The Minnesota Wild have reportedly come to terms on a new deal with gritty forward Kurtis Gabriel. While the team has yet to make the contract official, TVA’s Renaud Lavoie believes that the ink has dried on a one-year, two-way contract worth $715K at the NHL level for the restricted free agent. With several frequent fourth liners in 2016-17 now gone – Tyler Graovac (traded to Washington), Erik Haula (selected by Vegas), Jordan Schroeder (traded to Columbus), Ryan White (will not be re-signed) – Gabriel will be given every chance to earn a regular spot in the lineup next season.
A 2013 third-round pick, Gabriel has not been able to come close to the offense he showed with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack in his three years of pro experience. Gabriel has just one point in 16 NHL games over two seasons and 40 points in 190 career AHL games. The value that Gabriel does bring to the table is his toughness and two-way ability. Gabriel averaged two hits per game in his brief NHL stints in 2016-17 and racked up more than two penalty minutes per game. That was in just about 5 minutes of ice time per game too. At 6’4″, 211-lbs., the big winger is a force to reckon and, given the proper amount of ice time, could be one of the most ferocious checkers in the NHL. He also wins battles along the boards and is an above-average shot blocker. Increasing his offensive output or at least working on a horrendous possession game would help Gabriel’s chances of sticking with the Wild next season, but fourth-line opportunity and physical domination often go hand-in-hand regardless.
Gabriel is locked up for next year, but the off-season is far from over for GM Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota front office. They still have major restricted free agents to sign in Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Marcus Foligno, as well as competition for Gabriel on the checking line in Zack Mitchell, not to mention an ongoing search for a reliable back-up goalie behind Devan Dubnyk. It’s nice to have one box checked off, but the Wild brass have their work cut out for them this summer.