With Minnesota five points back of Dallas, Los Angeles and Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, and just 24 hours before the NHL trading deadline, a win or loss tonight against San Jose may decide the fate of the Wild from a competitive standpoint.
A win tonight keeps the Wild's fading playoff hopes alive and General Manager Chuck Fletcher may choose to keep some veterans with expiring contracts around in hopes of one final playoff push. A loss could mean selling those pieces and building for the future.
Fletcher made a move Thursday that could be seen as both, moving defenseman Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey for former Wild players Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux as well as a second round draft pick in this year's draft and a condition third rounder in 2013 should the Devils reach the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.
The other piece the Wild got in return, and perhaps the most intriguing, is winger Nick Palmieri. At 6-3 and 220 lbs, and just 22 years old, Palmieri fell out of favor with the Devils but has a new opportunity to shine in Minnesota.
Right Wing - MIN
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 7
SOG: 42 | +/-: -7
SOG: 42 | +/-: -7
"He looks like he could have a place here," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "Everything I have heard about him, seems like he could fit our game well. Big body, strong on the puck, and from what I've heard, very reliable defensively. You can certainly find a role for someone like that."
An inch taller but 10 lbs lighter than injured winger Guillaume Latendresse, could Palmieri help fill his skates as a big body in front?
"Certainly, we hope he can score, but I don't think the pressure is on him to come in and be a goal scorer for us," Yeo said. "It's not fair for a guy to come in with all these expectations that shouldn't be there. The only thing we want to do is identify what kind of player he is and figure out how we can best use him in our line up and what kind of role he would be best suited for."
Palmieri said he excited for a new opportunity, describing himself as a power forward
"I'm a big forward, I like to get in traffic areas and create some space for my linemates," Palmieri said. "I'm a big guy, so I need to get into those traffic areas in order to be effective."
After a promising start to his career last season with the Devils, Palmieri entered training camp this season as a top-6 guy. But he quickly fell out of favor with new Devils coach Pete DeBoer.
"This was a guy I pretty handed a top-six forward job to off the bat and he slowly worked himself out of that," DeBoer said last month. "Sometimes you see that a lot where a first year player comes up and has some success short term and they either get away from what made them successful or lose that edge or think it's going to be easy. I don't know exactly what went missing."
After shuttling back and forth between New Jersey and Albany, Palmieri had been skating with the big club since mid-January. And while expectations were high for the Devils, Palmieri said he's looking forward to a fresh start.
"I didn't get off to the start I would have liked to and then some other guys were playing well," Palmieri said. "Kind of bumped me down but I'm excited for a new opportunity.
"What happened in New Jersey is in the past. Now I'm focused on doing everything I can to help this team win."