Injuries cut into Wild youngsters' audition time

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2011 - 1:13 AM
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Casey Wellman.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Cody Almond and Casey Wellman are contenders to crack the opening-night Wild roster, or at least top the list to be early call-ups from Houston of the AHL.

But both forwards are sidelined because of back injuries and unlikely to play as the Wild heads into an important part of the preseason, three games in three nights beginning Thursday in St. Louis.

And that is weighing on both of them.

"We're trying to take all the sharp objects away from those guys," coach Mike Yeo said -- only half-joking. "They're disappointed right now. But hopefully they're back here soon and into the mix."

With their injuries, some long-shot names have taken their place for prime minutes with a chance to wow the decision-makers. Yeo called Thursday's matchup "an opportunity game."

Forwards in the traveling party include only two regulars -- Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz -- from last season's Wild roster. Only two other players -- defenseman Jordan Hendry and goaltender Niklas Backstrom -- spent the majority of last season in the NHL. Hendry is in camp on a tryout and will skate in a second consecutive game, an indication he is among the candidates for the seventh spot on the blue line.

The other 18 players, six of whom were born in the 1990s, are hungry and ready to prove their worth.

"It's certainly opened up the window of opportunity for a lot of people," Yeo said.

Guys like Carson McMillan and Warren Peters fall into that group, along with Fridley's Jarod Palmer and Jeff Taffe of Hastings.

Taffe, 31, hopes to put on a show for the home club in his first game wearing a Wild sweater.

"You can look at any number of guys here and see they would fit right in," said Taffe, a former Gopher who signed with the Wild as a free agent in July. "You just never know what management is thinking. It's tough to go about it, but it's part of the game. Obviously there are quite a few of us in this position. All you can do is go out there and hope they keep you."

Taffe played in 59 games for Phoenix in 2003-04 and 45 for Pittsburgh in 2007-08. The rest of his eight years as a pro have been spent mostly in the minors.

Though new to the Wild, he has a history with team brass.

Taffe played for the Penguins' AHL club in Wilkes-Barre when Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was in charge there.

"You're rewarded for hard work," Taffe said. "It'd be great to play here full time, but it's out of my hands. Hopefully my best effort will be enough."

Etc.

• Captain Mikko Koivu and new linemates Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi will start at Xcel Energy Center on Friday against the Blue Jackets ... probably. "If Columbus starts five tough guys it maybe will be a different story," Yeo said. "I think our fans are excited about seeing those guys, and rightfully so. I am, too."

• The Wild trimmed its training camp roster to 47 players. Wingers Joel Broda, Justin Fontaine and Mike Kramer, along with defensemen Sam Lofquist and Kyle Medvec, were reassigned to Houston. Fontaine played for Minnesota Duluth's national champions last season, and Lofquist is an ex-Gopher. Returned to their junior teams were forwards Tyler Graovac and Carter Sandlak, and defensemen Colton Jobke and Josh Caron.

• Almond is down about 20 pounds from last season, to 205 pounds, but said he would like to be closer to 210 for the season.

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