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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Aeros to open training camp at Xcel; Backstrom injured, delays KHL signing

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: September 20, 2012 - 4:21 PM

The ice is being installed in Xcel Energy Center, but it won't be used for the Wild's training camp.

With the NHL locked out, the Wild has gotten permission to have the first three days of American Hockey League affiliate Houston's training camp at Xcel Energy Center. It begins Sept. 28 with two open-to-the-public, free scrimmages on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30.

The Sept. 29 scrimmage begins at 11 a.m. with Gate 1 opening at 10:30. The Sept. 30 scrimmage begins at 10 a.m. with Gate 1 opening at 9:30.

The Aeros, coached by NHL and minor-league veteran coach John Torchetti, will have an array of Wild prospects to guide this season with assistants Mike Van Ryn and Sebasien Laplante. Bob Mason is the goalie coach.

Down in Houston will be first-round picks Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips and Tyler Cuma, second-round picks Marco Scandella, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker, third-round pick Matt Hackett, fourth-round picks Kris Foucault, Kyle Medvec and Sean Lorenz (AHL deal), sixth-round pick Darcy Kuemper (expected to be good to go from season-ending shoulder surgery last year) and seventh-round pick Carson McMillan.

Those are the guys drafted by the Wild. Others down there include likely captain Drew Bagnall, Brian Connolly, Chad Rau, Jarod Palmer, Steven Kampfer, David McIntyre, Justin Fontaine, Chay Genoway, Kris Fredheim, Joel Broda, Josh Caron and Colton Jobke (another year of junior eligibility if he doesn't make the team).

Nick Palmieri is on the roster, remains unsigned but may be at camp apparently. If he stays, he would have to sign an AHL deal at this point.

On the chat the other day, somebody asked me whom I thought would be captain. After considering it with more time, it will almost certainly be Bagnall. He is a five-year AHL pro, is turning 29 and was Manchester's captain during its long playoff run in 2010. He was also a key blue-liner for the Aeros during their long run two years ago.

No chance the Wild just anoints a prospect as captain. You have to earn that.

Other potential guys: McMillan and Scandella. But this will be Bagnall's team, so the hard-nosed blue liner is the obviously choice.

But if you're dying for hockey, those Aeros scrimmages should give you a little hockey buzz, and the price is right. Remember also, the Aeros will play Rockford at 5 p.m. Nov. 18. Season-ticket holders get free tickets. For others, tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at the X, wild.com, aeros.com or Ticketmaster.

At both scrimmages next weekend, Xcel Energy Center will serve as a drop-off location for the fourth annual Used Hockey Equipment Drive, a partnership between the Wild, Let’s Play Hockey and Minnesota Hockey. Fans that donate used equipment at the scrimmages will be entered to win autographed Aeros merchandise. Five prizes will be awarded during each scrimmage. From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 6, the collected equipment will be distributed to hockey associations and at Xcel Energy Center.

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Niklas Backstrom's strange journey from Milan to Minsk (Seinfeld reference, Rochelle, Rochelle) is on hold.

According to sources, he suffered an ankle injury during Tuesday's Minnesota-based locked-out skate in St. Louis Park. All my quotes from him about possibly signing with KHL Dinamo Minsk on the blog a few days ago came after the apparent injury, but I do remember he was limping and over the past few days, I did confirm he got hurt in the skate.

He did not skate with the NHLers today.

Sources say the injury is minor though. It, however, is hampering him enough where he won't be able to sign on the dotted line right now with Minsk and will thus stay here in Minnesota for a little while. If the spot with Minsk remains open for a few weeks, Backstrom could still sign. But right now it's up in the air.

I have a call into Backstrom but haven't heard back yet. I am not sure if it's the same ankle that was bothering him most of last season. He had minor surgery on that ankle in April.

Update: Just talked to another source. Backstrom apparently rolled his ankle training in Helsinki a few weeks ago, then aggravated it the other day in the skate. It is not major, and it is the opposite ankle from the one operated on.

Happy lockout everyone!

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