The Wild, 2-1-1 in the preseason, plays its second-to-last exhibition game Thursday night in St. Louis.
There is NO bigger game going on involving ANY local team Thursday night, so make sure you keep your eyes ONLY on the @russostrib Twitter network and listen to 107.9-FM. The Wild game has been moved from KFAN to KOOL 108 for NO reason WHATSOEVER.
The big piece of news that came out of today’s practice is right wing Justin Fontaine will miss a couple weeks and definitely the Oct. 9 opener with a lower-body injury. It explains why the poor guy, who was walking a bit gingerly off the ice today, looked so glum. Coach Mike Yeo said “hopefully it’ll be less than that, but that’s what we’re preparing for right now.”
“Nothing serious that we wouldn’t expect him to be completely fine afterward. It’s just going to take a little time,” Yeo said.
Fontaine’s injury opens another roster spot out of camp up front. Barring injury, here’s the lines as of now:
As you can see by my three XXXXXX’s, there’s potentially three forward spots available and five guys now vying for them: Jason Zucker, Cody Almond, Brett Sutter, Michael Keranen and Stephane Veilleux.
I’m expecting all five to play in Thursday’s game. On the trip: Those five, Niederreiter, Haula, Coyle, Brodziak, Ballard, Dumba, Bickel, Folin and Scandella.
I’ll toss the full lineup on here after 4 p.m. The Wild is delaying the announcement because as previously reported, it plans to recall some players previously sent down for the Blues game. From that list, the Wild is three forwards and one defenseman short for the game.
The Wild recalled forwards Tyler Graovac, Zack Phillips and Joel Rechlicz and defensemen Jon Blum and Justin Falk. One defenseman of the seven coming will likely be scratched unless Yeo chooses to play Bickel at forward again. Then, another forward would be scratched.
By the way, Jordan Schroeder cleared waivers and was assigned to Iowa.
I think Zucker has had a good camp, or at least much better than last year. Keranen is interesting. He is very, very skilled, but do you want him playing on the fourth line if he’s not on the power play? And right now, I don’t see how there’s room for him on the power play.
We all know what Veilleux brings by now, and Yeo made it sound today like it’s Almond vs. Sutter (Darryl’s kid) for the other spot.
“Both guys [are] pretty similar to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “That’s been a good competition there, both guys showing that they’re willing to play the body, both guys have factored in on the penalty kill, both guys have made some plays with the puck in the offensive zone when they’ve gotten it. So I think for them, the better the understanding that they have of what we’re looking for – we’re looking for somebody to come in and not be a top guy on the power play. Our top two lines are pretty set, our power play is pretty set, but we need penalty killers, we need physical guys, we need momentum players and we need guys that are very responsible defensively. That, in the end, is probably what it’s going to come down to.”
I talked to Zucker, Almond and Sutter today, and you can read their quotes in Thursday’s paper.
Thursday’s game will be a final chance for those five listed above and maybe defensemen Matt Dumba, Christian Folin and Stu Bickel to make final impressions. As I have written before, technically, the Wild could keep all three and will only keep BOTH Dumba and Folin if BOTH are inside the top-6 (meaning Ballard as the seventh, barring injury).
That’s because Yeo, and earlier this week GM Chuck Fletcher, said that Saturday’s final exhibition game against St. Louis at home will feature “very close to if not” the lineup the Wild plans to play opening night.
“Not to say that game [Thursday in St. Louis] is going to be the deciding factor, but if you want to compare it to school, that’s going to be the final exam and probably the grades in that one are going to count a little bit more than the ones from the start of the year,” Yeo said. “We will evaluate everything as a whole, but what we’re looking for is the progress.”
I love that quote.
Niklas Backstrom, by the way, will play in St. Louis with Ilya Bryzgalov backing him up. Darcy Kuemper will play in Saturday’s preseason finale.
Yeo said the Wild planned to meet after practice to discuss the three-goalie situation. However, I’m not sure that happened because GM Chuck Fletcher only recently got back from the Board of Governors meeting in New York.
Also, I’m not positive Fletcher wants to have that conversation yet because so much can happen in these final two games.
I mean, I don't mean to be the reminder of bad news, but the Wild seems to always get goalies hurt in St. Louis.
Heck, Backstrom, the all-time leader in Wild victories, became an NHL goalie because Josh Harding strained his groin in a preseason game at St. Louis. Heck, Backstrom because the Wild’s everyday goalie because Manny Fernandez injured his knee at St. Louis. Heck, the Wild signed Jose Theodore in 2010 because Harding tore his ACL and MCL in his preseason debut … at St. Louis. HECK, Ilya Bryzgalov got his opportunity to become the Wild’s No. 1 because David Backes ran Darcy Kuemper and gave him a concussion last year AT ST. LOUIS!!!!
Get what I’m saying? It’s kind of why I decided not to ask Bryzgalov today if he would ever consider a two-way contract with the Wild and maybe start off in Iowa. Heck, it’s why Fletcher has also not yet asked him that question.
This is the Wild, the organization that epitomizes goaltending instability. In four days, a lot can change. The most important thing is right now, Kuemper is playing great, Backstrom looks healthy and good. And, frankly, so does Bryzgalov.
But, as Yeo said today about whether the Wild could keep three goalies, “It’s not a perfect situation by any means. I don’t know that’s where we would be steering toward, but I’m not going to say that it won’t happen.”
I honestly think he’ll have to be released from his tryout If Kuemper and Backstrom are healthy after these exhibition games. I don’t think the Wild wants to use three of its 23 roster spots on goalies, and remember, three goalies could eventually become four because Harding is expected back after a minimum of two months.
Remember, the Wild could always release Bryzgalov from his tryout and sign him back eventually if something were to happen (if he isn’t signed elsewhere).
Bryzgalov’s attitude continues to be refreshing. He said again today that he’s just enjoying being around the team and helping them get through camp. And I have said many times: At least these teammates genuinely like the guy: “He puts a smile on everyone’s face. He’s a funny guy,” said Jason Pominville.
By the way, Bryzgalov on taking those selfies with the fans the other night during play while sitting on the bench: “You know, I’ve got to do that. Fans came to have some fun. I’ve got to respect it. There were lots of kids out there, and I must do it for the kids. When you see lots of kids, they excited, and they want to take the picture, it’s nice. They came here to support us and cheering for us, and we have to give them back something.”
On tossing his toque on the ice for Pominville’s hat trick, Bryzgalov said, “You know, I was excited for Pommer. It’s not everyday you score a hat trick, and I celebrated.”
Back to Thursday’s game, the Wild has designed this game as a final test of sorts because it’s at St. Louis, the big, bad Blues.
“That’s an important game for a lot of guys tomorrow,” Yeo said. “We want to see who can go in and who can play in a tough building and who can play against a very good hockey team and show that they’re able to perform in those conditions.
“Also we’ve got some guys who maybe wouldn’t get the same opportunity on the power play and who wouldn’t get the same amount of ice time as they would normally if all of our vets were in the lineup, and we’ll give them some opportunity to feel good about their game and to be leaders for our group.”
Yeo on Dumba: “I’ve been impressed with both guys and I’m referring to Folin and Dumba. Both guys have shown that they bring intangibles, they bring qualities that are unique and that’s what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for a big, solid, heavy defender, then we’ve got one and if we’re looking for more of a puck-moving, skating, offensive-minded guy then we have another option. For those guys, the more that you can do in addition to those things, the better chance they have.”
Yeo on Folin, who got a game last year and practiced with the Wild for a few weeks: “I think from a comfort level, being here, being around teammates and getting used to our teammates I think so. … I do think that he’s benefited from that. Both guys have had that opportunity. Dumba started at the beginning of the year with us last year. I don’t think these guys are coming in and feeling completely overwhelmed with the newness of the systems and the teammates and certainly that helps.”
Charlie Coyle has had a good camp, but the Wild wants more offensively. It’ll be interesting if he doesn’t show it down the stretch of camp here because Yeo is very happy with Niederreiter and maybe is thinking of moving him up to that second line.
“I’ve seen all the things you would expect from him as far as the work ethic,” Yeo said of Coyle. “He’s playing the game hard, he’s playing the game as a big body. I do know that there’s a little more that he can get to as far as the offensive part of his game is not clicking quite at the level we know
it can get to. Part of it is working into a line with Tomas and Mikko there’s a bit of a feeling out process there. But overall I’m not disappointed by any means with his camp. He’s come in in phenomenal shape, and he’s working. But you can just tell with timing and execution that there’s another level he can get to.”
Conversely, Yeo on Niederreiter: “I’ve been very pleased with his camp. He looks very motivated, he
looks great on the ice. We still treat Nino like a young player so we keep pushing him every day. It’s got to be about the next day. But up to this point, I’ve been very pleased.”
Interestante. Talk to you Thursday. I am covering the morning skate here Thursday, then hustling to the airport for my flight to St. Louis. So, I’ll try to blog either before my flight or from the air prior to the game.