Wild's final forward spots still up for grabs

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2013 - 9:10 PM
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Stephane Veilleux

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The Wild brass has said this week's abbreviated training camp is more about preparation than evaluation, but that doesn't mean tough decisions don't lie ahead.

With the top-12 forward positions all but set barring injuries or trades, Matt Kassian, Stephane Veilleux, Jake Dowell and Nick Palmieri are competing for the final two forward spots.

And, that's assuming the Wild keeps 14 forwards, not 13.

With no exhibition games, the final test could be Wednesday night's scrimmage at Xcel Energy Center.

"Not to say that our roster is set, but we have a pretty good idea minus a couple decisions here or there," coach Mike Yeo said. "[The scrimmage] is important for them, for sure. Those guys are in that category where we are going to have to make some decisions.

"We know certain guys [Kassian, Veilleux and Palmieri], and a guy like Jake, we're trying to get to know."

Rosters for Saturday's 8 p.m. opener against Colorado must be submitted by Friday afternoon. All four players would require waivers to get to Houston of the American Hockey League, meaning that decision would have to come by 11 a.m. Thursday.

The roster can be a maximum of 23 players.

"For this year, whatever [Yeo] and the coaches want is what we'll do," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "In a 48-game season, it's going to be one of those years where you're going to have an Opening Night roster, and it's going to be probably irrelevant a few nights later.

"The roster's going to change a lot based on health and performance. Players that start down could very quickly be called up and vice versa. We're not going to have a lot of time to be patient. It's going to be about results. There could be continual adjustments as the year goes on."

That especially will be true with the prospects. Players such as Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson and Charlie Coyle should all see time in Minnesota if the Wild runs into injuries this season.

Kassian, 26, has the inside shot for one job. He is on a one-way contract, meaning he would have to be paid his full $550,000 salary in Houston. Veilleux, 31, Dowell, 27, and Palmieri, 23, are on two-way contracts, meaning they make significantly less in the minors.

Like free-agent acquisition Zenon Konopka, Kassian is a fighter.

Asked if there's room for two on the roster, Yeo said, "[Kassian] continues to evolve as a player and grow as a player. Maybe you can make that argument if the two guys can't play."

Palmieri has had a solid year in Houston, totalling 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) and being a plus-9 in 36 games. Veilleux was drafted by the Wild in 2001 and reacquired last season.

"I'm very confident with the puck, and I think I have two dimensions to my game, not only the energy and hard work, but I can play with the puck, too," Veilleux said. "I did have a few seasons in a row with double-digit goals, and I think people forget I've played in [460 NHL] games.

"I'll just be positive and not worry about the decision and who will be cut from the roster."

Dowell, a former Wisconsin Badger and friends with Wild pickup Ryan Suter, has played 154 career games for Chicago and Dallas. Yeo likes Dowell's versatility because he can play wing and center.

"First and foremost he's a character guy and fits well into the culture that we have here," Yeo said. "I like that he's another guy who's a veteran who knows what his role is. He's going to manage the puck well, get pucks deep, plays on the forecheck. He's going to play the game hard."

Etc.

• Goalie Josh Harding continues to look terrific despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October.

"I've seen zero signs that he is trying to tackle a huge obstacle," Yeo said.

• Defenseman Marco Scandella (groin) skated again Tuesday, as did defenseman Jonas Brodin (clavicle). Brodin has started to take contact.

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