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Menell's lengthy hockey journey leads to NHL call-up

Woodbury native has been one of the AHL's top defensemen this season

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

TAMPA, Fla. -- There's no guarantee that Brennan Menell will make his NHL debut with the Wild in the coming days, but if he does, it would mark the ascension of yet another Minnesota-born player to the world's highest level.

Menell was recalled from Iowa on Thursday morning as insurance after defenseman Jared Spurgeon was sent home following an upper-body injury sustained Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers. 

In a twist of irony, Spurgeon has been a favorite of the Woodbury-raised Menell for years. The Wild were his favorite team growing up and even the chance of making his NHL debut for his hometown team has him dreaming big.

Menell has had an outstanding year at the AHL-level in Iowa, scoring 19 points in 23 games this season. He's been especially good lately, tallying eight points, including seven assists in his past seven games. 

He leads all AHL defensemen with 17 assists and is second in overall scoring among blueliners.

"I think getting used to coach [Tim] Army, his systems, being with him a second year, I know what to do," Menell said. "Being around my teammates, a lot of us are returning from last year and we had a really good team last year. And just being my third year pro now, I feel like I'm coming into the player I want to be."

Signed by the organization as an undrafted free agent in Sept. 2017, Menell has worked his way up the organizational ladder. 

Originally an invitee to the team's development camp in 2017, Menell earned himself an invite to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament as well. That paved the way to NHL training camp and an appearance in a preseason game, a rare feat for a camp invitee. 

"Your goal is just to get signed in the first place, so when that happened, I just tried to take it step by step," Menell said. "I knew that when I signed, I still had a ways to go and I still had a lot to improve on."

Menell's journey to the NHL was certainly a long one.

He attended St. Thomas Academy from 7th to 9th grade before leaving to play one year of AAA hockey in Omaha, Nebraska in the NAPHL. 

The next year, he played for the Chicago Young Americans of the HPHL before moving on to the Western Hockey League, where he played two years for the Vancouver Giants and one for the Lethbridge Hurricanes. 

He scored 12 goals and 71 points for Lethbridge in 2016-17, which earned him an invitation to the Wild's development camp the following summer. 

Undrafted and unsigned the entire time, Menell has had to earn his keep every step of the way. 

"Just as a regular kid growing up in the Twin Cities, the Wild was my favorite team, watching it every night and watching all the players that came through, that's all you really wanted to do," Menell said. "I probably speak for every kid who ever grew up in Minnesota. It's their dream to play for the Wild, and to have the opportunity to do that is pretty special."

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