There’s a lot to like about the Minnesota Wild’s decision to sign college free agent Casey Wellman, which is why so many NHL teams made an effort to get him under contract. According to Wellman’s agent, 22 different teams showed some interest in Wellman, although Wild G.M. Chuck Fletcher “went above and beyond” by personally visiting Wellman on two separate occasions.

There isn’t a lot of data available on Wellman, as befits a late-blooming free agent who only became a serious presence on NHL radars this season. Elise Butler of Hockey Wilderness has a good rundown of the main points. Wellman’s father Brad was a Major League Baseball player, but it was his uncle, a professional hockey player at the ECHL level, who Wellman chose to emulate.

It’s hard to go wrong with these college free agents, given that they cost nothing but money to acquire. Even so, there are some serious obstacles for Wellman to overcome before he can be a useful NHL player. Wild Assistant G.M. Brent Flahr noted that there were some rough edges to file down:

“We’re attracted to his offensive potential. He’s your typical late-blooming kid that went undrafted. He’s not a finished product, we’re aware of that. But with his shot and offensive potential, we were willing to take a shot and get him in here, and hopefully get him going on his pro career.”

That doesn’t worry me; most young players are a long way from being complete when they enter the league, and NCAA-trained ones seem to be more well-rounded than most. Not only that, but Wellman played a regular shift on the University of Massachusetts penalty kill, so presumably he has some idea of what to do in his own end. What does worry me is Wellman’s offensive potential.

For starters, while Wellman’s 23 goals look very impressive on paper, it’s more than double his output from 2008-09, so there’s a question of whether he can sustain that level of offence. He’s heavily dependant on power play time for his scoring; 11 of this season’s goals were scored with the man advantage this year, and fully half of the goals he’s scored over two seasons in college were power play markers.

In fact, most of Wellman’s offensive improvement this season comes about as a result of more power play time. Last year he had 22 even-strength points, and this year he had 25. His shooting percentage was a shade above 9.0% last year; this season it’s sitting at 16.0%.

Additionally, the fact that Wellman faded down the stretch is worrisome. He was still a very good player, but comparing his first 12 games to his last 24 shows a fairly big drop-off:

  • First 12: 11G – 9A – 20PTS
  • Last 24: 12G – 13A – 25PTS

So that’s the critical side of the ledger. This is a good move for the Wild, adding a young prospect to a position of weakness at the cost of an entry-level contract, but I think expectations need to be tempered a bit, because at this point it’s a stretch to project Wellman as an offensive difference maker at the NHL level.

Edit to Add: Wyshynski has some great stuff on Wellman’s first NHL highlight.