The names and numbers were mostly the same, as a familiar rendition of the Wild showed up Thursday at Xcel Energy Center when players officially opened training camp with fitness testing and medical exams.
But what was different was the vibe.
And the catalyst for that was first-year General Manager Paul Fenton.
“It’s like a new principal or a new teacher coming into town,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“The coach wants to impress by doing the right things. The players want to impress because he’s the boss now that’s making the decisions. Just with his presence, I think everybody’s going to work a little harder.”
Fenton’s addition, however, isn’t the only source of intrigue at camp.
Players will get on the ice Friday when practices start, and defenseman Ryan Suter has been medically cleared to participate in all activities after suffering a severe ankle injury late last season.
Forward Luke Kunin, who’s recovering from a torn ACL, was the only Wild player not cleared.
Suter won’t take Boudreau’s skating test Friday, though, since he successfully completed it Tuesday. It’s also likely Kunin will be limited in what he can do on the ice.
With a veteran-heavy group back in the mix, most of the Wild’s lineup looks solidified, but a few battles will play out in the coming weeks.
Goaltender Andrew Hammond was brought in on a one-year, two-way contract to challenge Alex Stalock for the backup position, and the pecking order for the sixth and seventh defensemen still requires clarity.
Up top, Boudreau says rookie Jordan Greenway is ready to be a regular and a spot in the lineup is his job to lose in camp.
“He played great [last season],” Boudreau said.
It’s unclear how many, if any, extras the Wild will carry this season; Fenton said the roster will flex to the 23-man limit if needed, so the team could carve out room for someone who dazzles during the audition phase.
“You’re looking for somebody to do that more than anything,” Fenton explained. “You want people to put pressure on everybody else to make them perform better.
“That’s when we’ll take that next step is when the organization has enough depth and pressure from underneath that it’s keeping everybody playing up to their capabilities and more.”
A seven-game preseason schedule opens Monday at the site of last season’s demise, in Winnipeg, where the Jets extinguished the Wild’s playoff hopes in five games with a 5-0 romp.
Less than three weeks later, the season opener will be Oct. 4 against the Avalanche in Colorado before the Wild plays the Golden Knights in its home debut Oct. 6.
Whether or not Suter suits up for any preseason games hasn’t been determined, but Boudreau is still optimistic the 33-year-old will be ready for Game No. 1.
“With him being cleared, unless he pushes it too hard and ends up re-hurting something, I don’t see any problem there,” Boudreau said.
For the rest of the veterans, Boudreau figures three preseason games is enough prep and while he’d like to get his roster set sooner rather than later, he recognizes the importance of evaluating the organization’s prospects.
In total, 61 players are in camp, 19 of those holdovers from the recent prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., where the Wild finished third.
“Our team outworked every other team,” Boudreau said.
How newbies like defensemen Greg Pateryn and forwards J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr and Matt Hendricks settle in is also on Boudreau’s radar, as well as catching up with returnees. The bench boss is eager to see if Nick Seeler can pick up where he left off last season when he impressed as a sturdy young defenseman, and this is the first camp Boudreau has had winger Zach Parise from the get-go after injury and the World Cup of Hockey sidelined him previously; the fractured sternum that Parise suffered in the playoffs healed up over the summer.
“He looks so much quicker and stronger than he has at the beginning of the last two years,” Boudreau said.
So while not much is new with the team, there’s still plenty to sort out. And the group is ready to begin that process.
“If you walk around the room and look at everybody’s face, they can’t wait to get going,” Boudreau said. “This is an exciting time. I think everybody’s excited to get this thing started.”