Thoughts on the Erik Christensen Trade

Guess Who's Back?

I posted today. Don’t lie. You missed me. I missed you.

Let’s get back to business. Today Casey Wellman was traded to the New York Rangers for Erik Christensen and a conditional 7th round pick (Wild get the pick if Christensen leaves in free agency).

Casey Wellman might yet be a good player, but his time is running out, and his upside appears to be that of an AHL All-Star. Not an insult, by the way, as you have to be ridiculously good at hockey in order to become an All-Star at the AHL. But he hasn’t been consistent enough to merit Top-6 NHL duty, and isn’t enough of a grinder for the Bottom-6. And with the bullets the Wild have in their prospect gun, if Wellman was going to make himself expendable now, with so many injuries and none of the top forward prospects in the AHL level, he was always going to be expendable to the Wild.

I think trading Wellman over sending him to Houston does something I haven’t seen anyone talk about, but is pretty smart: By trading Wellman to an NHL team, the Wild put a message to any potential big college free agent signings: If you don’t work out here, at least we’ll find a team that wants you.

That might not seem like anything significant, but for a front office that has been aggressive on the free agent market, it’s huge. Consider this, last year, the Wild were hot on the tail of Stephane Da Costa, basically 2011′s version of Casey Wellman, who ultimately signed with the Ottawa Senators (5 points in 22 NHL games; 19 points in 21 AHL games). After Minnesota lost out as a finalist, Russo suggested Wellman remaining in Houston last year could have led to losing out on Da Costa, saying:

The perception by some out there is that promises were made to Casey Wellman, yet he’s sitting in Houston.

This perception would not been helped if Wellman continued to thrash the AHL, but remained a press box guy/mere fill-in in Minnesota. If the Wild want the best shot possible at a star college free agent like UMD sophomore JT Brown, whom they had in prospect camp before the season, then Fletcher has to demonstrate that he will be accommodating to a CFA’s wish to have a better chance at landing an NHL roster spot. Once it became obvious Wellman wasn’t sticking in Minnesota, Fletcher did just that. Hopefully it manifests itself in top CFA signings (Note to Joey LaLeggia: The Wild don’t care if you’re 5-10, and need offense from the blue line. Go pro, kid.).

Why am I talking about how trading Wellman potentially improves College Free Agent relations? Because Erik Christensen is, basically, a guy.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing positive about him, according to Mike Yeo (who, like Chuck Fletcher, has the Pittsburgh/Wilkes-Barrie connection with Christensen) “He’s got elite skill. That’s one thing for sure. His hands, his passing ability, his vision, his shot, he’s versatile, good power-play guy, can win faceoffs and good on shootouts.” That may be, but Christensen has never put it together in the NHL. His highest point total in the NHL has been 33. He’s had 5 points in 20 games. He has neither large point totals nor a gritty reputation in the NHL. Sound familiar? Like Casey Wellman, perhaps.

And he’s 28.

Regardless, I don’t think it’s a bad trade. Christensen has some skills that Wellman doesn’t (faceoffs and shootouts, and those win games), is signed to a reasonable cost, is a free agent this offseason, wasn’t traded for anything the Wild would miss, and could maybe catch lightning in a bottle for a playoff run. But this is a pretty ho-hum move.

Now, if they trade Zidlicky…

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