As the preseason ended and the Wild began preparing for Saturday's regular-season opener, one thing became clear to General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo: It was time to find out more about the youngsters on the team.
The only way to do that was to find them playing time. And that -- the flexibility to evaluate the youth on the roster -- was the biggest reason veteran forward Eric Nystrom was put on waivers Thursday.
"Right now we have some players we're evaluating," Fletcher said. "We want to see what they can do. ... I think we need to get a read on what we have."
Among those benefiting from the move? Brett Bulmer, the 19-year-old who had a strong camp, was skating on the third line Thursday along with center Kyle Brodziak and winger Cal Clutterbuck. That allowed Darroll Powe to skate at center on the fourth line. Thursday three wingers -- Matt Kassian, Colton Gillies and Nick Johnson -- were rotating through the two wing spots on the line.
Nystrom, who signed a three-year deal in July 2010, has two more years left on a one-way deal at $1.4 million per season.
"I'm definitely disappointed, but I've got air in my lungs, health on my side," Nystrom said in a text. "If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I'm a lucky man. I'll be back with a vengeance no matter what happens."
Meanwhile, it's clear the Wild wanted to make room for Kassian, who appears on the verge of coming off injured reserve. And it will mean Bulmer will get more minutes to see if his strong camp can translate into the regular season.
"He has earned it," Yeo said of Bulmer skating with the third line. "And some of it, with a guy like that, is, 'Let's find out what he can do.' He had a really good camp, he's deserving of being in that spot right now. We believe he has a lot of skills he brings to the table that could add a lot to that line."
Not that the move was easy for anyone. Powe said he wasn't aware of it until he started dressing for practice and saw Nystrom wasn't there. Bulmer praised Nystrom for being his mentor during camp. Kassian talked of the mixed emotions of seeing a friend go while at the same time perhaps benefiting from the move.
"It's difficult to say goodbye," Kassian said. "But, at the same time, you get an opportunity yourself."
Said Bulmer: "I have to make the most of this. This is an opportunity, but I have to prove myself every day."
And he needed the time to do it. Still, Yeo said it was a difficult move to make. "You're dealing with an individual here and a person who has been a good teammate to a lot of guys here," Yeo said. "But when you're in our position, you have to make difficult decisions."
• Backup goaltender Josh Harding (ankle) took part in the early part of practice. Yeo said he was encouraged by how much Harding was able to do. "He's pretty much day-to-day right now," Yeo said. "We'll see how he responds after the skate today, and see how he feels going into [Friday]."
• Kassian (finger) appears close to coming off injured reserve. "He's about ready," Yeo said. "We don't have the final go-ahead yet, but he's very close."
Staff writer Michael Russo contributed to this report.