If you didn't see my big Sunday piece on Thomas Vanek's return to Minnesota, here it is.
Soooo, you know the previous blog post.
Give it a read for Mike Yeo’s thoughts this morning on maybe starting the season with Charlie Coyle at center, maybe Matt Cooke on the Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu line and Stu Bickel on the fourth line.
BUT, it turned out, that lineup I posted this morning wasn’t even close to accurate.
After meetings this morning and after taking a look at the Blues lineup for tonight’s game, Yeo called an audible and changed his lineup. The team recalled Joel Rechlicz and Kurtis Gabriel (Gabriel ended up not playing, and both will be sent back to Iowa Sunday) and let Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux and Matt Dumba about 90 minutes before the game that they would be playing.
Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon ended up getting the night off and Yeo said they wouldn’t have unless the team was “completely confident they are ready.”
YES, Yeo included Zucker in that listing and made clear after the Wild’s 5-4 overtime victory yet again that he has been very happy with Zucker’s camp and “it would be a tough thing to do to try to find a reason why he wouldn’t be [here opening night].”
You have to give Zucker credit. What was supposed to be minor knee surgery last season turned into a subsequent season-ending one. He had major rehab to do, came in on a two-way contract and still overcame the easy ability for the team to send him down to at least initially make the team out of camp.
Yeo said he also scratched Coyle because after meeting with Erik Haula yesterday to inform the second-year forward how underwhelmed he was with his training camp, “I wanted Haulzy in that spot. Some of the things that we talked about, I wanted him to have a chance to come back and have a strong game today and he did.”
Haula scored a goal, as did Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek on the power play. Jason Pominville had three assists, including the set-up of Koivu’s OT winner. Pominville’s forecheck led to Jordan Leopold’s ghastly turnover and boom, Pominville fed Koivu in front for a deadly winner with 31.2 seconds left.
“[Pominville did all the work basically,” Koivu said.
Pominville led the Wild with eight points in the preseason, while Granlund, Zach Parise and Dumba had five each.
OH, speaking of Dumba, he scored a goal, assist, had three shots and nearly scored twice in overtime in 23:28 of ice time.
Afterward, Yeo said the Wild would need to find “creative reasons” to not put Dumba on Thursday’s opening-night roster.
“[His game], for sure it’s not perfect,” Yeo said. “There’s some areas defensively that we know he can still improve. Sometimes he has tendency to go for the home run when you just have to maybe hit a single.
“But he does some things that are special. We’ve talked about how we want to increase our offense from the back end, and he’s showing us that he can probably help.”
Dumba sure hopes he sticks, saying, “It’s pretty stressful. These last couple days, it plays with your mind. I try to keep my head out of the media (laughing).”
Christian Folin also had another good game.
“Both those guys have had very strong camps,” Yeo said. “It’s hard for me to say they had a bad game let alone a bad period. That’s what you want. Those guys have made things difficult on us.”
Sunday is a day off. Final cuts may come Monday. Justin Fontaine skated on his own today, so he’s ahead of schedule. But he’s expected to start the season on injured reserve.
That means the Wild technically only has to make one more cut.
If Zucker made the team, and Yeo seems to be indicating that in his mind, Dumba and Folin should, the Wild will have to reassign one of Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux, Nate Prosser or Stu Bickel (barring another injury).
Almond played well tonight, I thought, and is on a one-way contract and could go back to Switzerland if he cleared waivers. GM Chuck Fletcher and Yeo have given every indication that they didn’t claim Prosser off waivers to throw him right back on two days later. And Yeo has talked up Bickel’s physicality and ruggedness for three weeks (see the quotes on the last blog). So Veilleux could be the guy unless the Wild shocked us and placed veteran Keith Ballard on waivers.
I’d be beyond shocked at that. But, at this point, it wouldn’t shock me if Ballard starts the season as the seventh defenseman and Dumba and Folin both play Thursday.
Remember, this is the opening-night roster. The Wild will be tinkering all season like all teams, so nothing’s permanent.
But Dumba adds a dynamic to this team that it lacks. He’s a risk-taker and power-play threat every time. And this is a Wild team that wants to improve on last year’s 16th-ranked power play and 24th-ranked offense.
Dumba assisted on four of the Wild’s seven preseason goals.
The Wild’s power play was awesome in the preseason, but Yeo keeps cautioning that this is the preseason and it’s a whole different animal in the regular season when teams are playing their real penalty killers and guys are sacrificing their bodies to get in shooting lanes, etc.
But, Yeo said, “Definitely a lot of things to feel good about.”
He also has a ton of weapons suddenly. Koivu, who had an outstanding game tonight, is one guy who has had to accept a second power-play unit role. He told me after the game it’s up to Yeo what decisions are made and he’ll do whatever’s best for the team. There may be times Vanek has to play the second unit. If Dumba makes the team, Spurgeon may see second unit time.
“Everybody’s been unbelievable about that,” Yeo said. “I think our guys understand that we’re in a different place right now. We have more strengths, we have more weapons. It makes us a better team, it also creates more competition within our group. In the end it all evens out and in the end it’s all going to help each other. We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. The guys have been fantastic about that.”
It wouldn’t shock me if Yeo goes with the vet Niklas Backstrom opening night. We will see. He was real good in St. Louis, had a good camp and the Wild wants to keep him feeling good. Or, maybe they go with Darcy Kuemper and start Backstrom in Denver two nights later, where his numbers are so good in his career.
I think it’ll be a platoon situation early. There aren’t a lot of games and if both these guys aren’t playing games, suddenly you could have a rusty 1B or 2 (whatever you want to call it) on your hands.
Darcy Kuemper gave up four goals on 23 shots tonight, but Yeo said, “it’s hard to sit here and say that Kuemps wasn’t good. The goals that he gave up, he had no chance. Those were big breakdowns and kind of empty nets that he has no chance to recover on. Also including Bryz, our goalies had a good camp. They’re all ready for their opportunity, so we’ll have to make decisions going forward.”
I have got to think Bryzgalov will be offered a two-way deal or AHL deal by the Wild. It’ll be up to him if he accepts or is simply released from his tryout. But the Wild’s not going to keep three goalies, I don’t think. So the only other option is to send Kuemper to Iowa and pay him his NHL salary there, but he did nothing in camp to say he deserves to play in Iowa. If anything, he could warrant being the Wild’s No. 1.
Again, Sunday is a day off and “Monday we’ll be getting down to it,” Yeo said of the roster.