Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Trade Setoguchi? Not while he's on the rise

By Larry Wigge

Sometimes the mere mention of your name in a trade rumor can serve as a wake-up call. Heck, it can scare the daylights out of you.

The thought picking up your belongings and moving to another team, scared the life out of Minnesota Wild right wing Devin Setoguchi, when he woke up February 4 and read the small item in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he was trade bait.

"Not again," said the 26-year-old Taber, Alberta, native, shaking his head.


Setoguchi had been blindsided by the trade that sent him to Minnesota on draft day 2011 (June 24), being traded along with with forward Charlie Coyle (the Sharks first-round pick in 2010, 28th overall), San Jose's 2011 first-round pick for defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

"I was disappointed," Setoguchi remembered, looking back on the 31-goal season in 2008-09 -- his second of his four seasons with the Sharks. "It was like someone had just stuck a knife in my stomach."

You will get to know Setoguchi as a caring, selfless young man. 

There was only one way to stop the rumors of his second trade in 20 months -- simply end his streak of no goals in 10 games, which he did by scoring nine and seven assists in the next 18 games.

Included, in his turnaround was two game-winning goals -- February 9 against Nashville and February 21 against Edmonton. To top it off, Setoguchi's two goals and one assist in a 6-4 decision over the Colorado Avalanche March 16 and two nights later he set up a goal in a 3-1 win over Vancouver that put the Wild in first place in the Northwest Division.

That, to me, is the comeback of a player with character and passion. Someone who wants to play hockey -- and is good at it.

Not a potato farmer -- like his father Dale, who owns a 700-acre ranch in Taber.

Whatever the crop, "I'm not a farmer," Setoguchi said. "I can't tell you how many acres we have or what kind of tractors we drive."

Only once did he ever get up at 5:30 a.m. to work the fields -- and that ended when Setoguchi begged off the farming go play golf.

When he was 10, Devin suffered a farm accident -- the tip of his left index finger was caught in a conveyer.

Setoguchi likes to show the scar from the accident, while telling the story.

That accident help steer him toward a promising future in hockey.

"That's when I figured it was waaaaaay easier to score goals," Setoguchi said, laughing. 

Hockey also is something of a family business. Setoguchi's father was named the Alberta Junior Hockey League's MVP in 1979 and later played a year in Japan.

Dale coached his son when he was younger, emphasizing the importance of two most basic skills.

"He always stressed to me skating and shooting," Setoguchi said. "He said if you could shoot the puck and skate, you're going to be a good hockey player."

But there is even more to Devin Setoguchi, the eighth player chosen in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

"I don't know if he's flat-out fast, but he's quick," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. "He's in and out. He darts."

Setoguchi takes pride in being one of the few players of Japanese descent to reach the NHL. Ken and Nancy Setoguchi, the parents of Devin's father Dale, were second-generation Japanese Canadians. They were born and raised in British Columbia, where they met, fell in love and started a home. But his grandparents were rounded up and sent to internment camps in World War II.

The theory behind was that anybody who was Japanese, even if they were American or Canadian, would be loyal to Japan and be spies. So, Setoguchi's grandparents spent four years imprisoned behind barbed wire.

"I'm very proud of them," Setoguchi recalled. "My grandparents paved the way for me and gave us the rich life I've been blessed to have with my family.

"They had no time. They were told to go into their homes and grab whatever they could take in their hands. They didn't have a choice. I don't think any of us can imagine what that must have been like. There lives were turned upside down.

"It's a touchy subject with my grandma. They wound up near Taber ... and started farming."

But somehow, Setoguchi's grandparents not only persevered through the year-long ordeal, they joined several Japanese families in creating a thriving neighborhood in Taber, a town of 7,000 filled with farms and oil patches an hour north of the Montana border. More than 60 years later, the potato farm that Ken and Nancy started is still the family business.

His grandma is still Devin's biggest fan. 

"She's got a 12-foot-sized poster shrine of me on the inside of their garage," says Setoguchi. "She has a wall with probably 150 pictures of me."

Setoguchi was placed on a line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose -- one of the most powerful lines in recent history.

"When I'm skating, I create a lot of chances and opportunities for myself and bring energy to my club," the winger said.

Sounds like a simple game plan, but that was the advice from his veteran teammates.

"Skate, shoot and hit. Just be intense," said Setoguchi. "It's a different time of the year, different season, and we have to be ready to play."

"Just watching one or two practices, you realize how talented he is and the skill he has," Marleau said, recalling when he saw Setoguchi during the rookie's first training camp. "And what a great shot and release he has. He's playing hard, putting the work in and getting results."

Devin Setoguchi is still trying to find his niche with the Wild.

With Zack Parise and Mikko Koivu on the team's first line, Setoguchi finds himself often paired up Matt Cullen. 

They provide the Wild with a fine second line ... when they're on.

Since, that early February trade report, they been ON more often than not.

"I think the biggest adjustment with Seto is for him to open the door and say 'Here I am'," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "What I would like to see from Devin is to assert himself."

In San Jose, we saw the confidence of Devin Setoguchi. Right now, we're starting to see the same character player for the Wild.

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