ST. PAUL -- It's possible the smile hasn't left Tom Gilbert's face since it was announced he was traded yesterday in a deadline deal from Edmonton to Minnesota.
Gilbert, born and raised in the Twin Cities, will make his Wild debut this evening on national television against the Los Angeles Kings. And while the story is definitely of the feel-good variety, none of that will matter once the puck hits the ice. The Wild, winners of three of their last four games, trail the Kings by three points in the ever-tightening Western Conference playoff race, where just six points separate six teams for the final two playoff spots.
But for Gilbert, hitting the ice tonight will probably be the most relaxed he's been over the last 24 hours. After learning of the trade, Gilbert said he spent a couple of hours answering emails and texts before packing and hoping on a plane to get to St. Paul. He arrived early this morning, skated with his new teammates and will now try and glean as much as he can about a new system in the eight hours or so before faceoff.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Gilbert said. "I think after this first game, once I get settled, it'll be more of a reality."
Perhaps the only people more excited than Gilbert are his parents Kelly and Mary, who still live in Gilbert's hometown of Bloomington, Minn. -- a short 15-minute drive south of Xcel Energy Center.
"I had called my parents before and warned them that my name was out there and that Minnesota was brought up," Gilbert said. "Obviously, my mom and dad were pretty excited. It took me about an hour and a half after the trade to get a hold of them. I'm sure they were dying to hear from me."
From a hockey standpoint, moving Gilbert for franchise mainstay Nick Schultz -- someone Kings defenseman and former Wild teammate Willie Mitchell said he thought would be a "lifer," -- should help jumpstart Minnesota's lackluster offensive production from the blueline.
"It's a big reason why Tom is here," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The way we want to play the game, a huge part of that is how our defensemen execute and transition the puck out of our defensive zone and deliver it up to our forwards quickly.
"It's a tough game to play if your defensemen aren't moving the puck well. We defend well, but we spend too much time defending."
Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Wild:
Devin Setoguchi - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Nick Palmieri
Darroll Powe - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Tom Gilbert - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Nate Prosser