I talked for a bit with Aeros GM Jim Mill before last Saturday's game. I know this is a bit delayed, but I've been busy with other matters. However, though some of this might be a bit dated because of news with the Wild lately, I still thought I would post. So...
As you know, this is Mill's first season as a team executive, instead of as a league executive. So I wanted to know what it was like watching a team that's he helped assemble as the season opens.
"It’s incredibly exhilarating," he said. "It’s exciting and it’s a totally different kind of pressure. That’s for sure. I went from the pressure of making sure everything goes just okay…and knowing that the referees don’t screw up or anything, to wanting to win every time."
But while he wants the team to win everytime, he was clear that building a team doesn't happen overnight, and as such, the Aeros are still a work in progress.
"We’re similar to what is happening in Minnesota where there’s some new systems and some new philosophy to some degree," he said. "The guys are trying to adjust. Specifically at the American League level, if you’re asking me or any other GM or assistant GM, scout wide or anybody else, they’re going to tell you that for that first month, you’re pretty much going to stay in flux. You’re trying to adjust to putting a bunch of new players together. That does take time. And that’s what we’re doing right now. "
Now I know that some of you are going to complain about that and believe that the team should be at top form right now. But that's just not how it works with the Aeros, especially in the now-three years that I've been covering the team. Kevin Constantine has stated over the years that he is never sure of what he's going to get from his team until a month or so into the season. And Constantine struggled throughout last season trying to figure out a team that wasn't as strong defensively as he was used to but which featured an offensive element he also wasn't used to. And the Aeros last season were a team that didn't really gell and come together until the playoffs got going. So don't go into a panic right now if the team doesn't look cohesive. Give Constantine some time to work his magic.
I spoke to Mill about some Aeros alum who are currently up in Minnesota. Mill credited John Scott with being the spark behind the Wild's open night come from behind victory. "He was pretty good wasn’t he?" Mill said. "It was opening night in Minnesota and he changed the game. You can’t say he won the game, but he changed it, and he gave us the opportunity to win that game. He changed the momentum by doing what he did. That was great. He was the difference maker."
Then there's the enigma known as Benoit Pouliot. During the playoffs last season, I made a habit of attending the morning skate, and Pouliot was always the first guy out and always one of the last guys off of the ice. So I know he works hard, and you can see the guy has talent. But he just hasn't been able to make that talent work to his advantage.
"I wish I knew the answer to that one," Mill answered when asked about getting Pouliot to play to his skill level. "Guys develop at different rates, and he’s obviously incredibly talented and skilled. He’s got great size and he skates and he shoots, everything that you want. Some guys take a little bit longer to figure out how to put all of the tools together to use properly."
But as was evident by some of Wild coach Todd Richards' comments about Pouliot last week, the team does appear to be losing some patience with Pouliot. Mill is just not at that point. Yet.
"Guys do develop at different pace. We hope that a guy like that, with all of that talent and skill and ability, figures it out and puts it all together."
Then there's Cal Clutterbuck, the hard-hitting wing who graced the Aeros with his presence for the 2007-2008 season. Clutterbuck, who was called up after only two games last season, quickly made his presence known in Minnesota, and he's become a fan, and management favorite.
"I thought he would be a great guy in the National Hockey League," Mill said. "He uses speed. He does great things by using his body and keeping it simple. He skates well. He takes the body. He does all of the little things that you want. He keeps that intensity level up, and he creates things because of how aggressive he is. It’s not a big surprise at all [his success]."
Of course, Clutterbuck is currently on the injured reserve after spraining his ankle on Saturday night in San Jose. And as anybody who remembered Erik Reitz's struggle to recover from his high ankle sprain back in 2007-2008, you know that that's an injury that doesn't heal quickly. But if the Wild are to have any success this season, then the timing of Clutterbuck's return might be the most important element of all.