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Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Russo: What do Wild's lines look like as training camp approaches?

Blogs have been light lately, but hopefully you have read the actual articles on startribune.com/wild.

I only mention that because several years back, I met a Wild fan in California who read my gamer blogs religiously. One day I mentioned the actual articles, and he looked at me like I was from outer space. He thought I only blogged after games and never knew that there were actual articles and features and news reports, which kind of miffed me because my postgame blogs, while expansive and long and analytical, are also hastily written and sometimes unclean because they’re not edited and I want so badly to get out of the pressbox after writing all day for the interweb and paper.

So you can always go back in the archives. Last week, besides the Matt Cullen returns story, there was also a Da Beauty League feature (the playoffs begin tonight at Braemar with the championship Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) and today there’s a feature on the late Bryan Murray and what he meant to Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and Senior VP of Hockey Ops Brent Flahr. Tough article for me to write because Murray was the first GM I covered in the NHL and we remained tight throughout the years.

Just a tremendous person and hilarious. We had some battles during my time covering him in Florida, but even those always ended well after the initial, let’s call it, brashness.

I’ll be telling Bryan Murray stories ‘til the day I die. He’ll be missed greatly by many of us.

---------------------------------------------

Since Cullen’s return to the Wild, I have gotten a smattering of tweets asking for my latest depth chart.

While this is my opinion, I will divulge this an educated opinion after talking with a number of Wild folks to just gauge what they’re thinking.

Obviously everything is subject to change before and after camp begins Sept. 14 (on-ice Sept. 15)

There’s a couple of prefaces I want to make:

-- Some of these potential opening training camp lines depends on whether Nino Niederreiter plays left wing or right wing and, similarly, whether Zach Parise plays left wing or right.

-- A lot of this has to do with rookie Joel Eriksson Ek. Here’s the deal: Now that Cullen is signed, if Charlie Coyle is to remain at center, Eriksson Ek would probably have to be slotted in at fourth-line left wing. So my gut: They’re not going to want Eriksson Ek playing seven to nine minutes a night. So I bet Eriksson Ek starts off with a chance to make third-line center with Coyle moving, yes, to right wing again.

That means a really good winger would have to move to the fourth line for that to happen. That’d probably be Marcus Foligno or Tyler Ennis. If it’s Ennis, that could make for a good fourth line that could play regular minutes and have a chance to contribute.

Knowing Bruce Boudreau, if Eriksson Ek is on the third line, this would also allow the coach to move Cullen up late in tight games to play a third-line role.

Boudreau is excited about this signing because last year, quite frankly, the coach had zero trust in the fourth line on defensive-zone draws. So now if Cullen’s out there and the fourth line ices the puck, the coach will have full faith that the group will get the job done.

If Eriksson Ek was getting third-line minutes and killing penalties, that would aid his development. If Cullen had to play the fourth line and kill penalties and occasionally move up, the Wild and Cullen would love that. If Ennis had to play fourth line but got power-play time, the Wild would be OK with that at least temporarily. Remember, Ennis has missed 90 games to injury the past two years, so easing him in may be part of the plan.

There obviously will be injuries, so it’s not like any quality winger will be relegated to the fourth line permanently.

And obviously there will be training camp experiments and injuries and performance issues that’ll change things, so these lines are hardly set in stone. But I could see camp starting very close to this if not identically barring injuries.

-- I reported on Twitter a few days ago that Mikael Granlund rolled an ankle running and is on crutches, but sources say he’s expected to be training again in a few weeks. But ankles can be tricky, obviously.

-- I’ll be interested to see if Boudreau starts camp with Jared Spurgeon or Matt Dumba as Ryan Suter’s partner. I think Boudreau wouldn’t mind experimenting with a more offensive D pair and then a shutdown pair, like Jonas Brodin and Spurgeon. But we’ll see.

-- So here she goes, and as you can see, cap space is tight ($3.741M left) with Marcus Foligno needing to be re-signed (for purposes of cap space, I’m not including potential bonuses for Eriksson Ek and Cullen since the Wild can surpass the cap by 7.5 percent if they hit their bonuses (pay for it the following season’s cap).

Luckily for the Wild, it has a stretch in the first 15 days of the season with four games, so the Wild can send players to the minors during the four- and five-day breaks to save cap space. Guys like Eriksson Ek and Mike Reilly don’t require waivers. Of course, Boudreau doesn’t typically like that because he wants full practices, but cap wise, the Wild may need to carry 12 forwards initially unless a trade’s on the horizon.

Forwards
Left wing                      Center                          Right wing

Nino Niederreiter ($5.25M) Eric Staal ($3.5M)        Zach Parise ($7.538+M)       
Jason Zucker ($2M)          Mikko Koivu ($6.75M)    Mikael Granlund ($5.75M)     
Marcus Foligno (RFA)       Joel Eriksson Ek (894+K) Charlie Coyle ($3.2M)        
Tyler Ennis ($4.6M)         Matt Cullen ($1M)        Chris Stewart ($1.15M)

Vying for spots: Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin (925K), Landon Ferraro (700K), Kyle Rau, (700K), Cal O’Reilly (700K), Pat Cannone (600K), Christoph Bertschy ($775,833), Kurtis Gabriel (715K), Zack Mitchell (660K), Mario Lucia ($792,500), Sam Anas ($792,500), Justin Kloos ($792,500), Pavel Jenys ($678,833), Dante Salituro (725K), Adam Gilmour ($717,500), Chase Lang ($686,667).

Defensemen
Left Defense                     Right Defense

Ryan Suter ($7.538+M)    Jared Spurgeon ($5.187M)
Jonas Brodin ($4.166+M) Matt Dumba ($2.55M)
Gustav Olofsson (725K)   Kyle Quincey ($1.25M)
Mike Reilly (725K)   

Vying for spots: Olofsson, Reilly, Ryan Murphy (700K), Alex Grant (700K), Nick Seeler ($717,500), Hunter Warner ($636,667), Carson Soucy (925K), Zach Palmquist (726K), Gustav Bouramann (720K), Dylan Labbe ($692,500).

Goalies
Devan Dubnyk (4.33M)
Alex Stalock (650K)

Vying for spots: Stalock, Niklas Svedberg (700K), Steve Michalek (715K), Adam Vay ($842,500).

Total cap hit: $71,258,591 ($75 million ceiling).
*Includes $2.5 million buyout cap hit for Thomas Vanek.
Available cap space: $3,741,409.
**Available cap space will be eaten up by roster hopefuls making the team and Marcus Foligno's re-signing.

Leaving for Blues, Prosser thankful to play so long for hometown Wild

You’ve got to hand it to Nate Prosser.

In a league where depth defensemen are everywhere and easily can get squeezed out of a job because of that, the Elk River native has carved out a quality NHL career that will reach Season Nine this upcoming fall.

It won’t come in Minnesota though (well, we assume it won’t come in Minnesota as I’ll remind you below).

Prosser’s two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 a season ($400,000 guarantees) with the St. Louis Blues is official. He’ll rejoin his former Wild coach, Mike Yeo, a few states south of us and may have a solid shot of making the Blues, who have a strong group of six defensemen on one-way contracts.

Prosser, 31, was by far the longest-serving and most successful college free-agent pickup in Wild history. He played parts of eight seasons, ranks 26th in franchise history with 282 games, seventh in franchise history with 475 blocked shots and was always the good soldier when it came to being that extra defenseman.

Always smiling and always positive, Prosser’s nature was why four different Wild coaches were perfectly comfortable having him be the seventh defenseman. Even those times Prosser was undoubtedly frustrated with his role, coaches never had to worry about him creating a stink or distraction in the locker room.

He just showed up daily, practiced hard and waited for his turn.

“I’ve kind of always been that seventh man here for six, seven years, but with Yeo and Torch (John Torchetti) and Bruce [Boudreau], they’ve all been so great and so honest with me,” Prosser said Wednesday night. “That’s something, I’ve told Bruce, ‘Thank you for always being so honest with me.’”

I remember when the Wild signed Prosser out of Colorado College.

To be blunt, I had never heard of him, was at my buddy’s house in Nashville when the news came and quickly added a few graphs to the next day’s paper and posted a blog.

Prosser showed up in Nashville the next morning, was affable but nervous and, frankly, I’m not sure how much I even wrote about him because he wasn’t supposed to play those final weeks of the 2009-10 season.

But lo and behold, a couple injuries occurred at the end of the season and instead of recalling a defenseman, the Wild rewarded Prosser by thrusting him into the final three games of the season in Edmonton, Calgary and at home against Dallas.

In his NHL debut, Prosser assisted on an Andrew Brunette goal against the Oilers and he got to experience the season finale at Xcel Energy Center.

“That was supposed to be [Mike] Modano’s last game,” Prosser reminded.

The Prosser highlight always will be scoring that Jan. 18, 2014, overtime winner against the Stars. It came on Hockey Day Minnesota, an event hosted at Elk River’s Handke Pit – the same place Prosser skated around all the time as a small kid -- a self-described “annoying little shrimp” and pipsqueak -- before growing a full foot his junior year of high school.

To this day, Prosser still hears from friends that they can’t believe of all the talented kids skating in Elk River during his younger days, Prosser’s THE guy that has a pro career that’s a year shy from a decade.

Amazing, eh?

“There have been a lot of memorable games with the Wild, but that overtime winner, having Hockey Day being in Elk River, my hometown, knowing all the people watching, I mean, I never get out there in overtime, and then to get that chance where the [Nino Niederreiter rebound] just came to me, it was awesome,” Prosser said.

Prosser, a Seann William Scott clone, may go down as the Wild player who most took a hit to make a play, so to speak.

Nobody took a licking and kept on ticking like Prosser.

“Maybe I’ve got a little Gumby in me,” Prosser once told me.

Yeo, who respects Prosser wholeheartedly, once said of Prosser, “There’s certain messages that you can send to your teammates. It’s the ones I think where a player’s paying the price for his teammates that are the loudest and the clearest messages.”

Team-first. Charitable. Nice as can be. Shows up and works hard daily.

It’s a big reason our Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chapter once nominated him for the Masterton.

Prosser has talked to Yeo a few times this summer and particularly the past few days.

“I’ve been with him since Day One of pro hockey basically,” Prosser said. “I was in Houston with him and then I came up to Minnesota with him. He knows what I bring and I know his style and I know what he wants from me. He wants energy, he wants me to be physical and chirping and getting after guys and making that good first play. It’s just about being solid and playing good defensively. We have a good relationship. He’s a great guy for me to look up to.”

Prosser assumes he’s done in Minnesota. But remember, in 2014, Prosser signed with the Blues, didn’t make the team out of camp, was placed on waivers and the Wild, knowing what he brought in terms of depth, plucked him off waivers.

So who knows what tomorrow brings?

But if this is it for Prosser in Minnesota, he’s thankful.

He got married here, had three Minnesota-born daughters here because of the luxury of getting to play for his home-state Wild, got to play in front of his parents, siblings and 25 other family members often.

“And the fans have been unbelievable,” Prosser said. “In March and when playoff time comes around, you feel the buzz in this state. And there’s something about it that just gives you the goosebumps and makes you want it more and more. It’s been such a good journey. Whenever I look back at this experience, it’s been such a blessing to be able to play in my hometown for this long.”

I'm about to enter my 23rd season covering the NHL -- 13th covering the Wild. I've covered a lot of great human beings. Prosser's right up there at the top.

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