With such heavy competition up front in training camp, Wild fans are curious as to which forwards make the team in about a week’s time.
But General Manager Chuck Fletcher warned before Saturday’s 4-3 exhibition victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Jason Pominville’s shootout goal that it will be impossible to answer every question by the end of camp.
Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine, and before he strained his groin, Jason Zucker have all had strong camps. Not everyone can make the opening night roster, though.
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to have a definitive answer in a week,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the opening night lineup could look different a week or a month into the season. The good thing about having so many players on entry-level deals (Coyle, Granlund, Niederreiter, Zucker and Haula) is they don’t require waivers to get to the minors. And with its farm team now three hours away in Des Moines, the Wild could conceivably shuttle players back and forth at will.
The only forward vying for a spot who would have to pass through waivers to get to Iowa is Fontaine. That may help Fontaine make the team, especially if fourth-liner Mike Rupp starts the season on injured reserve with a knee injury.
The Wild’s first big cut-down day will be Tuesday. By next weekend, the Wild may opt to get to its 23-man roster; it heads to Duluth for a two-day practice, golf and bonding outing Sunday.
Coyle and Granlund, battling for the No. 2 center spot, had strong games Saturday. Coyle was a horse all night and gave the Wild a 2-0 lead in the first period after Keith Ballard’s shot deflected to him off a nifty pass by Fontaine. Coyle won 12 of 15 faceoffs and had three shots.
“He’s more comfortable, that’s for sure,” captain Mikko Koivu said of Coyle. “You see that in his game. He’s more confident. He’s even stronger on the puck [than last season].”
There are three exhibition games left, and coach Mike Yeo said “both [Coyle and Granlund] are doing the things we’re looking for.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter’s goal with 8 minutes, 19 seconds left in regulation sent Saturday’s game in overtime. It came after the Wild gave up three goals in the second period.
Carson McMillan also scored for the Wild.
Suter’s tying goal came very late in a shift. He jumped into the play after Koivu forced a turnover, and Zach Parise found Suter for a one-timer with a perfect pass into the right circle. “That’s [Suter] though, eh?” Yeo said. “He doesn’t get tired. It’s unreal.”
Ballard, a left-shot defenseman, got a look at playing the right side and Yeo liked his game. He had two assists and was plus-2.
Niklas Backstrom made 28 saves and stopped all three Winnipeg shots in the shootout. The Parise-Koivu-Pominville line combined for 11 shots in its first game and Koivu won 17 of 22 faceoffs.
“Your first few shifts, everything seems like it’s happening so fast out there,” Pominville said. “As the game went on, the game slowed down for us.”