Wild.com's Dan Myers chats with first-year Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde about a number of topics, including his first impressions of Luke Kunin, how he communicates with college coaches and his excitement to see Alex Stalock back in the NHL:
Dan Myers: You've been able to get a peek at Luke Kunin over the past week or so. What have your early impressions been?
Derek Lalonde: Good. Luke has been good since the day he showed up. I had Luke in development camp and just watched a lot of him, like a lot of us did, through the World Junior tournament, his Wisconsin season and I didn't know how he would translate into pro hockey. Sometimes, players lack some detail and I saw a little of that in his game [with the Badgers]. But I got good advice from [University of Wisconsin coach] Tony [Granato], and [the lack of detail] was because he was playing 23 or 24 minutes. Tony said, 'If you get him to about 15 or 16 minutes, he's going to be very detailed for you.' Sure enough, we had him about 16 or 17 minutes in all three games and he performed very well. I don't think his third game [where he scored a hat trick] was much different than his first two games, he just didn't finish. But he was able to finish on Tuesday night and it was great to see.
DM: Luke has gained a reputation, both in college and in international play, as being one of those natural-born leaders. Can you see that already?
DL: Yeah, and I think it's his approach. He's so driven, he wants to do things right, he's such a competitor, I think that just makes people follow anybody who has an approach like that. He joins a team out of the blue, with high expectations, and he was all business. He was about doing things right and helping us win.
DM: You've been ravaged by injury and call ups at various points of the season, then lost a ton of offensive production off your team around the trade deadline. What does it mean to add a kid like Luke as Iowa pushes for a playoff spot?
DL: Offensively, we've been hindered since the deadline and I think the guys understand that it's a reality. I just think having another guy; he's got three goals in three games, for a team that's been struggling to score, it certainly gives us a big lift in that area.
DM: You have a background in college and in the USHL, and have relationships with a lot of these college coaches. Are they a resource you often lean on this time of year as the organization adds players from NCAA programs?
DL: Absolutely. It's one thing to hear it or to watch it third hand, and it's another thing to talk to guys who have experienced them as a player every day. I actually have a phone call into [University of Minnesota assistant coach] Mike Guentzel right now, and we'll have a similar conversation about [Justin] Kloos. I just think it's important. Tony and I probably talked for about 30 minutes that day, but I think it's so good to have a conversation with someone who has experienced him as a person and had him every day. We're trying to get the most out of an individual in such a quick time, I just think it helps to have someone you trust that has worked with the player.
DM: How excited are you to see Alex Stalock in his first start with Minnesota?
DL: I watch about 90 percent of all of Minnesota's games; same system, the personnel that up and down. But obviously, [Thursday] will be a little different with Alex playing. I'm excited to see [Joel] Eriksson Ek as well. I will be watching with a lot of intrigue.
DM: Alex battled an illness around Thanksgiving time that made things difficult for him. But since he's been better, he's been really good for you down there.
DL: When he's been in, he's given us a chance every night. It's just a confidence. He's such a competitor. When your goalie is one of your most competitive players, night in and night out, it lifts your whole team. And his ability to play the puck is so much more efficient, and I think even Minnesota will experience it. You're so much more efficient when he's in net because he's a world-class puck handler, just helping with the breakouts. It's probably the least of [Wild coach] Bruce [Boudreau's] concerns of why he's playing Alex, but we definitely don't take it for granted. We're a much different team efficiently out of our zone when he's in net.