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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Wild lineup for Tuesday's exhibition game vs. Columbus; Monday all about the power play

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 16, 2013 - 5:08 PM

The Wild opens up the exhibition season Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center at 7 o'clock when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit. The Blue Jackets are bringing a very young lineup as it's a split squad game. Former Wild coach Todd Richards will stay behind in Columbus and coach vs. Buffalo and former North Star Craig Hartsburg will coach the game for the Jackets here.

The game is not televised or streamed, so @russostrib or KFAN are the places to be. (By the way, the first Becoming Wild is on Fox Sports North tonight after the Twins postgame show. It's a day in the life of Wild coach Mike Yeo up at his private island seven hours north of Toronto. I wrote a little bit about it in my Yeo story that ran in Wednesday's newspaper.

For a lot of the Wild young guys, this will be their preseason debuts Tuesday because there were no exhibition games last year. As you can tell below, it's just what Yeo has been saying all camp: the young guys that are vying for spots are getting looks and will continue to get looks. My guess is the Zach Parises, Mikko Koivus, Jason Pominvilles, Dany Heatleys, Ryan Suters play three games -- the last two home exhibition games (Saturday vs. Winnipeg and Sept. 25 vs. St. Louis) and AT St. Louis Sept. 27.

That game should be representative of the Wild's lineup because it will be the preseason finale and last tuneup prior to the Oct. 3 season opener vs. the L.A. Kings.

The Wild's exhibition lineup for Tuesday:

Forwards

Matt Cooke-Charlie Coyle-Nino Niederreiter

Jason Zucker-Mikael Granlund-Justin Fontaine

Stephane Veilleux-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell

Jake Dowell-David Steckel-Carson McMillan

Defensemen

Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba

Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser

Brian Connelly-Jonathon Blum

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Darcy Kuemper

As Zucker said, the exhibition games for the youngsters vying for spots will "tell the tale." It will also be huge for players like David Steckel, who's in on a tryout, and even defensemen like Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Jon Blum. If Dumba makes the team, the top 6 could be Suter-Brodin; Scandella-Spurgeon; Ballard-Dumba. That could leave Stoner fighting for playing time. Despite 91 career games in Nashville, Blum is on the outside looking in right now because he's on a two-way contract.

Yeo and his staff, which now includes power-play consultant Andrew Brunette, worked the power play and penalty kill in practice today.

I wouldn't go crazy worrying about the units as of yet because we don't know who's going to be on the team for sure yet. But unit 1 looks like Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley with Ryan Suter and forward Jason Pominville at the points. Pominville played the point in Buffalo and I like this setup a lot. The Wild needs a big right shot cannon teeing up one timers from the left circle. He also has the ability to distribute the puck and jump up in the play.

Last year, the second unit had a lot of veterans like Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck at times, Kyle Brodziak, and P-M Bouchard. That's why guys like Zucker and Coyle and Granlund barely got a sniff. Regardless of which of the youngsters make the team (include Niederreiter vying), the Wild's second unit will be full of youngsters this season. It also wouldn't shock me if a guy like Matt Cooke saw time there. The pointmen could be Jonas Brodin, Spurgeon (1st unit last year) and/or Marco Scandella and/or Dumba if he makes the team. 

Cooke, by the way, was so good today on the PK. Great stick, just routinely took pucks off sticks or deflected pucks. Should help a PK that took a step back last season.

I did a big thing on Cooke in Tuesday's paper.

The Wild did use the shallower nets in practice today, the ones that will be debuted for you all to see Tuesday. Koivu, who sets up a lot behind the net, liked the extra space back there. Also, remember, the NHL is experimenting with hybrid icing this preseason.

Here's some Yeo-bits:

On the power play work today and what he saw: “We’ve had plenty of time to discuss this since the end of the season. But there clearly some things that we need to work on still. This is going to be a process. But there were some things that we definitely liked too. You see some of the movement, using the whole zone, a couple of the goals that we’ve scored, we’re doing it different ways. That’s what we’re looking for, a little more unpredictability but also creativity from the players. Let’s have some parameters, let’s have some guidelines, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make hockey plays, you’ve got to make reads and you’ve got to be ready to attack when there’s an opportunity.”

New PP wrinkles this year?: “It’s important to know that we went from 27th to [16]th last year, which is an improvement, and now I think we’re ready to take a step. Let’s improve on top of that, let’s be one of the elite teams in the league. If you can do that, then that would be a huge contributing factor to the success of the team. Some of it is, the little things within the power play, whether it’s the positioning of the net front guy or the low forward or some of the options that you have. Some of it is the bigger picture idea, that we can’t get too single-minded on one or two different things. We have to have a little bit more of a play the game, make the read and then attack when it’s there mentality.”

Any idea why the anomaly of being 2nd on the road and 28th at home (SHOOOOOOOOOOT, perhaps?): “No. I don’t know that it makes any sense.”

Pominville at point: “First off, we want to use the whole zone, and the versatility that it gives you, there’s a lot of times when that weakside D is going to find himself in a half wall position, and with him over there, the skill that he has, he can make those plays and distribute almost like a forward. But first and foremost, that guy has to be a shooter for us. He’s a weapon over there. He’s going to open up a lot more ice just for everybody else just because the respect that he’s going to have, but his reads, too, you saw him jumping down backdoor, you saw how effective that is, and his ability to find lanes and jump into holes is going to be big for us.”

Top-heavy on first unit: “That's a very talented group. We saw that. They had a little bit of success out there today. First off, if you want to have a successful power play, you need two good units. And we think that we have enough depth and skill throughout our lineup that we should be able to do that, too. I think that we certainly loaded up that top unit but that doesn't mean that we've left ourselves short on the second unit, too.”

Young second group?: “Those are the things that you read through the season, too. We've got some veteran guys that have a bit of a different mentality. If we need a Bodzy or a Cooke or someone like that to go out because we don't like the way things are going or we want to just go heavy shooters mentality on this one or let's just crowd the net then those guys can bring a different dynamic too.”

Chance Brodin doesn't make PP if Dumba makes team? “We'll kind of work it the way we did today giving all those guys an opportunity. But when he's getting into exhibition games, I would think that he's going to get a good opportunity and we've just got to keep seeing who wins the job. We were just kind of rotating guys in there.”

PK? “Improvement. A couple years ago, we were really strong. I thought we took a bit of a step back last year. But we've got the personnel that it looks like Cooke is going to be a big addition to that group already. It was white's day. They were good on the power play and they were good on the penalty kill. Like our power play, we've got good depth and a lot of players that we can throw out there which I think is important, especially for guys like Mikko and Zach. They're such effective penalty killers they're still going to see time and you've got to make sure top players like that aren't on the bench for long periods of time. But if we can throw them out there only once as opposed to twice then it's going to free up a lot more ice time in 5-on-5 and more of scoring situations for them.”
 

Notice difference in new nets?: “I can't say that I really did to be honest with you. We didn't do a lot of D zone coverage work and we didn't get in to a lot of that stuff. And to be honest with you, when we were on the power play we didn't really make much happen from the back of the net. So I think that it'll be something that we'll notice a little bit more as things go on. It wasn't something that popped out in my mind.”

Hybrid icing: “I think it's a good thing. We've incorporated it into our scrimmages. And so we wanted to make sure our players weren't going into it blind. I think it's a good things. There's still going to be races, there's still going to be icings waved off, but I think it's going to protect the players too.”

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