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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Bulmer, Scandella, Falk, Johnson should stick on the Wild's 23-man roster

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild player moves, Wild training camp Updated: October 5, 2011 - 9:32 AM

As I mentioned on one of the blogs yesterday, the Wild had a couple very exhausting, very long practices in Duluth. Tons of skating, meaning their legs probably feel like porridge this morning.

For that reason, the Wild will have an off-ice workout this morning only before two very important days of practice Thursday and Friday in preparation for Saturday's home opener vs. Columbus and a very busy first week of duty.

The Wild plays five games in the first eight nights, including back-to-back games on Long Island (a.k.a. best place on Earth) and Ottawa.

At 2 p.m. today, the Wild must submit its roster to the NHL hierarchy for Opening Night.

Barring waiver pickups (no Sean Avery) or trades, the roster that is in place now should be the roster that is in place at 2 p.m. The one exception: They have to decide what to do with Josh Harding.

Since he's going to back up anyway Saturday and injured reserve is allowed to be retroactive and you can be taken off IR in one week, I'd assume Harding opens on IR. Then, if he's better by the weekend, he can be taken off IR on Sunday anyway (one week from twisting his ankle). But like I said, they have to make a decision on Matt Hackett staying or going today, so I'd think he stays unless they figure Harding can strap on a boot and back up anyway Saturday.

Capishe?

Brett Bulmer, 19, will make the opening night roster, as well as Marco Scandella, Justin Falk and Nick Johnson.

The only real question is who dresses Saturday. Justin Falk will clearly be the defenseman scratched, but how about up front? It'll come from somebody on that fourth line: Colton Gillies, Eric Nystrom, Bulmer or Johnson. I have my suspicion, but I'd prefer not to guess ... yet.

Couple things on each of the guys that are staying:

-- Gotten a few emails asking if they keep Bulmer, aren't they risking another James Sheppard? First, two different people, two different personalities, two different players. Second, just because he's staying doesn't mean he's staying for good. Third, Sheppard never played a day in his life in the minors. Just because Bulmer's staying doesn't mean next year he doesn't get time in Houston. Plus, one reason Bulmer came to camp so confident this year and Mike Yeo and Darryl Sydor were so comfortable with him is because Bulmer got a taste of the A last year during Houston's run to the Calder Cup Finals.

But I get the concern, and I asked GM Chuck Fletcher about this yesterday because let's be honest, two years ago when the Wild placed Gillies in the minors, it was alluded that new management felt some players were rushed to the NHL by old management.

“We’re going to do what we can to protect Brett’s development,” Fletcher said. “If we’re not developing him properly, we’ll just send him back to junior. It’s that simple. But the lessons he is learning right now I think will be invaluable for his career longterm.”

Everybody keeps asking me about the 10-game rule. Please read today's article because I explain it in there. The Wild could care less if it burns the first year of his contract. In other words, if the Wild sent him back to junior after 15 games, it would make no difference to them. There's going to be a lot of kids entering the lineup in the next few years, and the Wild doesn't want to get to a very precarious point where all these first contracts are expiring at the same time in a league now where players get incredibly inflated second contracts.

You remember what happened in Chicago when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had first contracts expiring at the same time. Mayhem.

The rule Fletcher will always be eyeing is Game 40 with Bulmer. The problem with rushing players to the NHL is at least in the current collective bargaining agreement, it's seven years until you're an unrestricted free agent. So if you start at 19 like Bulmer, you're talking 26. If you're 18, you're talking 25. Do you really want to start that clock during ineffective 18- and 19-year-old years when if you start them at 20, you get 2 years of that clock during peak years of 26 or 27?

Hope that made sense.

So basically, as long as the Wild's not altering his future free-agency rights, they're figuring why not take advantage of it now, see if he can contribute and then make an evaluation before Game 40 if he sticks the rest of the year or returns to Kelowna.

And again, this isn't some charity the Wild's doing. He outplayed Casey Wellman in camp, and Matt Kassian and Cody Almond are hurt as of now.

-- I thought Marco Scandella was the best defenseman in camp, and with Lundin hurt, he'll play in the Wild's top-4. I thought Falk really got better as camp got longer. And Johnson was good in the two games he played, especially the second, after being claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh. He's fast, strong along the boards, pretty physical and in the minors at least, he put up some points.

So you're 23-man roster should look like (barring surprises):

Forwards: Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Eric Nystrom, Brett Bulmer, Nick Johnson, Brad Staubitz

Defensemen: Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk

Goalies: Niklas Backstrom, Matt Hackett

IR: Josh Harding, Mike Lundin, Cody Almond, Matt Kassian

I'll blog any changes or updates later.

Couple other things:

Mikael Granlund continues to light up the Finnish Elite League. He leads the SM-liiga with 12 points for HIFK and scored this Pavel Datsyuk-like shootout goal the other day vs. Karpat (thanks to Aleksei Siren for passing along)

Lastly, check out J.B. Spisso's awesome blog on the Wild's team-building exercises from Sunday

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