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Hanzal Provides Wild Valuable Center Depth

Minnesota with four reliable pivots to help during playoff push and beyond

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

COLUMBUS -- The Wild's two new forwards have certainly made their presence felt in their first 48 hours since being dealt to the club. 

Ryan White scored a goal in each of the Wild's games so far this week, and added an assist in Monday's 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Martin Hanzal chipped in with a pair of assists in the Wild's 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets the following night.

It's been a whirlwind couple of days for the veteran forwards, who have spent a grand total of about six hours in Minnesota since Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher confirmed the trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night.

But what exactly is the Wild getting in its new acquisitions, more specifically Hanzal, who was long rumored as a possible addition to many a contender?

Hanzal, one of the top rental forwards available on the trade market, was sought by as many as a dozen teams, including several Stanley Cup Playoff hopefuls in the Western Conference alone. Fletcher indicated it was one of the reasons why he was willing to pay such a premium to get him in a Wild sweater.

"We like our group and we think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete and see what we can do," Fletcher said. "Nothing's promised. We know it will be tough. I think our thought is we may as well take a swing and see how far we can go."

His addition gives Minnesota arguably the deepest crew of centers in the West, and perhaps the NHL as a whole. 

Among Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Erik Haula and now Hanzal, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has plenty of options when deciding how he wants to match lines on the road, or dictate matchups when playing at home.

"He's a tough guy to play against. You line up against a guy that's 6-foot-5 and big and strong and that can get difficult as the night goes on and through the course of a playoff series," Staal said. "It's nice to be able to add that to what we've already got going here down the middle. We have some big, strong guys that can lean on people and make it tough to play against."

Boudreau said Hanzal's game reminded him a bit of Koivu's. He's certainly not going to explode offensively, but he can chip in at times in that end of the rink.

More importantly, Hanzal will be a nightmare matchup for opponents with deep forward groups: He's a formidable presence in the faceoff circle and can mix in on both the power play and penalty killing units. 

"He's an extremely tough player to play against," Fletcher said. "I know if you speak to any of our players having to play against Arizona over the last few years, he's a big, strong centerman, he plays a heavy game, he makes you earn every inch of the ice when you play against him. He's a guy that can contribute offensively, he can win faceoffs, he can play both specialty teams. 

"We thought he was the top rental forward on the market, if you will. Of all the guys with expiring contracts, we thought he, at forward, would have the biggest impact on any roster."

More than what Hanzal and White bring to the team, both on and off the ice, the message Fletcher is trying to send to the Wild dressing room is that he believes the club has what it takes to make a deep playoff run. Fletcher said it's a two-way street.

"They've sent a message to me. We've never reached [88] points this early in the season," Fletcher said. "There's obviously a long way to go and a lot of obstacles that we have to face yet, but they've played very well. They've been very consistent. I think the message that they sent to me is they believe we're a team that can compete and contend and I think this was the appropriate response from management and ownership."

"There is no time like the present for this group with the way we've been playing," said Wild forward Chris Stewart, who himself has been a part of two deadline-day trades, including one that brought him to Minnesota the first time two seasons ago. "We don't know when we're going to get another opportunity like this. He's giving us a chance. It's up to us to do it." 

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