The Wild hosts the St. Louis Blues tonight at Xcel Energy Center in its second-to-last preseason game at 7 p.m. The Blues will fly in this afternoon.
The game is NOT TELEVISED but will be on the award-winning (in my own mind) @russostrib Twitter Network and KFAN (100.3-FM) with the sweet sound of Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid (and I suppose Kevin Falness if you like that sort of thing).
Niklas Backstrom between the pipes. Josh Harding and his red pads serving as the backup.
The Wild has a huge cutdown day yesterday. Its roster now stands at 28, but Brett Bulmer and Tyler Cuma are still listed because they’re hurt, as is Mike Rupp, who is destined to start the season on injured reserve due to a knee injury.
So the Wild’s roster is really at 25. The maximum roster size can be 23, meaning two more cuts.
Barring trade or injury, David Steckel is likely one of those. If he doesn’t make the team or signed elsewhere, he’s likely to sign an AHL contract and report to Iowa, where he’ll await an opportunity from the Wild or somebody else while playing.
That means one other player won’t make it. I’d be shocked if Matt Dumba doesn’t. There’s no reason to return him to Red Deer when the collective bargaining agreement allows a nine-game window (nine games where he plays, not the team) to make a decision. He could actually stay longer and be returned, but then the first year of his three-year contract wouldn’t slide.
So, if that’s the case, one of the forwards isn’t making it. Mikael Granlund is the extra tonight. He was having a very good camp before he sustained an upper-body injury last week against Winnipeg. He won’t play tonight (Wild says he’s not 100 percent), but coach Mike Yeo said this morning that he will play Friday in St. Louis to give him one final shot to make an impression. Granlund has improved in a lot of ways – looks faster, grittier, blocking shots, etc.
Charlie Coyle is a lock as No. 2 center. Let’s just get that out there.
So it’s between Granlund, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine.
Fontaine is the only one of those four who requires waivers to get to Iowa. He’s also somebody who can slot up to a scoring line or play on the third or fourth lines. He can also play the point on the power play if the Wild ever got into a pinch.
Yeo has raved about Niederreiter a lot lately. He’s liked him in scoring roles, he liked his physicality and defensive reliability in Columbus on Monday.
So we could very well be seeing a Zucker vs. Granlund tryout these last two games.
Zucker is in tonight: “It’s a statement game for not only myself, but a couple other guys too that need to get a spot on this team.”
Mikko Koivu’s fiancée gave birth to a girl (Congrats to the Captain and his significant other), so Koivu was not at today’s skate. He is expected to play tonight, but because he wasn’t there, it’s hard to get a grasp of tonight’s lines.
Zach Parise-Koivu-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Niederreiter
Fontaine-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Extras are Steckel, Jake Dowell and Granlund.
Defense pairs are:
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Extras are Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser
However, Yeo said he wants to juggle lines tonight to see different players in different roles.
For instance, Fontaine has played real well with Coyle and Heatley this camp. That line has scored in both games vs. Winnipeg that it was together, so I’d suspect we see that trio again as a line at some extended portion of tonight.
If that’s the case, Zucker may see third- or fourth-line action.
I asked Yeo if there’s a chance Granlund – or for that matter Zucker – can play a fourth-line role.
“If it was, then probably the makeup of that fourth line would be a little different,” he said. “Maybe the makeup of our fourth line is a little different than the conventional fourth line, that maybe we put some younger, more skilled players on there, and they have little bit of bigger role (like power play in addition).”
For this to happen, the Wild would likely have to place a player on a one-way contract on waivers.
This still would surprise me. Do you really want Granlund or Zucker developing on the fourth line in the NHL rather than the first line with first PP unit time in Iowa?
Hey, at least this gives us a story line to watch these last two games. I think the Wild try to make its final two cuts after Friday’s St. Louis game because I think it’d want to take its actual team to Duluth on Sunday afternoon.
The Wild practices there Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday’s Amsoil Arena practice at 10 a.m. is free and open to the public for any fans up there in the area.
By the way, all Wild players on waivers today cleared and are Iowa bound.
Talk after the game and on Twitter tonight.