Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild top line/defense unit to debut vs. Winnipeg on Saturday

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 20, 2013 - 2:38 PM

The Wild's top line of Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville and top defense pairing of Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin will make their preseason debuts Saturday when the Winnipeg Jets come to town. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, the lone uninjured regular who has yet to play, will also be in the lineup next to potential defense partner Marco Scandella.

"I think it’s the only way to really get into game shape," Parise said of playing. "You can skate as hard as you want out here, but you’ve got to start playing some games. It will be good to start tomorrow. ... It’s nice to ease into it, but at the same time, watching that game [Tuesday], I wish I had played. I think the more games you play in the preseason the more ready you are for the regular season."

Parise said he knows every player is different. I've known many veterans who hate playing preseason games, but Parise wants in to get in sync and shape. But he also understands the Wild is evaluating a lot of young players for roster spots. Also, often times in the preseason, you're playing against teams who are playing very raw, very young players looking to make their mark. We've already seen throughout the preseason some very dangerous hits by young guys who aren't even close to playing in the NHL.

So a lot of teams like to ease in their big guns.

But we'll finally see the Wild's big guns Saturday.

Yeo said Dany Heatley is in and most the roster hopefuls like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine are in. Yeo said veterans Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell will get the game off.

Basically, since I've basically listed off a bunch of players who are playing and three who aren't, you can pretty much figure out the lineup. Yeo just said that the team still has a couple decisions to make in the bottom of the lineup.

Niklas Backstrom will start with Johan Gustafsson serving as backup. I'd guess Yeo would like to give Backstrom the full 60 since he said the rest of camp will be really about getting Backstrom and Josh Harding as opposed to going into games with set plans of playing Darcy Kuemper and Gustafsson.

Again, I know I wrote a lot about last night's impressive win at Winnipeg. System-wise and execution-wise, it was as solid a performance as you'd expect considering we're two days into camp, most the big guys were at home and the blue line consisted of Clayton Stoner, Matt Dumba, Steve Kampfer, Jon Blum, Kyle Medvec and Nate Prosser.

Stoner and Dumba were outstanding, Kampfer got real good as the game moved along and it was probably the best I've seen him play. Medvec was steady, physical and made some tape-to-tape breakout passes despite running into penalty trouble (some questionable calls). Even Blum's turnover came when the Wild was trying him out to see if he could play the left side. When the team moved him back to the right side, he was steady. And Prosser was very good for the second straight game.

There were a bunch of well-executed rushes.

Haula really was impressive to Yeo. So was Fontaine. These guys will definitely play in the NHL and are now in the conversation with Coyle, Granlund, Niederreiter and injured Jason Zucker (won't practice Saturday, either, Yeo said). Yeo doesn't want to overreact to one win just like he didn't to Tuesday's loss, but Haula and Fontaine have catapulted themselves up the depth chart whether they end up making the team at the end of camp or not.

Remember, they can't all make it out of the gate.

Yeo really is happy with Granlund's play. He's fast, is creating, he's blocking shots, he's killing penalties and "trying to grow his game." And Niederreiter, Yeo said, "He continues to go out and do a lot of the things that almost comes naturally to him with his big frame, with his skating, with his shot, with his ability to get to the net."

Yeo was very happy with Kyle Brodziak last night, as well as Torrey Mitchell, who is showing he doesn't want to be a fourth-line right wing again. Yeo admitted today that he brought them to Winnipeg because after the Columbus game, he didn't feel they were at their best and "wanted to get them right back in."

"They came out with a really strong game," Yeo said.

The Wild will make its first round of big cuts at least Sunday, but Yeo said it depends largely on the type of lineup the Wild may want to take to Columbus on Monday. For instance, maybe there's a chance the Wild wants to reward draft picks Tyler Graovac and Raphael Bussieres with an exhibition game. That's up in the air right now.

"These are guys that are likely going down to the minors," Yeo said. "It would be great to get them the experience, but we have to make those decisions based on some other things first."

In other news, former Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck will miss four to six weeks with a leg laceration after delivering a hit two nights ago in Calgary. So his opening night with the Islanders won't come for awhile.

That's it for now. I may be back later regarding another topic you all have been emailing and tweeting me about.

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