Mike Yeo wants to take a big step forward on the power play this season, and the first real look at what the Wild coach is thinking in terms of units came Monday when the Wild worked on special teams in training camp.
On the No. 1 unit, Yeo had Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley up front with defenseman Ryan Suter and winger Jason Pominville at the points. The second unit is up in the air depending on who makes the team, but it could be filled to the brim with youngsters.
Forwards Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine all were given looks Monday, as well as veterans Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. The point men are subject to change depending on whether 19-year-old Matt Dumba makes the team. If not, Jared Spurgeon likely would be joined by Marco Scandella or Jonas Brodin.
The Wild improved from 27th to 16th on the power play last season (second on the road, 28th at home), but Yeo wants to be “one of the elite teams in the league. … We have to have a little bit more of a ‘play the game, make the read and then attack when it’s there’ mentality.”
“We have the personnel for sure,” Pominville said. “We just have to get it done.”
Pominville said it should help having former Wild forward Andrew Brunette aiding the power play this season. He was on the ice during Monday’s practice and will work with Yeo often on the man advantage. Yeo said Brunette plans some new wrinkles.
Brunette was on the ice for more power-play goals (216) than any player in Wild history. In Minnesota, he scored 55 power-play goals (second in team history) and 136 power-play points (third in team history).
Pominville’s big shot up top could help. Playing the point often is difficult for forwards, especially when it comes to defending potential shorthanded rushes, but the veteran filled that role often in Buffalo.
“He’s a weapon over there,” Yeo said. “He’s going to open up a lot more ice for everybody else just because the respect that he’s going to have. But his reads, too, you saw him jumping down backdoor, and his ability to find lanes and jump into holes is going to be big for us.”
Because there were no exhibition games during last’s season’s abbreviated training camp, Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets actually will be the preseason debuts for Zucker, Coyle, Granlund and Dumba. Niederreiter and Fontaine also will play.
“I think these games are going to tell the tale to see who’s ready to make the team,” Zucker said. “I’m just excited to play hockey again. I’d be excited to play all six [preseason] games.”
Other notables scheduled to play Tuesday are Cooke, Keith Ballard, Jonathon Blum, Bloomington’s Brian Connelly and tryout David Steckel.
Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper will be in goal.
During Monday’s practice, the Wild used the NHL’s new “shallower” goal cage, which gives more room behind the net.
“It’s creates a little more room behind the net and even around the net feels like a little more room, so it should make a bit of difference,” Koivu said. “The more room you have behind, the more opportunity it gives you to make plays.”