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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Spurgeon, Dumba solid; Gilbert tweaks groin; Wild roster decisions Thursday

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild training camp Updated: January 16, 2013 - 11:33 PM
More than 13,000 showed up to the X tonight for a scrimmage. Red beat white 4-1 with Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter’s new defense partner, scoring two goals and an assist. Nick Palmieri and Jake Dowell also scored for red, Josh Harding won with 18 saves and Steven Kampfer scored for the white team.
 
In a practice overtime, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had an awesome game, scored on a beauty backhander from Dany Heatley. In the shootout, check out my Twitter mentions for the play by play, but Spurgeon decided it with a slick deke, then backhand/top shelf by Niklas Backstrom.
 
The big story of the night was that 18-year-old defenseman Matt Dumba looked real good. He assisted on Palmieri’s goal (Dumba one-timer deflected off Backstrom’s glove, then Palmieri’s knee), flashed a bunch of one-timers, had a great gap (stole a puck from Zach Parise in overtime, a couple from Heatley earlier), skated real well and he was comically “traded” midway through the game.
 
Veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert tweaked his groin late in the first period. Gilbert didn’t play in the second and finally, Dumba changed from a red sweater to a white to take Gilbert’s right-handed D spot. Humorously, Dumba was still wearing his red socks.
 
“He was awesome,” Parise said of Dumba.
 
Coach Mike Yeo said Gilbert’s injury isn’t serious and the team believes he will be ready for Saturday’s opener.
 
But with Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin a few weeks away, the Wild better hope Gilbert is OK. Otherwise, the sixth defense spot is down to Kampfer or Dumba. Again, Dumba looked great tonight, but he’s 18 and as Yeo even pointed out, he should have had an advantage because he has been playing all year. Yeo also noted that the level will change drastically from an intrasquad scrimmage to a real NHL contest come Saturday “and two weeks after that, there will be another level.”
 
On Dumba, Yeo said, “He’s confident, you’ve got to like that. He shows a lot of poise with the puck and wants to be in those situations and wants the puck. Physically, battle-wise, he’s strong. Skating ability is excellent. Certainly some aspects of his game that we’ll have to work on, but in time we can definitely help him with those things.”
 
As I mentioned, Dumba’s gap was real good and that’s because of his skating ability. You often see the same thing with Brodin, the smooth-skating 2011 first-round pick.
 
While I don’t feel the Wild should rush Dumba, I can also see how the team may decide not to send Dumba right back to his junior team, Red Deer. First, the Wild may need him right now because it’s so banged-up on the blue line. Second, he’s essentially a free body.
 
Not only would the first year of his contract not burn off until he plays in his sixth game, the Wild’s at the maximum 50 contracts right now. Dumba’s contract would not count as a contract until he plays in that sixth game. In other words, he wouldn’t be No. 51. So like I said, it would make sense that they keep him right now.
 
Thursday will be a big day around the Wild. We will have a very good idea what the final roster will look like by midday. Rosters for the opener must be submitted to the NHL by 2 p.m. Friday.
 
To get to a 23-man roster, certain players need waivers to get to the minors. So to clear by Friday, they’d have to be placed on waivers by 11 a.m. Thursday. As I’ve noted, the 13 and 14 forward spots are likely between Matt Kassian, Palmieri, Dowell and Stephane Veilleux.
 
Yeo said, “I thought they all played very well,” and aside from the goals Palmieri and Dowell scored, he liked how the players all played the type of game the Wild would need them to play during the season.
 
On the scrimmage, Yeo felt “system-wise we weren’t as sharp, and that’s what happens. You get into a real game, and that’s why it was so important that we did this. I thought we were decent at times but clearly not where we want to be come Saturday night.”
 
Yeo is wrestling whether or not to practice the team Thursday. He’s worried about fatigue during a tough grind of a week and you don’t want to risk injury by forcing tired bodies onto the ice.
 
On the other hand, Yeo said, “there are some things we need to work on clearly.”
 
On Bouchard, it’s clear he’ll be ready to play Saturday. Yeo said, “Not many guys can control the game like that. He was in fine form again. He’s had a great camp. He looks great. And it’s great news for us.”
 
On Backstrom, who gave up three goals in regulation, the one in overtime and two of five shots in the shootout, Yeo said, “It’s why it’s real important to get these games in, for them to get into the routine. There was lots of activity in front on the goals. He’ll be the first to tell you that he hates losing and he wished that he probably did a little better, but I have no concerns.”
 
Spurgeon says he feels he’s developing a good chemistry with Suter and “there are little things I notice in his game that I can bring to mine, so I just read off him.”
 
Parise on his line with Mikko Koivu and Heatley: “We’re still learning where each other goes on the ice in different situations, coming out of the corner and things like that. But I felt we had some great opportunities, so those will come.”
 
I thought Mikael Granlund was good at times, but so-so as a whole. He’ll be fine.
 
And here’s Dumba:
 
“I felt I got better as the game went on. It’s definitely a change from junior, and I think the guys knew that. As I just worked hard and competed and battled, things just came for me. I made good passes, I thought. Through simplifying things, things got easier.”
 
On playing against guys like Parise and Heatley: “It’s crazy. Just the thought of being on the ice with those guys, it was awesome. Five years I idolized those guys and watched them play in the NHL and to be on the same ice surface with them and battling and competing with them is something special.”
 
On if he hopes the Wild keeps him around: “I hope so. I hope for the best. I hope I get that chance and opportunity, but it’s all up to the coaches and staff.”
 
Talk to ya Thursday and stay tuned to here and Twitter for some potential roster decisions around 11 a.m.

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