“It’s exciting,” Haula, 26, said between games in Da Beauty League, where a host of NHL players with ties to Minnesota are playing games for charity twice a week through Aug. 23 at Braemar Arena. “I’ll always love Minnesota but I’m looking forward to starting something new. It’s great. [It’s a] new team – everything is going to be new.”
“You’re starting to build your own legacy. Nothing has happened [in Vegas] before. Everything is new. It’s a great opportunity for everybody, so you just start building from there. Everyone is new, so we’ve just got to kick it into gear as fast as possible and spend a lot of time with the guys on the team and get to know each other. I’m really excited for this opportunity in my career.”
Not everything will be new. One of Haula’s teammates in Vegas will be defenseman Nate Schmidt; the two were roommates at the University of Minnesota. Schmidt signed a two-year, $4.45 million contract (average annual value $2.225 million) with the Golden Knights on Aug. 5.
Moving to the Las Vegas area will be an adjustment for Haula, who has established deep roots in Minnesota.
Born in Pori, Finland, he played a year of prep hockey at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Fairbault, Minnesota, before spending three seasons at the University of Minnesota (2010-13). Haula, the second player born outside North America and first since forward Thomas Vanek (2002-04) to play for Minnesota, led the Golden Gophers in scoring twice and finished his collegiate career with 124 points (42 goals, 82 assists) in 114 games.
The Wild selected Haula in the seventh round (No. 182) of the 2009 NHL Draft and signed him on April 7, 2013, after his junior season. He has 89 points (42 goals, 47 assists) in 266 NHL games, all with Minnesota.
His speed and ability to score highlight-reel goals, most notably four in 13 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014, made him a fan favorite.
“Yeah, [Minnesota] is home,” Haula said. “It’s hockey, and this will always be like a home to me. I love it here. The fans have been amazing. Definitely the weirdest part is going to be playing against them (the Golden Knights will play at the Wild on Nov. 30). It comes pretty quick. I’m sure I’ll be super excited and a little nervous to return, but I’ll always be back here. It was great to hear all the comments and everything I got from the fans.”
Haula had an NHL career-high 15 goals in 72 games last season and excelled in a defense-first role, using his speed to fuel breakouts. He won 53.9 percent of his faceoffs last season and is expected to be an asset to the Golden Knights penalty kill. Haula likely will play on the second or third line in Vegas.
“Speed is my greatest asset,” he said. “I’m just going to give it all I got at training camp and see where I’m going to start. I know there’s great opportunity for older guys going in, so that’s what I’m looking forward to, is battling for one of those spots. Like I said, I feel like I’m getting ready.
“I’m excited to be a part of things in Vegas and can’t wait to get there and get the season going.”