Cullen feels at home with Wild

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

The homecoming could not have started much better for Matt Cullen.

Heading into Thursday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers, the Minnesota Wild centre was leading his team in scoring with eight points in his first five games.

“Things are going really well,” Cullen said. “I feel like this is the best hockey I’ve played. I felt that way last year and I feel like I’ve just gotten better over the years.

“A lot of it is experience and confidence and the expectations you place on yourself. I’m training smarter than I ever have and I feel like I have my body in the best shape I’ve ever been as far as skating. It’s a good time, I do feel like I’m getting better.”

A former Stanley Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes, Cullen, 33, was signed by the Wild as a free agent this summer.

A native of Virginia, Minn., the 13-year veteran is excited to be playing close to home.

“When I was a kid, I grew up watching the (Minnesota) North Stars and wishing I could play for them,” Cullen said. “So when the opportunity came up to realize a dream like that, it’s exciting.

“There are so many things that have to work out. The team has to have the need for what you provide and everything has to work together. For me to have everything work out, it’s unreal.”

Originally selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round — 35 overall — of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Cullen played with five different organizations before ending up in Minnesota.

Last season, he started the year with the Hurricanes before being traded to the Senators just prior to the trade deadline.

His most productive season came in 2006 with the Hurricanes, where he scored 25 goals and added 24 assist for 49 points during the regular season. He then added four goals and 14 assists in the playoffs as the Hurricanes defeated the Oilers in a seven-game series to win the Stanley Cup.

“We had heard great things about him before he got here and he hasn’t disappointed, that’s for sure,” said Wild head coach Todd Richards. “He gives us another centreman that’s really good on face offs and is really reliable in his own zone. We were looking for a guy to come in and fill a second-line centre spot and Matt has come in and done great job.

“Penalty-kill wise he’s been doing an extremely good job and obviously he’s a guy that we can use on the power play. He’s a guy that we can use in every situation.”

Early on, Cullen has done wonders for the Wild’s power play.

Playing on the point, he’s helped Minnesota connect on nearly 50% of their power-play opportunities heading into Thursday’s contest.

Having played the point dating on the power play dating back to his days in Carolina, Cullen has a shoot-first mentality.

“That was one thing with (Hurricane head coach) Peter Laviolette, it was unreal, every time I would step over the boards, he would tell me to shoot the puck,” Cullen said. “That kind of hammers it into your head to get pucks at the net. I think that’s been a key for our power play. Our power play is not getting caught up in trying to make too many plays and too many passes.

“That’s one thing that’s been hammered into my head.”


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