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Wild bring back Brunette, add Zidlicky

Tuesday, 07.01.2008 / 1:30 PM / 2008 NHL Offseason News

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Minnesota Wild spent the first day of free agency making up for past mistakes.

The club signed forward Andrew Brunette, and traded for defenseman Marek Zidlicky, to add some bulk to an offense that finished 17th in the NHL in goals last season, and scored just 12 in six playoff games.

"I think when I look through the different teams in the League and where I wanted to play, Minnesota stood at the top of the list," said Brunette. "I was happy that I was one of the top guys on their list. There's no better place to play hockey than Minnesota."

Brunette had 19 goals and 40 assists last season with the Colorado Avalanche, and added five goals and eight points in 10 playoff games -- including three goals and five points in six games against the Wild in the Avs' first-round playoff victory.

Bringing back the 34-year-old Brunette, who agreed to a three-year contract Tuesday, corrects what Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough called a mistake three years ago.

Brunette had been a major part of the Wild's first days in the NHL, playing three seasons (2001-04) for the franchise. But coming out of the work stoppage, Risebrough allowed Brunette to leave for Colorado as a free agent.

"Andrew is a consistent offensive performer and an excellent teammate who helped create the culture of our team," Risebrough said. "We are better, on the ice and in the dressing room, with him back. Not often do you get the chance to correct a mistake."

In his first stint with the Wild, Brunette had 54 goals and 110 assists in 245 games. He currently ranks third on the team's all-time assist list, fifth in points and seventh in goals. He also served as the club's monthly captain four times.

He's probably best remembered for scoring the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 7 of the Wild's 2003 first-round playoff series win over Colorado. He had 13 points in 18 games as the Wild advanced to their only Western Conference Finals.

Brunette said yesterday he believes this edition of the Wild can regain that 2003 form.

"I think we're close," said Brunette. "I think from first-hand experience playing against them last year, we're real close to having a real good chance here. Especially with the emergence of (Mikko) Koivu, and (Pierre-Marc) Bouchard is getting better all the time, and (Brent Burns), he just keeps getting better all the time. I think we're going in the right direction. I think we have a chance not only to compete, but bring back some of that '03 magic and have a good run here."

Helping in that run will be Zidlicky, an offensive-minded defenseman acquired for prospect forward Ryan Jones and a 2009 second-round draft pick.

"Marek is a top offensive puck-moving defenseman who will add tempo to our lineup," said Risebrough. "He will complement a defense that is becoming more mobile and skilled, which we anticipate will make our team as a whole more offensive."

Zidlicky, 31, led Predators defensemen last season with 43 points, and was third on the club with 38 assists. Of the eight defenseman to see time for the Wild last season, only two -- Burns and Kim Johnsson -- had more than 20 points.

"Marek is a top offensive puck-moving defenseman who will add tempo to our lineup. He will complement a defense that is becoming more mobile and skilled, which we anticipate will make our team as a whole more offensive."

-- Minnesota Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough on Marek Zidlicky

In four full NHL seasons Zidlicky, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound native of Most, Czech Republic, has 35 goals and 140 assists.

Jones was the Wild's fourth-round pick (No. 111 overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot, 200-pound forward led Miami (Ohio) and was second in the NCAA with 31 goals. His 49 points were seventh among all U.S. collegiate players, and he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

"Ryan Jones is a big and powerful young forward that adds size and skill to our organization," said Predators GM David Poile. "Additionally, the second-round pick gives us 13 selections in next summer's draft, which is projected to be a deep draft."

In four college seasons, Jones ranks second on the school's all-time list with 90 goals. He also had 147 points in 161 games. He did not miss a game during his collegiate career.

After signing an entry-level contract with the Wild in April, he joined the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros, going scoreless in four games. In four AHL playoff games, he had a goal and an assist. The goal came in the second overtime of Houston's first-round playoff series.

The Predators have 12 forwards under contract, meaning Jones will be in a fight with Rich Peverley, top prospects Patric Hornqvist and Antti Pihlstrom, and newly-acquired Triston Grant for the final roster spot.

The move also opens ice time for some of the Predators' young blueliners.

"This move will also allow our core blueliners like Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis to take on more responsibility and ice time," said Poile. Youngsters Kevin Klein and Ville Koistinen also could see more responsibility, and the club is high on defense prospects Alexander Sulzer and Cody Franson.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.

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