One month from today, the Wild opens the 2013-14 season against the Los Angeles Kings.
By the end of the week, most players on the Wild should be in town and on the same sheet of ice. Players have been skating at multiple locations, but starting Wednesday, the Wild players plan to combine forces and skate together as other NHLers continue to head back to their NHL cities. Kyle Brodziak, Torrey Mitchell, Clayton Stoner, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Niklas Backstrom, Nate Prosser and others should be joining the Octagon crew.
There were a lot fewer NHLers from other teams down at the Octagon camp today. Some players still in town today were Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, the Rangers’ unsigned Derek Stepan, Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin, Buffalo’s John Scott, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone, Montreal’s David Drewiske and others.
From the Wild, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Matt Cooke, Keith Ballard, Stephane Veilleux and Josh Harding, wearing these snazzy new red pads, skated at Octagon.
Short a defenseman because guys like Jake Gardiner, Dustin Byfuglien, Alex Goligoski, Matt Carle and Matt Gilroy weren’t there, Cooke, a left wing, played defense as Ballard’s partner and looked comfortable there impressively enough.
Last week, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher joined me at the Star Tribune booth for a 30-minute Q and A with Wild fans and Star Tribune readers. Fletcher was optimistic about the team, said the Wild should be more of a “well-oiled machine” after a proper training camp this month (camp starts Sept. 11, last camp was a week long due to the lockout) and talked a lot about the prospects of guys like Coyle, Zucker, Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula and Matt Dumba making the team. All will be given great looks, and Dumba would have a real quality chance if he proves himself in camp because the Wild can keep him up to nine games without burning a year of his deal. Dumba is 19, leaves for Traverse City on Wednesday with the rest of the prospects for the rookie tournament and must either make the Wild or return to Red Deer of the WHL. Because of his age, he cannot play in Iowa. Jonas Brodin was able to play in Houston as a teenager because he was not a Canadian Hockey Leaguer.
Fletcher talked about the need for players like Brodziak to have bounceback years and says the “time is now” for Marco Scandella to prove himself. Stuff like that.
Two weeks ago, the Wild had organizational meetings, and as of now, Fletcher said it’s the teams decision not to invite any player in for a pro tryout. For instance, former Wild left wing Guillaume Latendresse signed one today with Phoenix.
Pro tryouts don’t bind players to teams, and with lots of free agents still available, Fletcher said he’d prefer to not bring anybody in and potentially block the ability of a young player to make the team. If this month Fletcher determines the Wild needs to sign a player due to his young kids not being ready or injury, “we can quickly make adjustments,” he said.
There are plenty of options so far.
I talked this morning with Pominville, and as Fletcher said during last week’s Q and A, he has begun talking more often with Pominville’s agent regarding a contract extension.
Pominville, the former Buffalo Sabres captain acquired April 3 for two prospects and two draft picks, including the Wild’s 2013 first-round pick, is entering the last year of his contract.
“They’ve talked a few times for sure and are going back and forth about what the plans are,” Pominville said. “We’ll just go day by day and see if both sides can make progress and go from there.”
Pominville, 30, would like to stay in Minnesota long-term.
“They committed to getting me, so just that means a lot to me and being part of a group that is committed to having success and being in a city that loves hockey, that makes it even better,” he said. “I want to stay and be part of what they’re building.”
Pominville says he is completely 100 percent from sustaining a head injury and whiplash from that Dustin Brown elbow with three games left in the regular season. Pominville missed the last two games of the regular season and first three games of the playoffs. When he returned, he admits he wasn’t himself, not because he wasn’t healthy, but because he hadn’t practiced since the injury.
Pominville scored four goals and nine points in 10 games after being traded. Minnesota doesn’t make the playoffs without him, frankly. He scored two goals and two assists in two games vs. Columbus, which was huge when you consider the Wild won a tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs. The April 13 game against Columbus, Pominville tied it and forced overtime with 3:15 left.
He is excited though about a full training camp with his new team.
“What’s going to be nice is to be able to really start from scratch and get to know the systems from the start,” Pominville said. “You get thrown into the action after being traded and trying to learn here and there. And with our schedule last year, we didn’t have time to even practice, and even when we did, they were so light, there was not much system work going on. This year throughout camp, I’ll be able to learn a little more and get to know the system a little more and even get to know the guys better.”
I’ve gotten a lot of questions, by the way, if Pominville could be the answer at No. 2 center. He did play some center in today’s skate, but he joked that was only because Veilleux didn’t want to take a lot of draws. Pominville is a winger, plain and simple. He can take draws, but he’s not a center.
Most likely on Day One of camp, coach Mike Yeo will have Pominville on the right of Parise and Koivu and really look at Coyle and Granlund throughout camp at No. 2 center. But we’ll see lots of line combinations in camp, so get ready.
Pominville, a Canadian with dual citizenship, did say he was disappointed the U.S. didn’t invite him to orientation camp for the Olympics late last month in Virginia. Parise and Ryan Suter were there. But GM David Poile told me Pominville is “back on the board” and will be scouted heavily the first three months of the season.
Lastly, my deepest condolences to longtime Russoville reader and supporter Nick In New York on the loss of his father. NiNY wrote an incredible blog on their relationship the other day. I am humbled that I was mentioned and it meant a lot, but I want to post the link here because it’s an amazingly special tribute to his dad, the bond they shared and proves yet again how special the sport of hockey is to so many of us. Please give a read.
More from Star Tribune
More from Russo's Rants
Asked why this team is so fragile with a lead, coach Mike Yeo said, "Because we're afraid of losing it. We're hoping to win and afraid of losing."
Coach Mike Yeo explained why he's stayed with that line combination and said that Devan Dubnyk will be back in goal tonight.
The Wild coach tried to hold an upbeat, morale-boosting practice in New York on Wednesday. "We just needed a good workday," Yeo said afterward "That's what we got."
The Wild battled for the tying goal late in the second period but managed to give up the go-ahead goal less than a minute later in its latest loss, this time to the Islanders.
The Wild, which lost 10 of 13 games in January, looks to start anew in February with a three-game road trip that starts in Brooklyn.