Back in November, the Minnesota Wild sent Benoit Pouliot to Montreal in exchange for a player named Guillaume Latendresse
. Many in the State of Hockey hadn't heard of him, and Head Coach Todd Richards wasn't even sure how to pronounce his name.
Richards knows how to pronounce his name now, but it's pretty easy these days. He goes by "Gui" and when it came to scoring goals last year, he was "the guy."
He racked up 25 goals in just 55 games for the Wild last season, and now he has a chance to build on what he started in his new home. Late Wednesday night, Latendresse signed a two-year extension to remain in Minnesota.
"I'm excited," said Latendresse on Thursday morning. "That was the plan to do a deal and stay in Minnesota for the next two years. For sure, I'm really excited."
Demoted to the fourth line while playing for his hometown Habs, Latendresse's production blew up immediately after joining the good guys. He scored a goal in his second game in a Wild sweater and fans became used to seeing his demonstrative fist pump after each one. The fun he was having was evident to everyone who watched him thrive in his new surroundings.
"Hockey's a business, but I think when we all started playing hockey when we were younger, it was because we loved hockey," he explained. "That's why we play. I'm just happy to have the chance to live the dream of playing in the NHL, and Minnesota is just a great place to play."
As important as the amount of goals scored by Latendresse were, it was when he scored them that was even better. Showing a knack for coming up with goals when most needed, Latendresse became the go-to garbage man for his playmaking linemates like Martin Havlat. When he got the puck within 10 feet of the net, he consistently converted.
While his season is typically termed a "breakout season," Latendresse felt it was a matter of time if he could just see the ice more, and maybe help out on the power play as well.
"I think I just had the opportunity to play and had some ice time with really good players like Marty (Havlat)," he said. "But I think even in Montreal, scoring 16 goals [in 2006-07 and 2007-08] on the third and fourth lines was a pretty good season too."
Individual success was fine by Latendresse, but he also wanted to be a part of a team that can continue toward the playoffs. He feels this team is on its way.
"I think we have a great team, great young guys," he said. "I think we're one or two players away, and I don't think a lot of teams can say that. That's why I'm so excited and looking forward to next season. I know management wants to do some moves and want to do things that are going to help our team to get better and to raise another level. It's fun to be a part of that, and it shows they want me to be in the core of that group."
Latendresse's signing came a day before the NHL free agency period begins at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday. By getting the deal done, General Manager Chuck Fletcher now has a much better idea of how much wiggle room he has under the salary cap. It also meant the two sides could avoid a drawn out arbitration case.
"I think [arbitration] not good for the relationship that we want to build, and it wasn't the plan from the start," he admitted. "I think it's a fair deal for both sides."