Vinni Lettieri didn't envision himself joining the Wild early in his pro hockey career.
The Excelsior native thought it would be good for him to travel, to "see what's out there," and this helped mature his game.
But the desire to play for his hometown team was always in the back of Lettieri's mind.
After stints on both coasts and more than 300 games, that full-circle opportunity finally arrived.
"This is the right time to do it," he said. "Obviously, I'm beyond excited and honored to be doing this."
Lettieri signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Wild on Saturday, what the 28-year-old described as "probably one of the most exciting days I've had in pro hockey."
As for the journey to get there, much of it happened here.
A star at Minnetonka High School who racked up almost 100 points in two seasons, Lettieri went on to become a Gopher just like his grandfather, former North Stars player and GM Lou Nanne. Lettieri helped the Gophers to four consecutive Big Ten regular-season championships and three NCAA tournaments.
His best season was his last when he scored 19 goals and after his college tenure concluded, Lettieri signed with the New York Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Since then, the center's split time between the NHL and American Hockey League, his first NHL goal coming in his debut on Dec. 29, 2017, at Detroit.
He had 25 goals with Hartford, the Rangers' affiliate, during 2019-20. The Ducks added him in 2020, and Lettieri tallied 48 points in 46 games over two seasons with their AHL team in San Diego; through the 36 games he suited up for the Ducks, he posted five goals and five assists.
"He felt it was good for him to go out and play in other organizations and see different parts of the league and do that a little bit," Wild General Manager Bill Guerin said. "Now he's really excited to be coming home. I think it's fantastic."
Last season, Lettieri potted 23 goals for the Bruins' minor-league squad in Providence, his fourth 20-goal season in the AHL. His contract with the Wild will pay him $750,000 in the NHL and $550,000 in the minors.
Energy, versatility and plenty of shots are what Lettieri believes he can bring to the team.
"I'm so honored to play for the Wild and have this opportunity," he said. "I feel like a lot of good days ahead hopefully, and I know this organization has been pushing to do something in the playoffs — not just make the playoffs, but to make it in the playoffs and get past that first round and get back to playing the hockey that the Wild deserves to play, and that's winning hockey.
"That's obviously what I'm excited about."