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Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon sent Blues center Philip McRae into the boards, drawing a boarding penalty, in the third period of Thursday's preseason game.

Tom Gannam, AP

Wild youngsters get put to the test

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • September 23, 2011 - 12:59 AM

ST. LOUIS - It was a "pure evaluation game" for the Wild during Thursday's exhibition against the St. Louis Blues.

Want proof? During a two-minute 5-on-3, coach Mike Yeo's groupings were Brett Bulmer-Zack Phillips-Kris Foucault-Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon and Jeff Taffe-Eric Nystrom-Jarod Palmer-Chay Genoway-Nate Prosser.

Not exactly your household names.

"A lot of young guys. A lot of guys pushing for jobs," assistant GM Brent Flahr said before the game. "They're going to be put in situations against top players. Either they can handle it, either they can't."

The Wild -- or more accurately, a bunch of players dressed like the Wild -- handled it impressively, although it spent more time than it wanted defending as it grinded out a 1-0 victory to improve to 2-0 this preseason.

In his preseason debut, goalie Niklas Backstrom shook off an early training camp sore knee to stop all 18 shots he saw in two periods. Matt Hackett completed the shutout in the third period when the Wild was outshot 14-1.

"These guys played really good last year in Houston and came in here and battled every shift," Backstrom said. "It's just fun to have 20 guys play in the system and battle hard for each other. That's a good start."

Backstrom said his knee felt good, although in a 10-save first period, "I felt like my legs were still on the plane."

Backstrom also assisted on Warren Peters' second-period goal, a goal blue-line hopeful Jordan Hendry also assisted on.

Besides Hendry, three other defensemen vying for the same spot -- Prosser, Scandella and Justin Falk -- also got an audition. Prosser stood out on the positive side of ledger, while Falk had a noticeably difficult game.

"Every one's trying to make the team, myself included," said Scandella, who played a team-leading 24 minutes, 28 seconds.

At 21, Scandella has a potential top-four future. The Wild has indicated it won't risk Scandella's development by putting him on the team unless he gets quality ice time.

The four defensemen should get longer looks, especially because Nick Schultz isn't expected to make his preseason debut until next week. GM Chuck Fletcher said the Wild's playing it safe with Schultz after his season-ending concussion. He has been practicing, and Fletcher said Schultz hasn't experienced any symptoms.

Defenseman Mike Lundin still is hampered by back spasms and will be reevaluated next week.

Notes

• The Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets revamped their first lines this offseason, and both will be unveiled at Xcel Energy Center Friday night. The Blue Jackets' features Jeff Carter and Vaclav Prospal with captain Rick Nash, while the Wild's features Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley with captain Mikko Koivu.

• The Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck line is also expected to play, as well as defensemen Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky and goalie Josh Harding.

• Spurgeon played Thursday because Tyler Cuma raced off the ice sick at the morning skate.

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