Wild players have stake in world juniors

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • January 5, 2012 - 10:30 AM

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - The Wild has three Swedish prospects who will play in Thursday's gold medal game against Russia at the world junior championships, but most of the talk in the Wild's locker room Wednesday was on the bronze medal game -- Canada vs. Finland.

Some of the Wild's Canadians were making a wager with the Wild's Finnish captain, Mikko Koivu.

"Well, potentially. He's a little cheap," said defenseman Nick Schultz, a native of Strasbourg, Saskatchewan.

"He's not very brave making bets," added Cal Clutterbuck of Welland, Ontario. "He's just a little bit chicken. But he's a proud Finn, man, there's no question about that."

Koivu was not amused.

"Not surprised those two would go to the media," Koivu said, grinning.

Because the tournament's in Calgary, the Wild will practice Thursday and Friday in the ski resort town of Banff, 90 minutes west of Calgary. During a post-practice team function, you can bet Koivu and the Canadians will seek out a TV to watch the consolation game.

"You want to see the Finns in the final, but they have a lot of talent," said Koivu, who played in the 2001 and 2001 world juniors and won gold at the 2011 world championships. "They've had a good tournament so far. It's a shame the last game ended in a shootout because anything can happen in a shootout."

In that game, Wild prospect Mikael Granlund (2010 first-round pick) lost the puck, sending Sweden to the gold medal game. That catapulted Wild Swedish prospects Johan Larsson (2010 second-rounder), Jonas Brodin (2011 first-rounder) and Johan Gustafsson (2010 sixth-rounder) into the final.

"Even the American team with [Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle], it's amazing how the Wild's got so many of the best players in their age group playing in the best tournament possible," said Schultz, who played in the 2001 world juniors. "They're doing a great job drafting and acquiring good prospects.

"The way the system is now, you've got to build with young players and draft picks. That's huge that we have this many guys coming up with this much potential."

Heavy 'D'

During the Wild's seven-game win streak, it used the same six defensemen -- Schultz, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin.

But once Marek Zidlicky and Justin Falk got healthy, it called for nightly decisions for coach Mike Yeo and his staff on which defensemen would be scratched.

Typically, it's been Zanon and Lundin -- the case again Wednesday at Vancouver.

Now with Nate Prosser up from the minors, the Wild is carrying nine defensemen (including Stoner, who's on injured reserve).

The team has struggled with so many defensemen. Yeo said he's trying to not make the defensemen feel "that any mistake will take them out of the lineup."

But there's a sense something has to give soon with so many blueliners. GM Chuck Fletcher is in active trade talks, and it's believed Zanon and Lundin are being dangled.

Setoguchi returns

After missing 12 games because of a knee injury, Devin Setoguchi returned Wednesday, as did Casey Wellman, who missed nine games with a wrist injury. Setoguchi returned to his first-line spot with Koivu and Dany Heatley, while Wellman played the fourth line with Colton Gillies and Warren Peters.

Yeo monitored each player's conditioning during the game, but they've been "Kirktified," -- a reference to working their way back with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson.

Prospects rewarded

It's been a good few days for the Wild's deep goalie prospects corps.

The Houston Aeros' Matt Hackett was named to the AHL All-Star Game on Wednesday -- one day after Darcy Kuemper was named AHL Rookie of the Month and Gustafsson backstopped Sweden into Thursday's world junior championship game.

Aeros leading scorer Jon DiSalvatore was also named to the AHL All-Star Game.

Cullen succeeds Matt Cullen scored on a penalty shot Saturday against Phoenix, saying his only thought was "to hang on to [the puck]." The joke referred to the fact that he lost the puck in a shootout two games before in Nashville. In all seriousness, Cullen had one goal in 20 games before scoring and said there was relief, "especially when you're a guy that's supposed to provide some of the offense, and that's been considerably lacking."

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