Veterans man top Wild power-play unit, youngsters the second

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 12:17 AM

 

Wild coach Mike Yeo will stack the No. 1 power-play unit with five veterans — Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley up front, with forward Jason Pominville and defenseman Ryan Suter at the points — to start this season.

That leaves as young of a second unit as you can imagine.

Up front will be 21-year-olds Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, with defensemen Jonas Brodin, 20, and Jared Spurgeon, 23, at the points.

Spurgeon would be considered the “big vet,” Yeo joked.

The unit could actually be younger when 19-year-old Matt Dumba plays. He would likely replace Brodin when that occurs, although it might not happen Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.

Three days after Yeo said there was a “good chance” Dumba would make his NHL debut on Thursday, Yeo said Wednesday there was “no guarantee.”

Yeo was considering playing bigger veteran Clayton Stoner instead against the physical Kings. Most of all, the Wild was concerned about nerves for the teenage Dumba heading into the team’s home opener. He had a rough practice Wednesday. If Dumba doesn’t play against the Kings, he would likely make his NHL debut Saturday against Anaheim.

Yeo has high expectations for the second power-play unit.

“Hopefully they can get a lot of people questioning which unit is the top unit,” Yeo said. “They’ve got all the elements to being really good. They’ve got puck-moving ability, they’ve got hockey smarts, they’ve got guys who can shoot the puck, and big bodies around the net.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be a factor and a force out there. I hope that they just don’t take a back seat. I hope that they push [the first unit].”

Ballard ready

Former Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard, a Baudette, Minn., native, will make his Wild debut Thursday. Ballard had a solid camp and is somebody Yeo is expecting to play a key role in a system that’s going to ask more from its defensemen offensively.

“In the NHL, the reality is goals are so hard to come by at even strength,” Ballard said. “The top scoring teams all have great power plays, but the only way you win is if you score 5-on-5. But teams don’t give up a lot, so you’ve got to get the D-men involved to make 4-on-3s.

“You’re not getting 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s all night in this league because teams are too good systemwise and disciplinewise. It’s imperative for the D-men to jump up into the play.”

Etc.

• The Wild has been having shootout practices a lot lately as Yeo tries to formulate a list, especially now with Matt Cullen, so solid in shootouts, in Nashville. Typically, 1-2-3 is expected to be Koivu (30 shootout goals, tied for fifth in the NHL), Parise (32 shootout goals, second) and Pominville (18, tied for 31st). Judging by practice, Coyle, Niederreiter and Granlund should be close to the top on Yeo’s list, depending on how long a shootout goes.

• Veteran Kings coach Darryl Sutter was in midseason form Wednesday on quips. Asked if star Jonathan Quick would start both games in goal in the Kings’ back-to-back games against the Wild and Winnipeg, Sutter said, “I don’t know. He might get hurt in warmup.”

• Former Wild defenseman Willie Mitchell, 36, who won a Stanley Cup with L.A. two years ago, will play his first game Thursday since then. Mitchell missed all of last season following two knee surgeries.

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