ST. PAUL -- Nico Sturm knew what he was getting into when he signed a one-year, entry-level contract in the State of Hockey.
This isn't his first time coming to Minnesota.
Sturm played one year of junior hockey for the North American Hockey League's Austin Bruins, following in the footsteps of former Wild defenseman Christian Folin.
Video: Nico Sturm on signing with Wild
Like Folin, Sturm was discarded by another junior franchise and had to earn his way with Austin. And like Folin, Sturm did just that, going on to play three years of college hockey -- Sturm went to Clarkson -- before signing with the Wild as one of the top collegiate free agents available.
"That year in Austin was one of the best years that I've had in my career," Sturm said. "It was the first time I was gone from home in eight, nine months. They taught me how to be a man and be on your own and just [former Bruins coach Chris Tok is] one of the people that shaped me into the person I was today."
That person is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound two-way centerman who refers to himself as a late bloomer.
"My development period was not when I was 16, 17, 18 but maybe when I was 20, 21," Sturm said. "I don't think it's a bad thing. I know the league is getting younger and younger, but I'm 23, not 33. So I think I still got time."
Sturm comes to the Wild at an interesting time for the organization.
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While still alive for the postseason, Minnesota is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. General Manager Paul Fenton traded veterans Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund over the past couple of months and infused the roster with young talent like Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala.
Both Donato and Fiala are 22 years old, a year or so younger than Sturm, but Fenton sold Sturm on the plan that the three talented young forwards can grow together in the years ahead.
It also helped having veteran centers like Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal in place, providing Sturm with a couple of older, veteran players for him to model his game after.
Koivu especially, plays the same type of 200-foot, defensive style that Sturm was known for in college, one that earned him back-to-back Best Defensive Forward honors in the ECAC.
But Sturm doesn't want to be pigeon-holed into being "just" a defensive centerman. He also led Clarkson in scoring this season as well.
"I pride myself on the defensive work. I think back at Clarkson that's what our style of play was, a defensive minded mentality," Sturm said. "[But] I still think I've got some playmaking ability and if I have some guys by my side that I can distribute the puck to, I think we're going to have a lot of fun."
If his work visa can be ironed out, Sturm could get into the lineup as soon as Tuesday when Minnesota hosts Winnipeg. But a more likely debut could come on Thursday against Boston when his mom, dad and brother are all expected to be in attendance from Germany.
Beyond that, nothing has been guaranteed. Sturm will be a restricted free agent this summer, but the Wild certainly hopes he's a big part of its future.
"This is the National Hockey League. I know I'm going to have to earn my spot here," Sturm said. "You look at the lineup and there are some pretty good players in here. Obviously with the experience that I can gain this week and then going into training camp next year I expect to earn my spot."
Sturm brings a little bit of everything to the table for Wild
Video: Paul Fenton on signing Nico Sturm