ time in Milwaukee.
And of course, since Milwaukee was Nashville’s AHL affiliate, it was run by Paul Fenton, Minnesota’s new general manager.
So there’s a chance he could see NHL time if Minnesota feels the need for an enforcer. They certainly have valued that role throughout their history. Nashville also was a team that wasn’t afraid to add toughness.
But in all likelihood, these guys will be down in Des Moines for much of the season as Iowa looks for their first-ever playoff berth.