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 Thursday practice: Zucker on notice

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild practice, Wild training camp Updated: September 26, 2013 - 3:23 PM

Rachel Blount here, sitting in for Russo. After stating his disappointment with the play of Jason Zucker in Wednesday's victory over St. Louis, Wild coach Mike Yeo didn't back off of his assessment. And it doesn't help Zucker's cause that Yeo also continued to rave about Mikael Granlund, who impressed the coach in Thursday's practice.

Both young forwards could play in Friday's preseason finale at St. Louis. Yeo stopped short of characterizing it as a head-to-head competition between Zucker and Granlund for a roster spot, but it feels that way.

Wednesday, Zucker got limited ice time, most of it on the fourth line. Granlund sat out a second game with a minor injury but looked strong and sharp in Thursday's practice, particularly during special-teams work.

Yeo said after practice that he had not talked to Zucker yet, but he planned to let him know what he wants to see from him. "He's got to get more engaged,'' Yeo said. "I thought he was losing races to pucks, and that shouldn't happen with his speed. He just really wasn't much of a factor in the game. He's got to be more involved. That's not an easy thing to do against a team like St. Louis, but you've got to be a factor out there.''

The rematch against St. Louis, Yeo said, will be a big game for both Zucker and Granlund, as well as for a few other players. Two more players will be cut before the season begins a week from today on Thursday, Oct. 3.

Zucker clearly knows the stakes. "I've got nobody to blame but myself,'' he said.

Granlund will definitely play Friday, Yeo said. Regarding those final cuts, he said, "I seriously don't know where we're going yet.'' But he noted again his happiness with how Granlund has performed during camp and was especially pleased to see how well Granlund worked with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter on the power play in Thursday's workout.

"It's a good dynamic with the three of those guys,'' Yeo said. "They're working well. You've got big bodies, guys that are good around the net, and you've got a puck distributor (Granlund) who sees the ice really well and can shoot it, too, if there's a lot of room. It was fun watching them.''

Yeo also was glad to see a stout performance from Niklas Backstrom in goal Wednesday. Goalie coach Bob Mason said both Backstrom and Josh Harding are showing no lingering effects from their health issues of last season, and he is pleased with what he's seen from them in camp. More on that in Friday's paper.

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