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Minnesota Wild sign Vanek, must find right line combination

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Minnesota Wild fans waited one hour and 44 minutes after free agency began to hear that the team signed former Minnesota Golden Gopher star Thomas Vanek.

The Wild signed the high-scoring left wing to a three-year contract worth $19.5 million which includes a no trade clause.

“Thomas is an elite offensive talent who showed a strong desire to play in Minnesota,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a press release. “We are excited to welcome him to our organization.”

Vanek, a 6-foot, 217-pound 30-year-old right-handed shooter, finished last season with four goals and five assists in 13 games for the Buffalo Sabres, 17 goals and 27 assists for the New York Islanders and six goals and nine assists in 18 games for the Montreal Canadiens. He scored five goals and added five points in 17 playoff games as the Canadiens made it to the Eastern Conference finals.

He was traded twice during last season and reportedly turned down seven-year contract offers from the Sabres and Islanders worth more than $45 million.

The question now is who his line mates will be to begin this coming season.

Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote that he believes Vanek will move onto a line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle. His counterpart at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chad Graff suggests that Vanek may fit better with Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville.

Properly blending skill sets is key to improving the Wild’s offense. Vanek is a scorer that excels around the net, his skill set fits better with Granlund and Pominville than they do with Koivu and Coyle.

Line combinations of Granlund centering Pominville and Vanek, Koivu centering Parise and Coyle, Erik Haula centering Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak centering Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine would give the Wild three dangerous offensive lines and a fourth line that can play against anyone.

Sutter joins mix

Russo is also reporting that the Wild signed minor league free agent Brett Sutter to a two-way contract. The former captain of the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers is a depth center that will likely play a back-and-forth role between Minnesota and Iowa.

Four former Wild players sign elsewhere

Forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, both acquired from the Sabres at the trade deadline, signed contracts to return to Buffalo. Also, defensemen Clayton Stoner and Steven Kampfer signed with the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers, respectively. All but Kampfer have been listed on NHL.com’s free agent tracker page. Bob McKenzie of TSN is reporting the Kampfer signing.

Other former Wild players signing Monday were Benoit Pouliot (Edmonton Oilers), Tom Gilbert (Canadiens), Dominic Moore (Rangers) and Martin Havlat (New Jersey Devils).

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