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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The speculation lasted far longer than the time it took to ink a deal.

Mere hours after NHL free agency began, the Minnesota Wild announced that the club has signed former Gopher turned high scoring NHL forward Thomas Vanek to a 3-year deal.

Vanek, who spent most of his career with Buffalo before a trade to the Montreal Canadians last season, was one of the most coveted players in this year's free agent class. Many felt that Minnesota had the inside track given his ties to Minnesota and to current Wild winger Jason Pominville, who he developed a close friendship with while playing in Buffalo.

Columnist Michael Russo reports the deal at $19.5 million over 3 seasons, an average of $6.5 million per year. The Wild confirmed the signing on its Twitter account but the team has a policy of not releasing financial details of player contracts.

"Thomas is an elite offensive talent who showed a strong desire to play in Minnesota," said Fletcher. "We are excited to welcome him to our organization."

The 30-year-old Vanek was born in Austria. He spent parts of 9 seasons in Buffalo before being traded to the New York Islanders, and then the Montreal Canadians during the 2013-2014 season, ending it with 27 goals and 41 assists.

He twice scored more than 40 goals in a season while playing with the Sabres, and picked up more than 30 goals in two others.Since joining the NFL in 2005-2006, he ranks eighth among all players in goals scored with 277.

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