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Wild prospect Phillips’ clock is ticking

In the same sentence that Zack Phillips downplays one season in an entire hockey career, the magnitude of next season is revealed.

 “Every year is a big year,” Phillips said, “but especially this one.”

Phillips is entering his third season as a professional and is 21 years old, a young age for most industries. But in the hockey world, the clock on a career starts ticking after a player’s name is called at the draft.

And because Phillips was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, No. 28 overall, that clock ticks louder with each season that goes by without an appearance in the NHL.

 “It’s a big year for him for sure,” said Kurt Kleinendorst, head coach of the AHL Iowa Wild, where Phillips played last year. “We’re going to need to see some more development, and he’s going to have to find a way to bridge the gap. At some point, opportunity is the only way we’re really going to know. But that opportunity isn’t going to come unless he earns it.”

Phillips is in town for the Wild’s prospect camp, and he’s now one of the veterans helping youngsters learn their way around St. Paul and answering questions about dress codes and where to get dinner.

But as the season approaches, more pressure will be put on Phillips to show the offensive potential that made him a first-round pick.

In his final two seasons in Canada’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Phillips amassed an impressive 175 points in 127 games. But much of that success came because Phillips was able to stickhandle around inferior talent. In the pro game, Phillips hasn’t been good enough to separate himself and utilize his offensive skills.

 “His skating is the one thing that he really has to work on,” Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. “A lot of that is strength-related, and it’s a matter of putting in the time and the effort in the weight room. It’s part of the job.”

In his first two seasons with the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate, Phillips has amassed 60 points in 147 games, a far cry from his QMJHL numbers.

For Phillips, much of his success during this crucial season will ride on his play without the puck — and his skating.

 “There’s a certain element that you need if you’re going to make the jump,” Kleinendorst said. “In the NHL, you’ve got to be able to keep up with the pace. I think he’ll get there, but I think he’s still a little bit away from there.”

The problem for Phillips’ shot at appearing in the NHL this season is that there are at least five centers ahead of him on the organization depth chart: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak and Cody Almond.

Wild sign Schroeder, Blum

The Minnesota Wild signed forward Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract and defenseman Jonathon Blum to a one-year deal on Friday.

Financial terms were not released by the team. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that both deals are two-way contracts.

Schroeder, 23, had three goals and three assists in 25 games with the Vancouver Canucks last season. In 56 career NHL games, he has six goals and nine assists. He also has 47 goals and 115 points in 192 AHL games with the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves. He was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Canucks out of the University of Minnesota.

Blum, 25, had one assist in 15 games with the Wild last season. He also had seven goals and 29 points in 54 AHL games with Iowa. In 106 NHL games, he has seven goals and 23 points. He was the No. 23 overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Nashville Predators.

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