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Using Wellman's OT winner to make another case for AHL service; No Wild lineup changes

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • October 16, 2010 - 1:28 PM

It's so nice out, I almost scrapped the blog. But then I decided, the Star Tribune would probably prefer me to do my job and stop being so selfish.

Just got back from the X, where tonight will be a battle to the death of 10th-year anniversary squads.

Not only will there be bragging rights on the line, but tons of pressure as well. Multiple, high-placed league sources say the losing team will be disbanded.

Lots of pressure, yes, but just a wonderful storyline.

After the Wild's 4-2 home-opening victory over Edmonton, coach Todd Richards will obviously return with the exact same lineup tonight against new coach Scott Arniel's Jackets. Niklas Backstrom back in the nets, and I'd assume if all goes well he'll be in the cage again Tuesday against Vancouver with Jose Theodore making his Wild debut in Edmonton or Vancouver next Thursday or Friday.

This is just a guess, of course. And frankly, I'd probably start Theodore in Edmonton considering Backstrom hates the lighting in there or something. Typically at Rexall, Backstrom sees the opening faceoff but not the first faceoff of the second period.

For the Jackets, Mathieu Garon will make his season debut for the Jackets. Poor start to the home season for Columbus last night. Soldout crowd in a season in which they've lost a ton of season-ticket holders, and the Blue Jackets came out and laid the egg of a lifetime against a Blackhawks team playing without Kane, Hjalmarsson and Campbell, plus the 9 other Blackhawks dispatched from last season's Cup-winning squad.

Not good timing by the Jax. Also, Jared Boll was placed on injured reserve and Nate Guenin was recalled on emergency callup rules due to injuries to Mike Commodore and Anton Stralman.

Not a ton going on with your Wild. Greg Zanon, who played his collegiate hockey at Nebraska Omaha, attended last night's UNO victory over the Gophers. He said to his wife, "Uh-oh," right at the beginning of the odd-man rush that lost the game for the Gophs last night after they battled all the way back.

Casey Wellman, sent to Houston last Saturday, made his minor-league debut last night in Oklahoma City and scored the game-winner with 17 seconds left in overtime. He pounced on a rebound from some guy named Nate Prosser, the bright young defenseman who should also have a heckuva future here in Minnesota.

Now, as you know, I've long been a proponent that fast-tracking these youngsters, like James Sheppard and Colton Gillies, to the NHL was wrong by the Wild. I do think it's a little different for Wellman because he's not 18 or 19 like the other two were (Wellman turns 23 Monday), but here is a perfect example of what Sheppard never was given the opportunity to do -- be a significant player in the minors playing big situations.

Here's the perfect example in my opinion: Wellman made his season debut for the Wild last Friday, and didn't get to play a single shift in overtime, because as coach Todd Richards said today, he didn't want to put the kid in a big moment, have him make a big mistake and then it affects him negatively.

So Wellman goes to the minors, makes his debut there, plays in overtime and scores the winning goal -- something that never could have happened in Minnesota. This is how it works, folks. This is how youngsters develop, and Wellman and Prosser and Scandella and Almond and Gillies, when they eventually get back to Minnesota, will be all the better because of this minor-league experience.

This is how most teams do it with their kids. There's a reason why at the start of last season, at least, 84 percent of all NHL players spent at least some time in the AHL.

This is why I do feel bad for Sheppard. He never got the chance to play in big situations down in Houston. So think about that. His last year in the Quebec League was in 2005-06. Since that date, he has not spent a single moment being a relied-upon player on a No. 1 power play, in overtime, in a key penalty kill, in a key moment late in a game.

So regardless of the major injury that currently has him sidelined now, don't you think the fact that it's been more than four years since he's played a key role on a team will adversely hurt his long-term future in the NHL?

I certainly believe that. And it's a shame.

OK, talk to you after tonight's game, and for game updates, follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/russostrib), where I just put out my milestone 10,000th tweet -- a must-read.

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