2023 Stanley Cup Final, Eric Staal, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Phil Kessel, Vegas Golden Knights, Zach Whitecloud

Minnesota Wild Connections to 2023 Stanley Cup Final

The Stanley Cup Final is officially underway with Game 1 going to the Vegas Golden Knights in a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Nearly every NHL team has some sort of connection to the Minnesota Wild whether it be a former player, coach, or they played college in Minnesota.

At first, the Golden Knights didn’t seem to have any obvious connections to Minnesota because none of their current players have played for the Wild. However, digging a little deeper, a number of them went to college in Minnesota. On the Panthers’ side, they do have a former Wild player, and a couple of Minnesota-born players, but no college players. We’ll start by breaking down the Golden Knights since they have home-ice advantage in this series.

Wild’s Golden Knights Connections

Zach Whitecloud

As stated above the Golden Knights don’t have any former Wild players but they do have a number of college-level connections. The first is Zach Whitecloud who has exploded onto the scene for the Golden Knights the last few seasons. He hasn’t found a way to score a lot of points just yet but he’s working his way up the stat sheet. However, before he found the NHL, he attended Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN.

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He spent two seasons there and while he wasn’t a scoring leader, he did record a decent number of points as a defenseman. In his first season he played in 41 games and contributed 17 points and the next season he played fewer games at 36 but tallied a couple more points with 19. That same season he signed with the Golden Knights and played in one game before the season ended.

He then spent one full season plus part of the following with the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League (AHL) before he found his current full-time role with the Golden Knights. Now he’s scoring goals and making his Bemidji State fans proud as he helps his team fight for the Stanley Cup.

Teddy Blueger

You can always learn something new and that is true when it comes to my knowledge of Teddy Blueger. While I knew his name, I didn’t know that he was originally from Riga, Latvia, and played high school hockey in Minnesota at Shattuck St-Mary’s located in Faribault, MN. The same school that Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews, and many more NHLers have come from.

Blueger spent three years with Shattuck St-Mary’s where he racked up some very impressive numbers. In his first two seasons, he played 53 and 54 games respectively but tallied 60 points or more in both seasons. In his final year, he played 51 games and recorded a whopping 88 points. However, things changed when he made the jump to college hockey where he stayed in Minnesota for.

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He traveled just under an hour west to Mankato, Minnesota where he joined the Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks. He played all four seasons there and in each one, he improved his scoring. In his first season, he played in 37 games and had 19 points but by his final season, he had risen to 41 games and 35 points.

Teddy Blueger Vegas Golden Knights
Teddy Blueger, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After a few seasons in the AHL, he found a spot with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent a little over four seasons there before being traded to the Golden Knights this past season. He’s played just six games this postseason but has registered two points. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of his playoffs unfold and if his team can pull it off and win the Cup.

Paul Cotter

The next player on the list didn’t spend a lot of time in Minnesota so his section may be a bit shorter than the rest. Paul Cotter definitely took an interesting route through the state as he ended up in St. Cloud, a town just over an hour west of the Twin Cities, but he wasn’t at the local University. He played for the St. Cloud Norsemen, a team that is based in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).

In that single season he spent with the Norsemen he played 59 games and accumulated 60 points plus 103 penalty minutes. Following that season he went on to bounce around between different junior teams before landing at Western Michigan University, the AHL, and finally the NHL with the Golden Knights. He hasn’t played a game yet this postseason but he’s still fairly young and has a lot of time left to make his mark in the big leagues.

Phil Kessel

This final player is one many NHL fans are familiar with as he has spent a lot of seasons in the NHL, but he’s also near and dear to many Minnesotans as he’s from nearby Wisconsin. He came over the state border to play some college hockey and that’s where he started to make a name for himself. That player is Phil Kessel and pretty much everybody knows his name.

Kessel spent a lot of his early career playing for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program but once he hit college age he made his way to the maroon and gold of the University of Minnesota in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, also known as the Twin Cities. He only stayed around for a season but it was long enough to become memorable. He played 39 games and amassed 51 points before moving on to his next adventure in both the AHL and NHL.

Phil Kessel Vegas Golden Knights
Phil Kessel, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kessel has been with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Arizona Coyotes, and finally the Golden Knights. He hasn’t played much this postseason and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets any ice time as they inch closer to the Stanley Cup being awarded.

Wild’s Panthers Connections

Zac Dalpe

First up for the Panthers is Zac Dalpe and while many Wild fans may not remember him well, he did play for the Wild. His first season with them was back in 2015-16 after being with the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres. He only played two games that first season with the Wild but he did score a goal for his only point.

The next season he played nine games and got up to three points but that was all he’d do in a Wild jersey as he was claimed off waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets part-way through that season. He spent a few seasons with the Blue Jackets before heading to Florida where he currently plays for the Panthers. He’s had quite the up-and-down career as he hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season since his time with the Sabres during the 2014-15 season.

As far as the playoffs, he’s played in 10 postseason games for the Panthers and recorded one goal for one point. He did play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final but only for a little over five minutes.

Mackie Samoskevich

This section will be quite short as Mackie Samoskevich hasn’t played a single NHL game yet but is listed on the Panthers roster. His connection to the Wild revolves around where he played his high school hockey and yes, he’s another Shattuck St. Mary’s product just like Blueger. He played on their 14U AAA team as well as their 16U and 18U teams.

Again just like Blueger, his points continued to increase the older he became. He started out with 56 games played and 40 points on the 14U team and by the time he got to the 18U team, he played 51 games and registered 74 points. He went on to play for a number of teams between juniors and college and while he hasn’t suited up in the NHL just yet, he’ll be a fun player to watch in the future.

Eric Staal

Everyone is familiar with the Staal brothers and the oldest Eric has been in the league for quite some time. Through all the different teams he’s played with, the Wild were included on one of his stops. He started out with the Hurricanes and then moved on to the New York Rangers for a half-season stint and then headed to the Wild. He spent four seasons with them which showed a small resurrection in his career.

Eric Staal Florida Panthers
Eric Staal, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During his first season with the Wild, he played in all 82 games and recorded 65 points. In the following seasons, he continued to play a high number of games and registered a lot of points with the highest being 76. He did see a slight decline towards the end of his time in Minnesota and when he moved on to the Sabres it seemed like his career was over.

After the Sabres, he played with the Montréal Canadiens and then he had a season off before making another comeback with the Panthers this season. His brothers Marc and Jared are also a part of the Panthers organization with Marc playing alongside Eric, and Jared helping coach their AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers. Will this be Eric’s final season and can he win another Stanley Cup? That remains to be seen.

Matt Kiersted & Alex Lyon

These next two players are grouped together because they’re both Minnesota-born and played high school hockey in Minnesota. Matt Kiersted is from Elk River, Minnesota a town located just under an hour northwest of the Twin Cities. He played for a variety of teams throughout his high school career including his local high school where he registered over 20 points in both seasons he was with them.

His teammate Alex Lyon is also from Minnesota but way north of Elk River. Lyon is from Baudette, Minnesota which is a good five-hour drive north of the Twin Cities area and is on the border of Canada. They also hosted the first-ever Hockey Day Minnesota that was back in 2019. Unlike his teammate, Lyon spent all four years of his high school career playing for his local high school. There isn’t much on his wins/losses record for that time but his save percentage did gradually increase as he got older.

Alex Lyon Florida Panthers
Alex Lyon, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Kiersted has not played in the playoffs yet this season, Lyon has. The goaltender has played in three games with a 1-2 record from their series against the Boston Bruins. He hasn’t played since then but he’ll be ready to go if called upon.

Paul Fenton

The final mention on this list is Paul Fenton and while many Wild fans may want to forget him, he has to be mentioned. He was the Wild’s former general manager from back during the 2018-19 season that saw a lot of players come and go. Some of the key players he traded included Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederrieter, and Charlie Coyle.

Related: Minnesota Wild Connections to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final

He may not have been highly liked in Minnesota but he’s found his way into the Panthers’ organization as a senior advisor to the general manager. He’s been there since the beginning of the 2020-21 season and many Wild fans may be watching closely to see how his team does.

Wild’s Connections

If you look deep enough, there’s likely a connection to the Wild in some way for each NHL team. While it’s not always apparent, there’s typically someone who has played in Minnesota or gone to college in the state. It’s really fun to look into those types of stats as it gives a more in-depth look at how each team is connected. Hopefully, the Wild will be in the Stanley Cup Final sooner rather than later, but for now these connections will have to do.

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