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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Coyle, Granlund continue to push as Wild defeats Winnipeg

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: September 21, 2013 - 11:13 PM

Entertaining preseason tilt at the X tonight. The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead, then gave up three goals in the middle frame to the Winnipeg Jets before recovering with Ryan Suter’s third-period tying goal and Jason Pominville’s shootout winner to improve to 2-1 this preseason.

Charlie Coyle and Carson McMillan also scored goals for the Wild and Niklas Backstrom, despite not really facing any shootouts thus far in training camp, went 3 for 3 in the shootout and stopped a Jets shorthanded breakaway with the Wild up 1-0.

Coyle and Mikael Granlund had real strong games and continue to push. Personally, I don’t see how Coyle doesn’t snag the No. 2 center spot, but that doesn’t mean Granlund can’t find a home in the lineup in some fashion. Remember, Jason Zucker is hurt right now, so depending on his timetable, maybe Granlund nails down the No. 2 left wing spot? He’s battling also with Nino Niederreiter.

Coyle scored the goal, had three shots and won 12 of 15 faceoffs. But he was just a horse. Had a second gear, was constantly a threat all over the ice. Just has this presence and confidence right now.

It’s impressive how well all the kids have played in camp and there are three games left. Tuesday will be a big cutdown day, but I think all the roster hopefuls stay and the players who just don’t have a shot off the bat are sent to Iowa.

Remember, Coyle, Granlund, Zucker, Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine can’t all make it. There are veterans are on one-way deals that are staying, plain and simple. And the entry-level guys don’t require waivers to get to Iowa, so it allows the Wild to call guys up whenever it needs them. So if one of the prospects don’t make it initially, it doesn’t mean they won’t be back soon if there’s an injury or need.

Torrey Mitchell’s strong camp could mean he nails the third-line right wing spot, which will affect one of the kids. Originally, if you penciled Mitchell in at fourth-line right wing, there could have been a spot for Niederreiter or Zucker at third-line RW. But Mitchell has looked good and seems to be the natural fit with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak.

Fourth line will be interesting. Zenon Konopka won 15 of 20 draws Tuesday and another 8 of 13 tonight (also screened Ondrej Pavalec on McMillan’s goal). Jake Dowell looked real good tonight. If Mike Rupp starts the season on IR with a knee injury, perhaps that opens the door for Fontaine (needs waivers to get to Iowa) or Haula?

We’ll see. As coach Mike Yeo said, three more games left to make decisions.

The Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Pominville line looked great at times and understandably lacked execution at times. It was their first game after all. But they combined for 11 shots and Koivu won 17 of 22 draws.

All three forwards talked about how tough it is that first game to get used to the pace, but Pominville said things slowed down as they got more comfortable.

“Far from perfect by any means, for them, for everybody that played their first game and that’s completely normal,” Yeo said. “When you play your first game, things happen quick. You play your second game, things slow down in a hurry. But with the game on the line and we need a goal, which line goes out and gets it for us?”

Late in a shift, Koivu and Parise hounded the puck in the D zone, Koivu forced a turnover and the line took off. Suter recognized right away he could catch the Jets off guard and hustled into the play. Parise crossed the blue line and sent him a perfect pass in the right circle for a one-timer.

Again, very late in the shift.

“That’s [Suter] though, eh?” Yeo said. “He doesn’t get tired. It’s unreal.”

Yeo said in order to get the top line and D pair conditioning and timing, he gave them a good chunk of ice. The top line played over 21 minutes, Brodin nearly 24 and Suter 28:23.

Yeo really liked Keith Ballard’s game again. The left-shot D played right D, and he had two assists and was plus-2. Very valuable that Ballard can do this because if Matt Dumba happens to not be in the top-6 out of camp, Jared Spurgeon is the only right-shot D. Brodin, a leftie, plays right D, too.

“I believe the more [Ballard] continues to get comfortable with our game and the way we’re playing, he’ll just continue to get better,” Yeo said. “He had a real impact. … His mobility is real noticeable.”

Great rivalry, this one will be. Even in an exhibition game, Jets fans turned out and were loud as usual.

“We’re going to have fun games,” Yeo said of the new division rival.

That’s it for me. Very early turnaround with 9:30 and 11 a.m. practices before an afternoon flight Sunday Columbus. Talk Sunday.

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