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Sturm brings a little bit of everything to the table for Wild

Big-bodied centerman scored goals, killed penalties and played a reliable 200-foot game at Clarkson

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

ST. PAUL -- Any hockey coach worth his salt will tell you a team can never have too many defensemen or good depth down the middle.

The Wild bolstered its center position in a big way on Monday, signing one of the best collegiate free agents available in Clarkson centerman Nico Sturm to a one-year, entry-level contract.

Sturm will report right to Minnesota, and the hope is that he can play at some point over the final week of the regular season.

"He wins faceoffs, he's got character, he's got size, he's got bite to him," said Wild General Manager Paul Fenton. "He's a guy that I think will fit into our lineup, our top-9."

At 6-foot-3 and just a shade over 210 pounds, Strum certainly has prototypical NHL size. He also plays a 200-foot game that has earned him praise from scouts and pundits alike. 

Video: Paul Fenton on signing Nico Sturm

It also earned him a lofty comparison from Fenton, who believes Sturm -- a two-time winner of the ECAC's Best Defensive Forward -- has the ability to be an immediate contributor.

"He plays that complete game. He's big, he's strong. He has some similarities to [Wild captain Mikko] Koivu in the way he defends from the inside out," Fenton said. "He's always got detail to his game. He goes stick to stick, and then he's big and strong, so he can control where guys are going. He's the type of guy that we're looking for."

Sturm's coach at Clarkson, Casey Jones, was an assistant coach at Ohio State University when current Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler was a Buckeye. Jones said Kesler played the game a little nastier than Sturm does, but from a defensive standpoint, as well as with his ability to win draws, kill penalties and from a locker room perspective, "they are pretty comparable."

"He fits a lot of different areas up and down the roster," Jones said. "As a coach, you always want your bench to be as long as it can be. You only have a certain number of players you can dress, so how do you extend your bench? It's by having guys fill a whole bunch of different roles, do a whole bunch of different things and wear a bunch of hats. That's one thing he does."

Fenton has been enamored with Sturm for years, going back to Fenton's days as the assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators. 

As one of the best free agents on the market, Sturm was courted by more organizations than just the Wild.

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"I would say there were a lot of teams that pursued him and they broke it down, they looked at everybody's opportunities and we think we have a unique opportunity for him," Fenton said. "He'll be able to play, and we'll let it sort out from there."

Sturm, who is no relation to longtime NHL forward Marco Sturm, has been the target of professional teams for a couple of years, but Jones said he's been impressed with how he has been able to shut out those distractions and give everything he could to the program.

The Golden Knights went 26-11-2 this season and reached the NCAA Tournament, losing over the weekend to Notre Dame 3-2 in overtime. 

Sturm, Clarkson's captain, led the team with 31 assists and 45 points and was a plus-23 on the season. Twelve of Sturm's 14 goals came with the team at even strength while just one came on the power play.

Consistency was also a hallmark of Sturm's play, as he scored at least one point in 32 of Clarkson's 39 games.

"Consistency is off the charts. He's the best player on the ice, by far," Jones said. "He's a big body who moves well, he's a possession player because he wins faceoffs at a high level, and he played in every situation for us. He plays a big man's game."

Jones said Sturm brings a good attitude away from the rink, as well, serving as a quality template for his younger players coming into the program.

"He wants to win first, and that to me, especially with high-profile kids, doesn't always come all the time," Jones said. "With him, it's about the team, and that's what makes him special.

"He's been a big part of where we're at and bringing guys along. It's pretty easy when all you have to tell guys is to, 'Do what he does. Watch Nico take care of himself, watch how he comes to the rink every day, watch how he goes about his trade.' They have someone to look up to, and your younger guys see every day how he goes about that."


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