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  • Sammy Walker Injects More Young Talent Into the Iowa Wild

    Justin Wiggins

    Former Minnesota Golden Gopher center Sammy Walker signed with his hometown Minnesota Wild on Thursday. The Edina native and former Mr. Hockey award winner became a free agent this month after choosing not to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that drafted him in the 7th round in 2017. While Walker doesn’t project as an NHL forward this season, his addition to their budding prospect pool is still a huge win for the Wild.


    Walker excelled at the University of Minnesota. He racked up 112 points in 144 games in four seasons while also earning the captaincy in three. Listed at just 5’10”, his speed, work ethic, and leadership are what Bill Guerin has coveted in Wild prospects since his arrival. The fact he is a center doesn’t hurt either. Oh, and he’s right-handed? Say no more.


    With the much-anticipated promotion of No. 1 prospect Marco Rossi to the NHL this fall, the Wild had very few options at the center position in Iowa. Walker should help fill that void.


    Veteran Joseph Cramarossa was the most experienced center returning to the Iowa Wild this season. The way things are shaking out, he's also most likely the only one. Damien Giroux is a former fifth-round pick who just finished his second year in Iowa, but he spends more time on the wing. The same can be said for Mason Shaw, who dominated in Canadian juniors at center but has mostly played wing as a professional.


    Hentges was perhaps the only incoming Iowa Wild player who exclusively played center the past few years outside of Cramarossa, so bringing in Walker was necessary for the depth in Iowa. And not just for this season. Beyond Rossi, there just aren’t many impact centers in the organization.


    Marat Khusnutdinov has a ton of potential, but his contract in the KHL runs through the 2023-24 season. After that? Caeden Bankier? Servac Petrovsky? Both are at least a year away from the AHL -- if they ever get there. So the Wild were looking to add some immediate depth this season.


    Having Walker’s speed and skill in Iowa’s Top-6 will be important, particularly if promising young winger Adam Beckman returns for another year in the AHL. Last year, Iowa buried the young sniper on the depth chart. Far too often, he played on a third line with the likes of Cody McLeod. No offense to the former NHL enforcer, but McLeod was not known for his skill and playmaking ability to help unlock Beckman’s potential. A center like Walker could help his development immensely should he not make the big club out of camp.


    Vladislav Firstov is another winger who could benefit from Walker’s impressive offensive track record. The former second-round left wing finished his career at the University of Connecticut last year and arrived in Iowa for the season's final weeks. With a Top-9 consisting of Walker, Hentges, and Cramarossa, Iowa's skilled wingers should have plenty of help now.


    Walker’s addition to the organization goes beyond just what he could bring to Iowa in the next few years. Ryan Hartman and Freddy Gaudreau are coming off years where they severely outplayed their very low AAV cap hits on the big club. With both players set to reach free agency in the next two years. Nobody could blame them for leveraging that recent success into lucrative long-term contracts if they continue to play well.


    With the salary cap hell still relevant for the Wild, re-signing either player would be impossible in that scenario. Having Walker as an option to replace either player is a luxury the Wild didn’t have in their organization before his signing.

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