Wild newcomers Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov, wearing his old Oilers gear, practiced for the first time with their new teammates and met with the media in person for the first time this afternoon.
The mood was tremendous around the Wild today, Zach Parise said.
“You could tell in the locker room before, and definitely on the ice,” he said.
Moulson and McCormick provided some good color on their day yesterday. Coincidentally, they were sitting side by side eating lunch outside at Jacksons, which is the restaurant attached to the Westin in Tampa, on Wednesday watching TSN’s TradeCentre on NHL Network when McCormick got a text from the Wild’s Jason Pominville asking if it’s true they were traded to Minnesota.
McCormick said it caught both off guard, so after doing “some digging” with their agents, they found out it was true.
Moulson knew he was all but guaranteed to be traded during the Sabres’ road trip, so he said he tried to pack as much of his life and clothes as possible into two bags. His wife will ship the rest from Buffalo.
Moulson and McCormick were both very complimentary about their time in Buffalo but are “real happy to be a part of this,” said McCormick.
Today was about meeting new teammates, learning the details of the Wild’s systems and getting to know the area. Moulson and McCormick landed at 10:30 a.m. and practiced by 12:30 p.m. Bryzgalov got in last night.
Moulson and McCormick will make their Wild debuts Saturday in Dallas (coincidentally, their second straight games in Dallas because that’s where the Sabres last played) and Bryzgalov will likely start his first game in a Minnesota sweater Sunday night at home against the St. Louis Blues.
I’ve made you wait long enough. The much-anticipated lines:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Dany Heatley-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick/Justin Fontaine
If you assume Haula will continue to center the fourth line and consider the fact that coach Mike Yeo indicated that McCormick will play Saturday, it appears as if Fontaine will be the odd man out at least for Saturday.
It'll be interesting to see Yeo's shootout lineup. Moulson is 7 for 12 this year (4th in the NHL) and 13 for 25 in his career. Yeo's 1-2-3 when they're in the lineup together is usually Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Parise and Koivu are each 3 for 9 this season and Pominville is 3 for 8. Parise has the second-most shootout goals than anybody in the NHL (35 for 78). Koivu is sixth n the NHL at 33 for 79. Pominville is tied for 21st at 21 for 55.
As GM Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday, the Wild’s goal is to have four deep lines and 1A and 1B power-play units.
We saw that today:
The units had interchangeable pointmen with Ryan Suter-Jason Pominville and Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon. The three forwards were: Parise-Granlund-Heatley and Moulson-Koivu-Coyle.
“If you have two strong units, then you’re a much more dangerous team to play against, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Yeo said.
As Cooke and Parise told me today, what they love about the Wild’s depth now is that Yeo will have options. If there are injuries, if lines aren’t going, Cooke said Yeo can mix and match and “it kind of guarantees us two scoring threat lines.”
Yeo on his lines: “I liked the look of them before we went out on the ice and I liked the look of them after we came off the ice, too. I thought there was real good energy in our practice today. Obviously guys are excited. We felt really good about our team and where we were at going into this trade deadline and we feel that we’re a strong team now, we’re a deeper team. So we’re excited to put it to work now.”
And that’s what Yeo told the players before practice. He welcomed the trio of newcomers but told the group, “now the work starts.”
Parise and every player echoed the coach, saying it’s time to deliver these next 20 games in 37 days that begin Saturday.
“This is a tough conference that we play in,” Yeo said. “We feel that we’ve been getting better and have been narrowing the gap. This is another strong move to put us to another level, we believe. This is a great opportunity for us, but the work has to be put in. We’ve got to work now to build chemistry, we’ve got to work to make sure that we got everybody in the right roles and we’ve got to make sure that we’re working to continue to build as a team.”
Yeo, who used to be an assistant with Pittsburgh, said of Moulson, “Always a guy that you notice every game, finds a way to get chances, finds a way to be a factor in and around the net. And obviously he has the ability to put the puck in the net. But there’s more to his game than that. He’s a hard-working guy, he fits the identity that we have here, he’s going to complement the players that he’s going to play with very well. So it’s a guy we were excited to grab, that’s for sure.”
On McCormick: “I’m expecting that he’ll play in Dallas, give him a real good opportunity to get in and get comfortable with our game. And I would like to not just put him in for one game and take him out. I want to see what he can do here. I want to give him a chance to get comfortable with his game. He’ll get that opportunity this weekend. :
On Bryzgalov: “[Darcy] Kuemper has been playing great, but at the same time we need to protect him a little bit. And obviously Backy isn’t at 100 percent and he’s battled and we give him an unbelievable amount of credit for the way he’s handled things. It’s been in a real difficult situation. Kuemper has really stepped up when we needed him to. But you need some protection there and to get a guy of that caliber and not only give you minutes but win hockey games for you – we’re very excited about that.”
On his lines: “You look at the top two lines and certainly they’re put together with the idea that No. 1 they can go out and create, but they’re also going to be difficult to play against. They are lines that are going to pressure, they’re lines that are going to work, they’re lines that are going to be strong and should be good two-way lines for us. And with that our third and fourth lines are deeper as well and we feel they can go out and contribute any night for us too. Obviously we need those guys to have an identity and an important role as well. We like the depth that we have, we like the way that this looks right now, but when you have a deep team like this it also gives you more opportunity to try different things whether it’s mixing up the lines from night to night or game to game you have that opportunity. Certainly if all things are going well you’re probably going to keep things the same, but if they’re not there’s certainly more opportunity to make some switches too.”
On whether he talked to Heatley about being on the fourth line, Yeo said, “Yeah, Heatley was awesome. That’s the way he’s been all year. He just wants to be here and help the team. I know that we’re going to count on him down the stretch. This is a guy who’s elevated his play lately. He’s been scoring a lot of big goals for us and he wants to be a part of this group. What’s great about having a guy like Heater there is he can be effective on that line, but he’s going to push guys. If somebody is not getting it done above him then he can push them in a hurry. He’s got the ability to go out and score goals for us anytime.”
A lot of folks were tweeting me upset that Niederreiter wasn’t on the power play and Heatley is. Heatley has scored more power-play goals since 2001 than any player and has probably screened the goalie on 10 power-play goals the past two months. He’s the best net-front guy the Wild’s had on the power play – by far – so to me he should stick there.
McCormick is familiar with the Wild from his days with the Avalanche, and he said, “They come to play every night. It’s a high compete level in that dressing room and they bring it on the ice.”
On his game, “My game is a lot of grit, a lot of body contact. I like to play an in-your-face kind of style.”
Bryzgalov’s not the easiest guy to interview. He almost seems to intentionally try to make things feel uncomfortable with one or two word answers or making reporters squirm like one today who asked, “How were the last 24 hours for you?”
Bryz: “You want to know minute by minute.”
Reporter: “Excited for the opportunity?”
Bryz: “Oh yes.”
It’ll be an interesting contrast with Kuemper, who’s one of the most affable goalies I’ve ever covered.
Hopefully he doesn’t become a distraction like he reportedly was during his tenure in Philly.
Bryzgalov on potentially being the No. 2: “It’s not my call. I came here to work and work hard and bring the best of me to help the team to have the best success.”
On Kuemper, whom Bryzgalov got to watch shut out the Oilers last week, “He’s a good young kid with a promising big future. I saw a couple games he played. He played very calm, relaxed and good.”
He also took a subtle shot at the Oilers by saying practice was tough because it was a "higher pace" than he was used to in Edmonton. Ladislav Smid said something almost verbatim after his first practice after being traded from Edmonton to Calgary. After Bryzgalov's presser, I checked with Bryzgalov to make sure I heard his quote correctly and he repeated "way faster pace."
I'm also no goalie expert, but Bryzgalov did have a difficult practice. Just wasn't sharp, uh, stopping pucks.
I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. I’ve also rescheduled my live startribune.com chat for Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Talk to you Friday. I’ll have to hustle for my flight after practice, so I’ll likely blog from the air. So please be patient for it.