ST. LOUIS – In order to give itself roster flexibility heading into the weekend, the Wild placed forward Jake Dowell on waivers and released center David Steckel from his pro tryout Friday.
Dowell will not necessarily be assigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League if he clears Saturday, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. It simply gives the Wild the option to send Dowell to the minors any time in the first 10 games or 30 days of the season.
Steckel’s release — he is expected to sign an AHL contract with Iowa if he doesn’t get an NHL job in the next few days — puts the Wild roster at 24 healthy players.
Rosters must be down to a maximum of 23 by 4 p.m. Monday. That means one more cut, whether that be Dowell or one of the youngsters on an entry-level contract. Entry-level players like Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter don’t have to pass through waivers to get to the minors.
“It just gives us the flexibility to make a decision now on Jake or make a decision in a few weeks or maybe we don’t ever use that option and send him down,” Fletcher said.
Torrey Mitchell was tripped up by St. Louis Blues defenseman Roman Polak late in Friday’s 4-1 exhibition loss. The Wild will have to make certain Mitchell, who did skate off on his own power, is OK before making a subtraction.
Fletcher said Dowell’s future largely rests on whatever lineup coach Mike Yeo wants to use opening night against the Los Angeles Kings and subsequent games.
If Yeo feels he wants to play rugged center Zenon Konopka, perhaps Dowell would stay as the extra 13th forward and an entry-level player starts in Iowa. If Yeo wants to go with an all-skill fourth line, the Wild likely would assign Dowell because Konopka is on a one-way contract that requires waivers.
If Dowell is sent to Iowa, he will be paid his $700,000 NHL salary there.
Yeo met with Steckel on Thursday and Fletcher met with agent Ben Hankinson on Friday. They explained that as of now, there is just no room for Steckel.
The Wild likes Steckel, particularly his 6-foot-6 frame and expertise in the faceoff circle.
Steckel ranks second among active NHLers in career faceoff win percentage (.583). Coincidentally, Konopka, one of the players keeping Steckel from signing with the Wild, has the league’s best active faceoff win percentage (.590).
One goalie ‘sore,’ other sick
Josh Harding got the start in goal for Friday’s preseason game against St. Louis because Niklas Backstrom was feeling soreness and the Wild decided not to risk his health.
“There’s nothing remotely wrong, but why bother [bringing him to St. Louis]?” Yeo said.
Harding played two scoreless periods Friday before reporting to the training staff that he wasn’t “feeling well.” Backup Johan Gustafsson entered and gave up four third-period goals as the Blues won 4-1.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. Hopefully, he’s just not feeling well,” Yeo said of Harding, who missed two months last season because of the effects of multiple sclerosis.
Harding gave up two goals in 145 minutes this preseason, posting a .962 save percentage.
When Mitchell signed a three-year deal with the Wild on July 1, 2012, he never envisioned he’d mostly be the fourth-line right wing last season. But the Wild never could have guaranteed it would sign Zach Parise a few days later or have a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard. That caused Mitchell to fall on the depth chart.
This year, the former San Jose Sharks speedster is feeling more explosive than ever and is motivated to land the third-line right wing spot next to Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak.
“I know there are a lot of guys trying to get that spot, so I’m coming in day by day focused on getting it,” Mitchell said before Friday’s game. “I wanted to play more last year, but it was the role that I was given and I accepted it. But this year, it’s up for grabs.”
He was the consummate professional last season because, “You sulk in this business, people forget about you pretty quickly.”
Defensemen Ryan Suter and Keith Ballard got the game off.