The Wild may not be the only team Nico Sturm suits up for this season.
With NHLers set to return to the Olympics next year, Sturm could get invited to represent his native Germany at the Winter Games in Beijing.
“I would be super pumped and excited to go,” Sturm said.
But the possibility isn’t weighing on his mind.
What he’s focused on is the task at hand, and that is continuing his career with the Wild after a solid rookie season.
“This year I feel like I can really surprise a lot of people,” Sturm said. “That’s one of my goals. I’ll play wherever Coach puts me, but I’m not going to make a secret out of the fact that I’m trying to earn a bigger role on the team.”
That role has been growing since Sturm debuted with the Wild.
After leaving Clarkson University to turn pro in 2019, Sturm made a brief appearance with the team. The next season, he played mostly in Iowa but had a longer look with the Wild that included scoring his first NHL goal in the playoffs.
Finally, last season, Sturm became a regular in the lineup and the center/wing made an impact: 11 goals in 50 games, 51 percent efficiency on faceoffs and he finished plus-10. Sturm also killed penalties, a responsibility that highlights the strengths of his game.
“His speed, his disruption up the ice, just getting to people quickly, getting his stick on things and just creating offense as we saw last year in his production offensively with his goals, that’s who he has to be,” coach Dean Evason said. “It’s defense first, and then he pushes the pace all over the ice.”
During Sturm’s exit meeting with General Manager Bill Guerin after last season, Guerin told Sturm to work on his hands; Sturm would like to hold onto pucks longer instead of dishing off quickly.
Sturm, however, isn’t the only one on his line eying to do more.
So is Blaine’s Nick Bjugstad, reunited with Sturm after returning to the Wild a one-year deal.
“Nico, he’s an easy guy to play with,” said Bjugstad, who wants to increase his scoring chances and shots this season. “He’s a north-south guy. He digs for pucks, works in every area of the ice. Playing with Nico, he really solidified himself last year — scoring, defensively, a lot of different areas. He definitely earned that.”
Despite having played just one full season in the NHL, Sturm can become an unrestricted free agent after this season when his current two-year, $1.45 million deal expires.
He wants to be with the Wild, but the 26-year-old realizes he has no control over the team’s wallet. Next season, almost $13 million of the Wild’s salary cap space will be devoted to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts.
“I know about our contract situation, the financials moving forward, and I can see that,” Sturm said. “But I also know that I bring a lot of value to this team. I think it’s a good fit here for me. I want to win here.
“That’s what I said. [I] told Billy at the end of last year I see myself here in the future because I think there’s not a lot of places where winning the Stanley Cup would feel better than here.”
And progress — by the Wild and himself — is on Sturm’s radar.
“We want to take the next step as a team,” he said. “Teams don’t just magically get better. It’s about the guys in the room taking the next step as individuals and then us coming together here as a team.”