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Fenton's fire burns hot for first crack at GM post

Former Predators assistant general manager has worked his way up management ladder

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

Fenton discusses vision for Wild

Fenton discusses vision for Wild

New Wild general manager Paul Fenton sits down with Wild TV to talk about his background, goals for Minnesota moving forward

  • 02:12 •

 

ST. PAUL -- About a half century ago, a captain at the Springfield, Massachusetts police department told Chief Paul Fenton Sr. to forget baseball or basketball. It was hockey that was the next up-and-coming sport. 

Fenton Sr., not a hockey guy himself, for some reason, took his colleague's advice and helped cultivate a passion of the sport for his son, Paul Fenton Jr.

Little did he know how much he had altered the life path his son would take.

On Monday, Fenton Jr. was named the third general manager in Minnesota Wild history, an opportunity some two decades in the making.

Even longer, if you consider the love affair with the game rooted in that very conversation in a Massachusetts police station 50 years ago.

"Without this guy telling my dad to get his kids into hockey, I never would have stayed in it," Fenton told Wild.com after landing in Minnesota; he'll be formally introduced Tuesday during an 11:30 a.m. press conference. "My older brother played about a year then gave it up. I just kept going, and my younger brother did as well. We loved it."

Tweet from @mnwild: Looking to know more about new #mnwild GM Paul Fenton? ��Check out his resume ��� https://t.co/4HZTlfpxp9 pic.twitter.com/DZ0AglZG88

It's a passion that carried him through a collegiate career at Boston University and a professional career that spanned 411 games in the National Hockey League and 356 more in the minors. 

It's carried him through an off-ice career as a scout, a director of hockey operations and an assistant general manager.

Now after 20 years with the Nashville Predators, it will be at the core of what Fenton tries to accomplish with the Wild.


From player to ... coach?

As Fenton's playing career was winding down -- he played for three NHL teams during the 1990-91 season before a final season with the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991-92 -- he began thinking about the next step in his hockey journey.

At first, it was coaching. Fenton thought he had nabbed a coaching position at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst soon after retiring as a player. 

A finalist for the job, but ultimately passed over, Fenton broke the bad news to Jack Ferreira, his GM in his one season with the Sharks who had moved onto the same position down the coast of California with another expansion team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

"His first reaction was, 'Good, because I want you to come work for me,'" Fenton said with a laugh.

Just like that, a career in management was born. 

"There was no second thought; there was no, 'How are we going to do this?' As a former player, and playing at different levels, I felt like I already had a head start," Fenton said. "I had been in the National Hockey League for six or seven years, so getting to know the talent at the [NHL level] was already embedded in my head."

Fenton worked in Anaheim for five years, his first three as a scout and his final two as the club's chief professional scout.

In Fenton's first season, the Mighty Ducks chose Paul Kariya in the first round of the NHL Draft, the same Kariya recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The following year, Anaheim took future All-Star defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky, whose stay with the Mighty Ducks would be a short one. In 1996, he was the centerpiece of a trade that Fenton helped facilitate that sent Teemu Selanne to Southern California for a package of prospects and a draft pick.

The same Selanne inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame with Kariya last November.

While Fenton certainly wasn't the only one in the room pulling the trigger on these decisions, the fact he was there helped cement an early reputation in League circles as an elite talent evaluator, a reputation that still exists today.  

"It comes natural for me to look at a player and say, 'I like what he does,' or, 'I don't like what he does,'" Fenton said. "I can still put myself in their skates and kind of play out what they do."

In 1998, Fenton moved on to another expansion team, this time joining Craig Leipold's new franchise, the Nashville Predators. 

Fenton started his career there as the director of player personnel and elevated himself to the head of the team's draft table from 2003-2008.

He immediately put his stamp on the franchise, selecting defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in back-to-back rounds of his first draft in 2003.

The following year, he unearthed goaltender Pekka Rinne in the eighth round, and the foundation of a consistent playoff contender was laid.


Bringing the heat

Fenton refers to Ferreira as his hockey mentor, a relationship that dates back to when Fenton was a teenager playing for him during the summer with the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers.

One of Ferreira's finest bits of advice came when Fenton was just 16 or 17 years old, a memory so clear it could have happened yesterday.

During one game, Fenton got into a fight and was tossed from the contest. Back in the locker room, his dad came back and scolded him.

"My dad hated when I would fight," Fenton said. "I got thrown out, and my dad came to the locker room and told me, 'I've had enough. This is crazy. You're playing too out of control.'"

Fenton tried to explain to his father the circumstances of the fight, and the events leading up to it to no avail.

After the game, Fenton Sr. met with Ferreira, the team's assistant general manager at the time. 

"The first thing that Jack said to him was, 'Chief, don't ever take the fire out of him. That's how he's going to make it some day, to college hockey and become a good player,'" Fenton said. "My dad always remembered that, and on the way home, he told me the story and he told me, 'I'm never going to take the fire out of you.'"

Forty years later, Fenton said he still has that burning desire to succeed. 

"I'll bring fire here; I'll bring fire everywhere," Fenton said. "But I treat people like I want to be treated, as well."


The chance of a lifetime

A slight smile crossed Fenton's face on Monday afternoon after he heard someone finally marry his title to his name. 

Minnesota Wild General Manager Paul Fenton.

"That sounds great," he said.

Tweet from @mnwild: #mnwild owner Craig Leipold on naming Paul Fenton as the new General Manager of the Wild. pic.twitter.com/K2Hn8GDmwk

It has certainly has been a long time coming for the believed one-time heir apparent to David Poile in Nashville. Few in the NHL are as ready for the opportunity to run their own hockey operation.

After numerous interviews and potential opportunities to become a general manager over the years, Fenton's time has arrived in Minnesota, with an owner he's familiar with and an organization he's watched closely as a Central Division rival.

His pre-existing relationship with Leipold made this an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"I've gotten to know him and seen what a class act he is, the way he treats his people is the way I want to treat people as well," Fenton said. "This organization has great roots and it's headed in the right direction. Hopefully, we're taking it to that next level starting right now."

During his time in Nashville, Fenton had a front-row seat to the building of that franchise from the ground up, to one now that has made the playoffs in 11 of the past 14 years and reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

In addition to the Predators' immense draft success, of which Fenton has played a huge part, he's helped Poile execute some of the most shrewd trades in recent memory.

Since his promotion to assistant general manager in 2006, Nashville has acquired Peter Forsberg, Mike Fisher, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, James Neal, Ryan Johansen, P.K. Subban and Kyle Turris via trade.

Fenton has also been a driving force in the draft selections of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm, Seth Jones, Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson.

Many of those players were the core of the team that won the Western Conference last season and helped the Predators to the President's Trophy for the League's best record during the 2017-18 regular season.

"We've put a staff together there that is outstanding, and I will miss them greatly," Fenton said. "They have become not only fabulous employees but great friends, and I felt that I could trust them with whatever I did."

Now, the challenge will be trying to bring that sort of magic to Minnesota.

Leipold said last month that he has no interest in a rebuild, and that the Wild needed only tweaks in order to take the next step.

Fenton said he sees a lot of similarities between the Wild and Predators, and hopes a new set of eyes can help make the necessary changes to give coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff the players needed to make that jump.

"We've got a lot of quality people here," Fenton said. "I look at the lineup, I look at things that I really, really like and I look at things that I think need some tweaking. That's my expertise, to be able to look at things and put some tweaks and trades together that can possibly help, maybe some free agents that more intricately define what I believe a team needs. [Those are] the finishing touches that I hope to be able to do here. 

"It's hard to take that next step, but that's what my job is going to be, to help us take that next step."


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