Every offseason there are always at least a handful of college free agents that are signed by NHL teams. Most of them don’t turn out to be much more than good minor-league players or depth forwards, but there are exceptions to the rule, and the 25-year-old Nico Sturm seems to be on his way to being one of those exceptions for the Minnesota Wild.
After a very good junior season at Clarkson University where he recorded 45 points in 39 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Sturm chose to forgo his final year of college eligibility to sign a one-year, entry-level contract with the Wild. Not long after signing his ELC, Sturm played his first two NHL games with Minnesota at the end of the 2018-2019 season, and he looked pretty good in a small sample size.
It took a bit for Sturm to find his scoring touch in the American Hockey League, but as he was already a mature and smart center with good size, he had a big impact on the game regardless of how many points he was putting up. Eventually the offense started to come as Sturm got up to speed in his first season of professional hockey with the Iowa Wild. He even got to play in a few NHL regular season and playoff games with the big club, posting three points (one goal, two assists) in eight games played.
The offensive upside might not be very high for Sturm, but he has a solid amount of skill and smarts to go with his physical traits, all of which should allow him to become a solid bottom-six center for the Wild, maybe even as soon as this season.
Sturm has never been a dynamic offensive player, but after coming over from Germany to play junior and college hockey in the United States, his production has improved each season, going from around 0.7 points-per-game in the North American and United State Hockey Leagues to at or over a point-per game in the NCAA with Clarkson University.
Despite not producing a ton of points at the start of his first season of professional hockey in the AHL, Sturm’s scoring improved as the season went along in Iowa, and he ended up posting a solid 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 55 games played with the Iowa Wild.
Roll the Tape
As mentioned before, Sturm has never been a dynamic offensive player, but he does have some skill which allows him to make great plays like this every once in a while.
ICYMI: Nico Sturm had a between-the-legs deflection goal!— Tri-City Storm (@TriCityStorm) February 24, 2016
In tennis, they call it the "tweener" pic.twitter.com/uCXleGwWFv
He also has a pretty decent shot that he uses when he gets the chance.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about Sturm’s highlight’s without talking about his first NHL goal in Game Four of the Qualifying Round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
GOAL. Nico Sturm scores the first goal of his NHL career to give the Wild the lead late in the middle period!— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) August 8, 2020
At the very least, we know that Sturm will be with the Wild through the next two seasons, as he recently signed a two-year contract extension with the Wild worth $725,000 per year.
It isn’t known yet whether or not Sturm will get a full-time role with the Wild this season, as the team seems to have a bit of logjam at the center position with Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Nick Bjugstad and potentially Marco Rossi all capable of playing the position. Sturm is versatile and can play both wing and center, so if he comes into training camp in good shape and performs well, he should have a good shot at making the NHL roster.
Either way, Sturm seems to be well on his way to becoming a solid bottom-six center for the Wild, the kind of depth player that all good teams need. And to get that level of production out of a college free agent makes it even better.