ST. LOUIS – The Wild’s exhibition schedule is over and there’s one cut to come this weekend before opening night Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
But General Manager Chuck Fletcher said before the Wild’s 4-1 preseason loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday that too much is being made regarding “who makes the team.”
“For the young players, I don’t know that if they’re on the roster for Thursday that they should be able to say they’ve made the team,” Fletcher said. “That’s not meant to be a threat. That’s just reality when you’re on a two-way deal [that can be sent to American Hockey League Iowa] and circumstances change or performance drops or someone else plays better.”
One player who should survive the final roster cut is 19-year-old defenseman Matt Dumba.
Last season, Dumba was notified at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center that he would be returning to his junior team, Western Hockey League Red Deer. But Dumba played well Friday in the same arena and should remain on the roster into the regular season.
Dumba must either make the Wild or return to Red Deer. He can’t play in Iowa. And since Dumba can play up to nine NHL games without burning the first year of his contract, the Wild is in no rush to cement his future.
“We’re comfortable carrying eight defensemen if needed,” Fletcher said. “It’s pretty tough to make a definitive call on [Dumba] based on a few preseason games. We’ll get into the season and see how much he plays, how often, how well and the answer will be obvious to everybody.”
Fletcher said that whatever roster move is made as early as Saturday would be dependent on which forwards coach Mike Yeo plans to dress against the Kings.
Friday against the Blues, Yeo used a young, skilled fourth line of Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter because he was curious to see how they’d perform in an intimidating building against a big, rugged Blues lineup.
If he wants to go with a similar unconventional fourth line in the season opener, those three players would survive the final roster cut. But if he feels he needs a more physical player who can double as a bruiser, such as Zenon Konopka, there’s a chance Zucker or Granlund starts in Iowa.
With the Wild’s farm team now in Des Moines and three hours from St. Paul, Fletcher said the Wild can shuttle players back and forth between the NHL and AHL based on need for particular lineups.
“There could be moving parts all year,” Fletcher said. “Everybody, players included, should know that it may take up to two months for us to get comfortable with the roster and really see who’s taking advantage of opportunity, who’s NHL-ready and who may need more time.”
Typically, teams don’t want to put top prospects on the fourth line, but Yeo said he’s comfortable doing that provided those players have other roles, like the second power-play unit or penalty kill.
“We’re a team that’s not been a top goal-scoring team in the league, so if these kids can provide an offensive spark and allow us to score a few more goals, it’s something the coaches want to consider and look at,” Fletcher said. “We’ll have to see if it makes sense.”
One player who looks like he’ll be on the opening night roster is former University of Minnesota Duluth forward Justin Fontaine, 25. He again skated with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley on Friday.
“He’s worked hard to get to this point,” Fletcher said. “He’s done everything he can in camp to play games.”
Yeo has been critical at times of Zucker, who missed part of camp with a groin injury. He was engaged Friday.
“[Zucker] knows he can play better than what he is, and I have no doubt he will get his game back in order,” Fletcher said. “There’s a possibility he plays games in the NHL and AHL this year. It’s going to be up to him. But there’s no doubt he’s going to be a really good player in this league.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored a first-period power-play goal Friday and the Wild clung to that for two periods until the Blues rallied on goals by T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Backes and Chris Stewart in the third. The four goals were scored on Johan Gustafsson, who replaced Josh Harding after he stopped all 15 shots he saw through two periods but left because he said he wasn’t feeling well.