Great morning down at St. Louis Park Rec Center, where about 30 NHLers, including several Wild players, continued their pre-training camp camp put on by the Octagon Player Rep Agency.
Among those there for the first time was Wild right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who looked good as he continues to work his way back from postconcussion syndrome. That's Bouchard skating in the top left, and humorously, if you saw my Twitter picture of him earlier today, there's a shot of him winding up and smacking the glass in front of me. My guess is he was trying to give me an example of how his head reverberated last year.
It was good to see Bouchard on the ice skating again. He's got his speed, was puck-handling in tight spaces, making pinpoint passes through legs and even skating with the puck in traffic a few times. He said he's still getting his timing back, but he said his head is feeling good and he's close to where he wants to be.
That doesn't mean he's symptom free. He still has some pressure in his head and is trying to keep his BPM to below 170. He said he's gotten it up to above 180 a few times (where you typically are during a game) and he felt good.
Bouchard said he'll meet this week with GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Todd Richards to discuss a gameplan for training camp. He'll likely need to be eased in, and of course, he'll still eventually need the green light from Wild doctors for contact.
Bouchard did dive for a loose puck and then was accidentally bumped from behind afterward. He downplayed it, saying it was nothing.
On to the big news of the day, James Sheppard's broken left kneecap. First a correction from earlier today: The injury happened Saturday afternoon and the surgery was Saturday night. Coach Todd Richards said he'll miss three to four months, which is what I heard from sources too, but GM Chuck Fletcher said the team is refraining from giving a timetable until he's seen by Wild orthopedist Joel Boyd.
The surgery was performed in Vail, and an exact timetable isn't expected for at least a few weeks, Fletcher said.
I didn't reach Sheppard yet today, but agent Mark Guy said he was in Vail training with several NHLers. In fact, I believe a number of Wild players are there, too, like Chuck Kobasew, etc.
After their Saturday morning activities, the agenda called for a guided scenic tour of the mountain. On his ATV, Sheppard swerved to avoid a truck in his path, crashed and broke his left patella. Guy said he was "devastated" and worked extremely hard this summer to have a good year.
This is obviously a significant setback for Sheppard, who was already in a precarious position inside the organization. He was on the bubble to make the team as the Wild has four centers in front of him -- Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, John Madden and Kyle Brodziak -- and with youngsters Casey Wellman and Cody Almond on his tail.
He had reached a crossroad in his career, and at one point this offseason, it looked like the Wild may even let him walk away by not tendering a qualifying offer.
But at 22, Fletcher wanted to give him one final chance because the organization's not in a position yet to simply walk away from young players.
Fletcher said as of now, he's not looking to sign a center to replace Sheppard. He wants to see his team in training camp first. But obviously, if the Wild sustains an injury to one of its top-four centers in camp or if Wellman or Almond aren't ready or free-agent pickup Warren Peters isn't a quick fix, Fletcher may need to alter his thinking.
Fletcher and Richards also pointed out that Bouchard, if he returns, could move to center, too.
It's just amazing to me what's happened to Sheppard's career. First-round pick in 2006, he's put on the team as a 19-year-old when he didn't warrant it. Then, the Wild kept him long enough where he required waivers to be sent to the minors.
He hasn't spend a day of his life in the minors, where all non-star players should develop and gain confidence. Now, it's been four years since he's played a big role on a team. No power play, barely a sniff of PK. It's tragic if you think about it. Will he ever be able to rediscover the player he was in junior?
Now, he's told by Fletcher to invest better in his future, to prove he's an NHLer, and two weeks before training camp, he's in an ATV accident that might ruin his year. This could be career altering to say the least.
As for the short-term future, if the Wild claims this was an off-ice accident, the Wild would have the right to suspend Sheppard and not pay him (would have to be approved by the NHL). Fletcher refused to speculate on that, saying he hasn't even thought about it yet and is just trying to get Sheppard proper medical care and gather all the information. Fletcher and Sheppard's agent have not talked about scenarios yet.
Regardless, we won't be seeing Sheppard in the Wild lineup anytime soon.