Colton Gillies may finally be in the National Hockey League for good.
The six-foot-four, 210-pound South Surrey native signed a new contract this week with the Minnesota Wild – the same team that drafted him in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – and the new deal is one-way, meaning he’ll make an NHL wage even if he is sent down to the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros, where he’s spent most of the last two seasons.
Gillies’ new deal is a two-year, $1.25-million pact, averaging $625,000 a season.
“It’s nice to get it done, now I just want a chance to make the team,” the left-winger said.
Because most teams are loathe to spend NHL dollars on their minor-league players, it stands to reason Gillies has an inside track on a job with the Wild this fall. In addition, Gillies’ old coach with the Aeros, Mike Yeo, was hired last month as the new bench boss in Minnesota.
However, the 21-year-old Semiahmoo Minor Hockey product insists he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Obviously, having a one-way (contract) helps, but at the same time, I’m not going there to be a fourth-line guy – I want to be able to be a shutdown forward, and contribute more than that,” Gillies said.
“It’s nice to have (Yeo) in there as the coach, because he knows the kind of player I am, and knows what I can do, so I’m pumped.”
Gillies spent the entire 2008/09 season in Minnesota, but was often a healthy scratch. He finished the year with two goals and five assists in 45 games. The following year, he was sent to Houston, where he spent the entire season.
Last year, Gillies scored 11 goals and 26 points in 64 AHL games, and also scored once in a seven-game cameo with the Wild. He also excelled during the Aeros’ long playoff run, scoring seven goals and adding five assists in 24 games. Houston lost to the Binghampton Senators 4-2 in the Calder Cup final.
“It was a crazy, intense playoffs, but it sucks to lose,” said Gillies, who grew up playing with Semiahmoo Minor Hockey before jumping to the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League.
But despite the loss, Gillies said the playoff experience – and his two years in the AHL as a whole – have prepared him to make the jump to the NHL.
“When I got sent down (after the 2008/09 season), it sucked – I was devastated, but looking back now, I realize it was probably the right move,” he said.
“I think I’m a better player – I’m faster, I’m stronger, I think I’ve paid my dues, and now I’m ready to just go out there and prove that I can play at that level.”
In addition to inking Gillies’ name on a new contract, the Minnesota Wild have been busy reshaping their roster the last few weeks, acquiring snipers Devon Setaguchi and Dany Heatley from the San Jose Sharks, while bidding adieu to top defenceman Brent Burns.
“Chuck Fletcher is one of the smartest general managers in the league, and I really think he’s made us a better team. It’s awesome – as long as he doesn’t get too many left wingers and bump me down a few spots,” Gillies laughed.