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Minnesota open to dealing for ‘hard to find’ center

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Months before the Wild transitioned Mikael Granlund from center to wing, a move that brought out the best in the former first round draft pick, the Wild were looking to add a center.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Months before the Wild transitioned Mikael Granlund from center to wing, a move that brought out the best in the former first round draft pick, the Wild were looking to add a center.

High on their list was Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a 23-year-old who seemed to have everything they wanted in a center: size, skill and scoring ability.

The Wild, though, weren’t willing to part with one of their promising young defensemen, and Johansen was dealt to the Nashville Predators in January for promising young blue liner Seth Jones.

While the Wild didn’t land Johansen, their active interest was a clear declaration that they deemed center a position of need.

Now, as the NHL’s version of shopping season commences this week, the Wild seem even more determined to land a center given that Granlund and Charlie Coyle - both once projected as top line centers - played their best hockey last season on the wing.

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On the same day this week that Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said he “really liked” Granlund’s performance on the wing, he acknowledged he’ll be looking for centerman as NHL activity picks up this week at this weekend’s NHL Draft in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Centers are hard to find,” Fletcher said. “But if we can find a guy who can fit, who makes sense, we’ll certainly do it. … We’ll be aggressive in trying to find the right guy.”

While the Wild could explore the free agent market - where centers David Backes and Eric Staal await - the more likely avenue may be the trade market. In the seven offseasons as Wild general manager, Fletcher has made nine trades during the NHL Draft.

Free agency kicks off on July 1.

“This time of the year, you’re always exploring trade possibilities. You’re talking to teams, and if something makes sense, we’ll do it,” Fletcher said. “Certainly, we’re not going to be shy about that. It will depend. Not every player we’d like to be available may be available, so that’s the process we’re going through now.

“But between the trade market and free agency, we’ll have some opportunities to improve our team, and we’ll look to do that aggressively if we can.”

While it’s unclear what centers may be available on the trade market, Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and New York’s Derek Stepan, of Hastings, Minn., are two that Fletcher may inquire about. The cost would most likely be one of the Wild’s young defensemen, most likely Jonas Brodin, 22 or Matt Dumba, 21.

While both are former first-round picks drafted by Fletcher, and have played well, the Wild have depth on the blue line.

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“In the right scenario, we would certainly look at trading from our strength, trading from our depth, to get a forward,” Fletcher said. “If it doesn’t happen, then we’re very, very content to bring that group back.”

While center seems the team’s top priority, Fletcher only committed to bringing in forwards this offseason, whether they play wing or center. While Coyle and Granlund both excelled on the wing, Fletcher said he’s fine if one or both center a line this season.

“If we have the chance to get a good winger (we will),” Fletcher said. “It’s going to depend on what assets we have to give up, what the price-point is, and how all that fits together. We do have some flexibility with Granlund and Coyle being able to move between center and wing. I don’t think we have to get a certain position. We’d like to get the best player we can get at the most affordable cost.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILD
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