Blue-line prospects will get closer look in Wild's development camp

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2014 - 1:28 PM

Christian Folin, Matt Dumba could make early case for roster spot.

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Matt Dumba.

Development camp is not training camp, so defensemen Christian Folin and Matt Dumba won’t do anything this week that will help or hinder their chances of making next season’s roster.

But this week’s gathering of the Wild’s pool of prospects and a bunch of invitees will give the Wild brass a chance to get its paws on two of its most prized blue-liners again.

At this week’s camp, Folin and Dumba are arguably the only two in attendance who are roster hopefuls at least directly out of training camp next season. Management will get to see how they’re doing physically, work with them on and off the ice and re-establish the expectations for when things really matter in September.

The 6-3 Folin, 23, signed last spring out of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, has the inside shot at making the team over Dumba, drafted seventh overall in 2012, because the Wild finally will be allowed to assign the teenage Dumba to Iowa of the AHL for some development.

“[Folin] is physically mature, he’s big and strong and the other thing with him, he’s not 19 years old,” assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. “But we’re not putting any restraints on [Dumba]. He got a taste of it last year [by playing 13 games for the Wild]. That was the point.

“Could we use a right-shot guy that could blast the puck? Absolutely. What [Dumba] does well, we really need, but at the same time, we’re not going to rush him. If he’s just going to play seven minutes a night and no special-teams time, well, he’s not going to be here. He’s going to be in Iowa and playing a ton and getting better.”

Folin, the most highly sought college free agent in the NHL last season, also is a right shot and perhaps has the size to contain down low and clear out bodies on a blue line that lacks physicality. Thrown into the fire in a victory against St. Louis in April, Folin had an assist and was plus-3 in almost 20 minutes of ice time.

“It’s up to him in training camp, but we’re expecting him to come in and show well for himself,” Flahr said.

In development camp, there often are surprises. In recent camps, Minnesota Duluth invitee Justin Fontaine impressed and eventually was signed as a free agent. Last season, Fontaine scored 13 goals as a rookie. A few years ago, late-round pick Tyler Graovac proved right away he was, as Flahr said, “a player.” Last summer, Erik Haula performed heads above most. Ultimately, Haula played 59 games (including playoffs) last season with the Wild and is penciled onto next season’s roster.

This year’s development camp began Tuesday with physicals and fitness testing and will start on the ice Wednesday. Camp includes practice with Iowa coaches Kurt Kleinendorst and Steve Poapst and Wild Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir, skating work with Barry Karn, stickhandling and other skill work with Andy Ness and shooting work with Scott Bjugstad.

Wild coach Mike Yeo and his staff will meet with the players off the ice, and there also will be off-ice strength and conditioning work, nutrition instruction and media training.

Of the 42 players, some to watch besides Folin and Dumba include forwards Michael Keranen and Kurtis Gabriel and defenseman Gustav Olofsson — all of whom could see service with the Wild next season. Top draft picks Alex Tuch, Louie Belpedio, Mario Lucia, Zack Phillips and Raphael Bussieres are in town, as are junior free-agent additions Guillaume Gelinas, Brady Brassart and Zach Mitchell.

Almond returns

Cody Almond is returning from Switzerland. The 24-year-old center, drafted by the Wild in the fifth round in 2007, has agreed to a one-year, $550,000 contract with the team, according to sources.

Almond, who scored two goals in 25 games over parts of three seasons with Minnesota, spent the past two years in Geneva. Last year, Almond scored 18 goals and 34 points in 44 games with 75 penalty minutes. Almond is a big forward who skates well, plays with an edge, hits and is responsible defensively. He knows Yeo well from their days together in Houston of the AHL and has a shot at cracking the roster in training camp.

Ticket cards coming

Wild season-ticket holders starting next season will have a card with all of their game passes on it, rather than using traditional sheets of paper tickets.

The Wild becomes the first pro sports team in the Twin Cities to shift to the card, although in its announcement Monday the Wild said about half of NHL teams and some in other leagues offer similar services.

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