As you know by now because you check Wild.com every 10 minutes in the summer, Robbie Earl signed a one year, two-way contract with the Wild. While I was extremely excited about the Matt Cullen/Eric Nystrom/Guillaume Latendresse bonanza last Thursday, I don’t know if my excitement matches today’s news. And I mean that seriously.
Earl quickly became one of my favorite players last year. All I knew of him before last season was from his days as a hated Wisconsin Badger, and in these parts, he was hated. I was in the penalty box working for Fox Sports during the entire WCHA Final Five when he was wearing the red and white. The venom that Gopher fans had for him was pretty unbelievable. They said he was a “diver” and “cheap.” Basically, as in most cases when a player is hated, he is also really good (exception: Jarkko Ruutu). Earl was very good in college, and he carried his Wisconsin team to the 2006 National Championship.
When he was called up in last November, not much thought was given because the Wild just needed some healthy bodies. Earl provided more than that. He provided a spark. In his second game, he scored two huge goals against Carolina in a game the Wild looked like mini-Mites for the first 30 minutes. Todd Richards shook up his lineup and put Earl on a line with Mikko Koivu. Boom! The entire team responded and rallied from three goals down before falling in overtime.
Following that game, Earl was repeatedly shuttled back and forth to Houston. But every game he played in a Wild uniform, he was noticeable. He was one of the fastest, if not the fastest player on the team. He has a wicked release on his shot. He dished out hits, despite his relatively small stature. He finished with six goals in 32 games, but I think he easily could have doubled that with a few more minutes per game, and a bit more puck luck (I remember a number of chances he had that were stolen by goaltenders, or rang off the post).
I was certain that Earl would be scooped up by some team that offered him a one-way NHL deal. It didn’t happen, so I’m thrilled he’s back in the Wild organization. Unfortunately, it could be another challenge for him to crack the lineup until injuries rear their ugly heads.
If Pierre-Marc Bouchard is healthy, that puts the Wild at 12 forwards who appear to be locks for the lineup – Koivu, Brunette, Miettinen, Havlat, Cullen, Latendresse, Bouchard, Clutterbuck, Nystrom, Brodziak, Staubitz and Kobasew. That doesn’t include James Sheppard, who likely gets the best chance to stay with the big club. Earl will be battling it out with Shepp, Casey Wellman and Cody Almond for one of those extra slots.
But at the very least, the Wild staff knows it has a reliable energy guy when a call up is necessary, and I have at least one more year of rooting for Robbie.