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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Newly-signed Wild forward Ryan Carter arrived in the Twin Cities from Newark at around midnight last night and was on the ice with his new team, the Wild, for its 10 a.m. practice today.
Carter played on the fourth line with Jason Zucker and Kyle Brodziak and is expected to make his Wild debut Thursday night when the season opens against the Colorado Avalanche. He’ll wear No. 18.
Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.
I meant to put this on yesterday’s blog, but if you want to refresh your memory, here are some features I have written in the past on defensemen Christian Folin and Matt Dumba, who is expected to be the Wild’s third pair against the Avs on Thursday (8 p.m. game). Both are pretty good profiles, the Folin one coming before his NHL debut last season and the Dumba one coming the night he was drafted two years ago.
Extra: Bickel, Fontaine (practicing; looks like he'll miss the opener for precautionary reasons due to glute injury).
Extras: Ballard, Prosser
On the lines, coach Mike Yeo feels the young kid line has shown good chemistry together. “Again, I expect it to be fluid all year and that’s because we’ve got more pieces. We’ll try different things, and if it’s not working, we’ll switch it up again. If it is working, then we’ll leave it alone.”
To start things, he wants Cooke with Vanek and Koivu because Cooke has speed, goes in straight lines, hounds pucks, can recover pucks for those guys and can go to the net. Basically, play a simple game and do the work.
Yeo really likes the idea of Coyle and Niederreiter together on the same line – two big bodies with the speed element of Haula. “We’re interested as much as anything to see how that line goes out.”
Added Yeo, “However you want to call it, our first, second or third line, I want them all pushing each other. There’s no reason why our so called third line, why they can’t be our best line on a particular night. Likewise with our second and first lines.”
-- Again, 100% guess, but I think Backstrom starts the opener, but again, just a total guess. Just putting myself in the position of the coaches: It’s the home opener. Both goalies looked good in the preseason. Backstrom looks quick and healthy and pain-free. And he’s the vet, the all-time leader in wins. The goal is Backstrom can resurrect himself this season, so I think they reward him with the hope opener.
I don’t think there’s a wrong decision though.
Yeo said today he would love a drama-free year at the goalie position. He said he would love for both goalies to push each other, but he also wouldn’t mind one jumping out to the forefront and seizing the No. 1 job to make it a no-decision as to who starts on a nightly basis.
In Wednesday’s Star Tribune, I’m writing a story on Matt Cooke, who is playing Colorado in the first two games of the season for the first time since his seven-game suspension for kneeing Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie. Cooke is also the Wild’s second-line left wing in practice this week.
I’m also leading my notebook on Kyle Brodziak and his thoughts going into a big year of his career. He is in the last year of his contract and coming off two downs years (two years ago offensively and defensively, last year mostly offensively).
Also, my NHL predictions are in Wednesday’s paper. What’s your opinion as to where I should put the Wild?
-- Carter looked good today.
Yeo said, “I saw a lot of things that we’re hoping to see from him in games. Was able to pick up systems quickly, showed that he’s a good defensive and physical player. I liked what he was showing on the penalty kill and once we get into game time, I’m expecting him to bring some good energy too.”
Carter was outstanding for the Devils skating with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier during their run to the 2012 Finals.
Zach Parise, Carter’s pal, is excited to have him back as a teammate.
“He was awesome during that playoff run we had,” Parise said. “Really competitive guy. Plays hard, plays gritty, the type of player you need to have in your bottom-six forwards. He’s good on the PK. Just a responsible, solid all-around player.
“He’s the type of player that sometimes when games are dull, your team’s flat and you need a momentum shift, he’s the type of guy who can give you a spark. He’s going to fit in really well for what we need.”
-- Forwards Cody Almond and Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers and were assigned to AHL Iowa. Almond told me he would take a day to decide whether to report to Iowa or return to his team in Switzerland.
If he chooses to leave, the Wild can either assign him to Geneva with the ability to recall him or place him on unconditional waivers.
-- Power-play units today were:
Parise-Granlund-Pominville-Dumba-Suter and Niederreiter-Koivu-Vanek-Spurgeon-Brodin with Folin and Coyle interchanging in both.
“What’s our second unit? What’s our first unit?” Yeo said. “That’s my message to our guys right now. Every goal we scored in the preseason, it was a different combination of guys out there. There’s no question we have more parts, more competition, but that’s what makes us a better team.”
So Yeo expects the units to be fluid with different combinations.
“We have better hockey players from top to bottom,” said Yeo, saying that with flexibility and different parts, the Wild can be “more dangerous and less predictable because of that.”
Evening from the lonely press room from Xcel Energy Center, my home away from home.
OK, lots of news to get to:
1. Ryan Carter. Why?
I got GM Chuck Fletcher on the horn this afternoon and he said he spoke with agent Neil Sheehy back in July and had several conversations, but at that time, Fletcher decided to get into training camp and see what he had and where players were at before adding more players.
“In the last couple days, talking to Mike [Yeo] and the coaching staff, they felt strongly that Ryan would be an upgrade. He has a lot of experience. He brings versatility to a club, he kills penalties, he shoots the puck, he has had playoff success. He brings good depth to a team and different dimensions to the bottom six and provides the coaches more options in terms of building rosters from game to game.”
The Devils wanted to re-sign Carter, but they didn’t have room. He spent all of training camp in New Jersey, but Carter just didn’t feel like he could wait any longer for GM Lou Lamoriello to open up a roster spot once the Wild came in with a viable offer.
Fletcher talked with Lamoriello today, and the GM “raved about him, not just the contributions that Ryan made to New Jersey, but the work ethic and character he brings. I don’t think you can ever have too much of that.”
When Justin Fontaine comes off injured reserve, the Wild will have to make a roster move. Stu Bickel seems the likeliest candidate, although we know how much Yeo values what he can bring.
The Wild also tried to trade Kyle Brodziak over the summer to no avail. I cannot imagine that has changed. No chance the Wild wants a $3 million fourth-line left wing or center.
Asked how Carter fits in once Fontaine returns, Fletcher said, “The coaches will have to tell me who they want to play in Game One. It just goes back to all the conversations about the opening night roster and how people speak about it too much. We’ll do what we have to do to put the team on the ice the coaches want for Game 1 and we may continually make adjustments after that. I think it’ll be a game to game scenario for the early part of the season.
“Based on what we do from game to game, we’ll react accordingly.”
In other words, there could be an Iowa shuttle for awhile based on the type of lineup Yeo wants from game-to-game. For instance, next week when the Wild travels to Anaheim and Los Angeles, maybe those are games Yeo will want Bickel to play. Maybe other times he’ll want Carter in the lineup against faster teams.
2. Christian Folin and Matt Dumba were paired together in practice today. Yeo said that is a likely pair Thursday against Colorado and after seeing them paired together for a few shifts in St. Louis and third period at home against St. Louis, he’s confident they can be trusted.
Dumba, a right-shot defenseman, told me he played the left side his entire draft year. Dumba admitted that when he wasn’t supposed to play against St. Louis in the finale, he figured he wasn’t making the team. He found out at 5:20 he was playing, and made the most of it with a third-period goal and his fourth power-play assist of the preseason.
“He had a good camp before that, but he had a real strong game again there,” Yeo said. “I would say before that game, we maybe had some decisions to make, whereas after the game there was no decision to be made.”
On the guys who made the team, Yeo said, “There’s usually nothing final about final cuts. But we feel that the guys that are here deserve to be here, whether it’s younger players or older players. We had a good camp. Guys did a good job and I think we’ve seen people get rewarded for that.”
On Folin, Dumba and Zucker outplaying vets, Yeo said, “Those guys all had good camps. I mean, they needed to make this team. None of them had a spot here, none of them were going to come here and play OK and have a chance to be still here today. So those guys have come in and had very strong camps. I think we gave those guys a good workload. We gave them the opportunity to succeed and we also gave them the opportunity to fail, and they went obviously in the direction toward succeeding. They had good camps, so they should be proud of that. Same message that I’ll give them, every day is a new day and they should feel real good about being here, but you have to make sure that you stay here.”
On Dumba’s defense, Yeo said, “We want to continue to develop that. We have to work on the areas of his game that he needs to improve and he needs to bring consistently to be an effective player in this league. That said, we have to make sure we’re not limiting him, too, because he does bring a dimension that we need as far as his ability to get up ice, his ability to create offense off the rush, his ability to create offense inside the offensive zone and on the power play. We want to increase the offense that we’re bringing from the back end and we believe he’s a guy who’s capable of doing that.”
Folin said, “I put everything out there that I had. After the Saturday night game, I just thought to myself, there’s nothing else I can do. I was just hoping for the best.”
Said Dumba, “It feels good, but nothing’s set in stone, I know that. You try to reach one goal and move on to the next.”
3. On Zucker making the team one year exactly after being cut, Yeo said, “Last year is last year. It wasn’t his best camp. He came in very determined this year and he knew that he had to make the team this year – there was no sense of entitlement. He scored, which is nice. But if he scored and didn’t do other things than he wouldn’t have made the team. Where he’s going to factor in, where’s he’s going to find a place in our lineup on Day 1, he did the things necessary for that. He was playing a competitive game, he was going to the hard areas, he was taking care of the puck, he was sound defensively, he was a strong penalty killer, and that’s going to get him the opportunity to work his way into other opportunities. If you want to look at Nino last year, that’s very similar to what he did. There were times when he was on the fourth line, there were times that he was on the first line. And maybe this is an opportunity for Zucker to prove that he can be in the lineup consistently and play in different roles and play different positions. Really for young guys that’s quite often how they work their way in full time.”
On making the team, Zucker said, “It’s huge. We all know we’re just getting started as far as work goes. It’s exciting and definitely what I set out to do. I’m excited to be here and grateful for the opportunity. I’ve worked really hard for it. Now I just have to perform. It is big in my mind. I want to prove to myself that I’m not a callup and I can play in this league. I’m definitely not satisfied with it. I want to get better and I want to get better every day. I don’t want to be just another guy. I want to be somebody who helps this team win on a daily basis.”
4. Yeo said he wants to have an everyday No. 1, but as of now, the goaltending is something they’ll evaluate every day. He said “the writing may be on the wall if you want to look at it that way for Game 1.”
Actually, I still don’t have a clue, although my gut says he goes with the vet, Nik Backstrom. I know it won’t be Ilya Bryzgalov.
He was released from his tryout because Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper are both healthy and Fletcher doesn’t want to carry three goalies on a 23-man roster.
Fletcher said Bryzgalov understood and will go home to Jersey to see his family and “decompress.” Fletcher wants to sign Bryzgalov to some kind of creative two-way contract or AHL deal and those talks will come in a week or two.
“As an organization, we really appreciate what he’s done for us,” Fletcher said. “I have an awful lot of respect for him from a personal level. He’s been a great fit for our organization. We’d like to find a way to keep him sharp and keep him ready in case something happens here or even elsewhere, but I can’t say enough good things about him. I’m a little perplexed why he can’t get a job in this league. There’s just a giant chasm between the perception of Bryz and the reality. He’s a quality goalie and a great guy and fit very well on this team. I just didn’t have any interest in carrying three goalies, and I think he understood that.”
Some people on Twitter joked that Fletcher should have subbed “humungous big” for “giant.”
5. Yeo on Bickel: “He brings an element that we don’t have. I think he’s done a good job up front. Even today at practice he looks good. If we decide that we’re looking for a certain degree of toughness in a particular game, then he’s a guy who could factor in. He has shown that he can play the game, too. We don’t want somebody who’s just going to go out there and play two shifts. We want somebody who’s going to bring some momentum and try to be physical on the forecheck. He understands that part of the game, plus he’s there to stick up for his teammates when needed.”
6. Justin Fontaine practiced today and felt good. He wants to play Thursday, but while Yeo said, “There’s a chance,” Yeo continued, “I’ll be cautious with that one. He’s missed a lot of time here in camp and I’ve since the pace of play increase since the first week of camp. So we have to make sure that we’re making the right decision and 100 percent confident that he’s ready to go.”
My guess is they hold him out the first two games with this glute injury and play him in Anaheim next week. That’ll give him basically two weeks more to heal.
7. If you remember last year, the Wild got burned a few times in the Colorado series by Patrick Roy pulling his goalie with a ton of time left for an extra attacker. So it was humorous today when Yeo practiced 6-on-5s.
I jokingly asked if he was practicing 6-on-5s or 5-on-6s.
Yeo, chuckling, “Both.”
The Wild did a lot of situational stuff today, like 4-on-4s, and Tuesday will really work special teams.
Here was Colorado’s lines today, courtesy of the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater.
8. One big reason why Erik Haula was back at third-line center today, my guess, is because of how successful he was tracking Nathan MacKinnon in Games 3-7 in the playoffs.
If you didn't see my big Sunday piece on Thomas Vanek's return to Minnesota, here it is.
Soooo, you know the previous blog post.
Give it a read for Mike Yeo’s thoughts this morning on maybe starting the season with Charlie Coyle at center, maybe Matt Cooke on the Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu line and Stu Bickel on the fourth line.
BUT, it turned out, that lineup I posted this morning wasn’t even close to accurate.
After meetings this morning and after taking a look at the Blues lineup for tonight’s game, Yeo called an audible and changed his lineup. The team recalled Joel Rechlicz and Kurtis Gabriel (Gabriel ended up not playing, and both will be sent back to Iowa Sunday) and let Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux and Matt Dumba about 90 minutes before the game that they would be playing.
Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon ended up getting the night off and Yeo said they wouldn’t have unless the team was “completely confident they are ready.”
YES, Yeo included Zucker in that listing and made clear after the Wild’s 5-4 overtime victory yet again that he has been very happy with Zucker’s camp and “it would be a tough thing to do to try to find a reason why he wouldn’t be [here opening night].”
You have to give Zucker credit. What was supposed to be minor knee surgery last season turned into a subsequent season-ending one. He had major rehab to do, came in on a two-way contract and still overcame the easy ability for the team to send him down to at least initially make the team out of camp.
Yeo said he also scratched Coyle because after meeting with Erik Haula yesterday to inform the second-year forward how underwhelmed he was with his training camp, “I wanted Haulzy in that spot. Some of the things that we talked about, I wanted him to have a chance to come back and have a strong game today and he did.”
Haula scored a goal, as did Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek on the power play. Jason Pominville had three assists, including the set-up of Koivu’s OT winner. Pominville’s forecheck led to Jordan Leopold’s ghastly turnover and boom, Pominville fed Koivu in front for a deadly winner with 31.2 seconds left.
“[Pominville did all the work basically,” Koivu said.
Pominville led the Wild with eight points in the preseason, while Granlund, Zach Parise and Dumba had five each.
OH, speaking of Dumba, he scored a goal, assist, had three shots and nearly scored twice in overtime in 23:28 of ice time.
Afterward, Yeo said the Wild would need to find “creative reasons” to not put Dumba on Thursday’s opening-night roster.
“[His game], for sure it’s not perfect,” Yeo said. “There’s some areas defensively that we know he can still improve. Sometimes he has tendency to go for the home run when you just have to maybe hit a single.
“But he does some things that are special. We’ve talked about how we want to increase our offense from the back end, and he’s showing us that he can probably help.”
Dumba sure hopes he sticks, saying, “It’s pretty stressful. These last couple days, it plays with your mind. I try to keep my head out of the media (laughing).”
Christian Folin also had another good game.
“Both those guys have had very strong camps,” Yeo said. “It’s hard for me to say they had a bad game let alone a bad period. That’s what you want. Those guys have made things difficult on us.”
Sunday is a day off. Final cuts may come Monday. Justin Fontaine skated on his own today, so he’s ahead of schedule. But he’s expected to start the season on injured reserve.
That means the Wild technically only has to make one more cut.
If Zucker made the team, and Yeo seems to be indicating that in his mind, Dumba and Folin should, the Wild will have to reassign one of Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux, Nate Prosser or Stu Bickel (barring another injury).
Almond played well tonight, I thought, and is on a one-way contract and could go back to Switzerland if he cleared waivers. GM Chuck Fletcher and Yeo have given every indication that they didn’t claim Prosser off waivers to throw him right back on two days later. And Yeo has talked up Bickel’s physicality and ruggedness for three weeks (see the quotes on the last blog). So Veilleux could be the guy unless the Wild shocked us and placed veteran Keith Ballard on waivers.
I’d be beyond shocked at that. But, at this point, it wouldn’t shock me if Ballard starts the season as the seventh defenseman and Dumba and Folin both play Thursday.
Remember, this is the opening-night roster. The Wild will be tinkering all season like all teams, so nothing’s permanent.
But Dumba adds a dynamic to this team that it lacks. He’s a risk-taker and power-play threat every time. And this is a Wild team that wants to improve on last year’s 16th-ranked power play and 24th-ranked offense.
Dumba assisted on four of the Wild’s seven preseason goals.
The Wild’s power play was awesome in the preseason, but Yeo keeps cautioning that this is the preseason and it’s a whole different animal in the regular season when teams are playing their real penalty killers and guys are sacrificing their bodies to get in shooting lanes, etc.
But, Yeo said, “Definitely a lot of things to feel good about.”
He also has a ton of weapons suddenly. Koivu, who had an outstanding game tonight, is one guy who has had to accept a second power-play unit role. He told me after the game it’s up to Yeo what decisions are made and he’ll do whatever’s best for the team. There may be times Vanek has to play the second unit. If Dumba makes the team, Spurgeon may see second unit time.
“Everybody’s been unbelievable about that,” Yeo said. “I think our guys understand that we’re in a different place right now. We have more strengths, we have more weapons. It makes us a better team, it also creates more competition within our group. In the end it all evens out and in the end it’s all going to help each other. We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. The guys have been fantastic about that.”
It wouldn’t shock me if Yeo goes with the vet Niklas Backstrom opening night. We will see. He was real good in St. Louis, had a good camp and the Wild wants to keep him feeling good. Or, maybe they go with Darcy Kuemper and start Backstrom in Denver two nights later, where his numbers are so good in his career.
I think it’ll be a platoon situation early. There aren’t a lot of games and if both these guys aren’t playing games, suddenly you could have a rusty 1B or 2 (whatever you want to call it) on your hands.
Darcy Kuemper gave up four goals on 23 shots tonight, but Yeo said, “it’s hard to sit here and say that Kuemps wasn’t good. The goals that he gave up, he had no chance. Those were big breakdowns and kind of empty nets that he has no chance to recover on. Also including Bryz, our goalies had a good camp. They’re all ready for their opportunity, so we’ll have to make decisions going forward.”
I have got to think Bryzgalov will be offered a two-way deal or AHL deal by the Wild. It’ll be up to him if he accepts or is simply released from his tryout. But the Wild’s not going to keep three goalies, I don’t think. So the only other option is to send Kuemper to Iowa and pay him his NHL salary there, but he did nothing in camp to say he deserves to play in Iowa. If anything, he could warrant being the Wild’s No. 1.
Again, Sunday is a day off and “Monday we’ll be getting down to it,” Yeo said of the roster.
Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center, where I’m pulling an all-dayer before tonight’s Wild-St. Louis Blues preseason finale.
The game can be heard on KFAN and on the @russostrib Twitter Network. THERE IS NO TV!!!
Tonight’s lines for Minnesota:
Kuemper (full 60)
Matt Dumba, Nate Prosser, Cody Almond and Stephane Veilleux are scratched.
Remember, barring another injury, with Josh Harding suspended, Ilya Bryzgalov likely soon off the roster and Justin Fontaine starting on IR, the Wild technically have to make one more cut.
Depends if it wants to start the season with 22 players or 23.
Folin gets tonight’s game. Dumba does not.
Is that an indication that Dumba is on the outside looking in?
Cue Mike Yeo: “Nothing to read into it. I’ve been very happy with Dums’ camp. I didn’t feel this was a game that would change my opinion of what I’ve seen from him.”
Yeo said it’s more that he wants to see the Ballard-Folin pair again. They have played a good bit together, and personally, I think that’ll be the third pairing in Thursday’s opener if Dumba starts the season in the press box or in Iowa.
Yeo again said that tonight’s lineup is not final and whatever the opening night roster is not final. “I don’t know how many times I’ve ever been around where the lineup you see in day one is the same you see on game 27 and so on.”
Couple interesting notes with tonight’s lineup:
-- Bickel is playing fourth-line right wing with Brodziak on the left and Haula on the right. I think at this point it’s very clear Bickel’s going to stick.
Said Yeo, “He brings an element that we’re really lacking, to be honest with you. We’ve got skill in the lineup and we do have some size, but we don’t have a bunch of guys that bring the physical presence that he brings. He’s only played the one game on wing, so we’d like to see how he does out there tonight.”
Ryan Reaves, who is playing tonight, was running around like a madman in St. Louis on Thursday, and I think it made the Wild realize how important it is to have a heavy – so to speak – in the lineup against the physical teams like St. Louis.
“You never want to – so to speak – be caught with your pants down,” Yeo said. “We’ve got some tough teams in our conference, so it’s not our game and we have to make sure we’re not caught up in other people’s games, but at the same time you’ve got to make sure that you’re protecting your guys, too. That’s an element that he’s shown that he’s willing to bring and that’s an element that I know that our players very much respect.”
The former Gopher and Chanhassen native has gotten into three preseason scraps.
Coyle will play center for the second game in a row tonight and for the second game in a row on a line with Zucker and Niederreiter.
Like Bickel, I think Zucker sticks. Yeo likes the Zucker-Coyle chemistry, and thought process with putting Niederreiter there is last year Zucker and Coyle had some good games on a line with a big body and shooter in Dany Heatley.
Yeo admitted the Wild’s very “curious” to see Coyle at center again and it’s “definitely” something the Wild may do to start the season.
On Cooke playing with Vanek and Koivu, Yeo said he likes the speed that Cooke has brought to the line the past few practices. Yeo likes that he gets in on the forecheck, hounds the puck, will be a straight-line player who will drive hard and will get the puck to Koivu and Vanek.
We’ll see if it works. Coyle with Koivu and Vanek certainly didn’t show a lot.
Brett Sutter and Curt Gogol cleared waivers and were assigned to Iowa.
NOOOOO is the answer to all your Nick Leddy tweets. As I have written and said on the radio since last season, Leddy was bound to be traded with the Blackhawks’ cap situation. I never meant to Minnesota. The Wild is not interested for many reasons. One big one: It has a gazillion young guys it needs to re-sign in the next year or so that will get big money, and Leddy is two years from unrestricted free agency and is already making more than $3 million.
It’s just not in the cards. He’ll be dealt soon though.
Couple Wild releases:
MINNESOTA WILD TO HOLD WAKE-UP RALLY ON
KELLOGG AVENUE ON THURSDAY, OCT. 9
TEAM ALSO ANNOUNCES PRE-GAME PARTY OUTSIDE GATE 2 BEGINNING AT 5 P.M.
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild will hold a Wake-Up Rally on Thursday, Oct. 9, from 6-9 a.m. on Kellogg Blvd. in front of Saint Paul RiverCentre. The Wake-Up Rally is available to those traveling westbound on Kellogg Blvd. The Wild also announced that there will be a Pre-Game Party outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center from 5-7:15 p.m. The Wild hosts the Colorado Avalanche in the season opener at 7:30 p.m.
At the Wake-Up Rally, fans on foot or traveling in cars will be treated to a cup of SuperMom’s Coffee courtesy of SuperAmerica, Super Mom’s sugar hockey puck cookies courtesy of Super America, Coca-Cola products, “Home of the Home Ice Advantage” rally towel, a Wild pocket schedule and copies of the newspapers.
The Pre-Game Party includes music, food and beverage, Happy Hour prices, interactive games and more, including the Hockey Lodge Mobile Store.
MINNESOTA WILD TO HOST VIEWING PARTY AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER
FOR OCT. 11 GAME AGAINST COLORADO
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild will host a viewing party at Xcel Energy Center for the team’s game in Colorado against the Avalanche on Saturday, Oct. 11. Gates open at 7:30 p.m., with puck drop in Denver at 8 p.m. The event is free, and open to the public.
Fans can watch the FOX Sports North broadcast on Xcel Energy Center’s new HD video board, six times the size of the old scoreboard. The first 500 fans in attendance will also receive a “Home of the Home Ice Advantage” rally towel. Concessions will be available for purchase.
With one exhibition game left Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues in St. Paul, the Wild is getting down to the nitty-gritty in terms of its roster.
The five guys recalled for Thursday’s game were sent down today, as well as Curt Gogol (waivers) and Gustav Olofsson (expected).
There were effectively two cuts today – forwards Brett Sutter and Michael Keranen. Sutter is on waivers and will be assigned to Iowa if he clears Saturday. Keranen, who eventually does have an out where he can return to Finland, is willing to give Iowa a try.
As I mentioned the past week, strength is the only issue with him and just adjusting to the NHL rink. He’s not a fourth-liner and since there’s no room on the power play, the Wild felt it was better to get him to Iowa and get him playing. With him, Mike Yeo said it’s fit. There’s not too many players in the Wild organization (not in Minnesota) with Keranen’s vision and skill, so if the Wild loses a top-9 winger or power-play guy, Keranen would be one of the first guys to call up.
Sutter was on for a couple goals last season and he was competing with Cody Almond for one spot. Almond is on a one-way contract, which gives him the inside track, plus he can head back to Switzerland if he doesn’t make the team. And since the Wild doesn’t have a lot of centers to call up if there’s an injury, I just don’t think the Wild’s willing to let what is its fifth-best center leave.
So, here’s the deal: The roster is at 27. Josh Harding will be a non-roster injured player, putting it at 26. As of now, there likely isn’t room for Ilya Bryzgalov (barring something unforeseen Saturday; hey, this is the Wild, so anything’s possible), so he’ll have a decision: My guess is the Wild will offer him a two-way contract or an AHL contract (AHL contract may actually be better for him because then it gives him flexibility if somebody comes calling). If he accepts, he’ll go to Iowa eventually. If he doesn’t, he’ll be released from his tryout.
Regardless, Bryzgalov’s departure in some capacity puts the roster at 25 – two more than the maximum. Justin Fontaine will start on injured reserve.
That means technically the Wild only has to make one more cut if it plans to keep the maximum 23 guys.
The roster hopefuls left: left wing Jason Zucker, right wing Stu Bickel (he played wing today; more on this below), left wing Stephane Veilleux, Almond and defensemen Christian Folin and Matt Dumba. It is very clear that Nate Prosser is not considered a roster hopeful. He is sticking for now.
I think Zucker has made the team. Same thing with Almond. So, the Wild can either keep Folin AND Dumba or risk waivers with one of either Bickel or Veilleux. Of those two, I think Veilleux would be the one because of how much the Wild values Bickel’s ability to play up front and the blue line and his toughness.
But again, if Folin and Dumba both aren’t in the top-six consistently, it would be one of them to eventually go. But technically, there is room for both.
“They’re making it tough,” Yeo said. “It’s not like one guy’s pulled ahead from the other. It’s not like both guys are not playing well. Both guys have made a case to be not only one of our top six but both of them are making us think do we need to put both these guys in the lineup?”
Folin said, “I think I’ve been making small adjustments to my game, getting better every game here. Four or five games I’ve played now and Traverse City, too. It definitely helped going to Traverse City to get my lungs going, but overall I feel I’m getting better.”
On whether he wakes up every day worried he’ll still be here, Folin said, “I just try to show up every day like I’m in the NHL right now. I mean, why not enjoy it?”
Dumba said of the stress of trying to make the team, “It’s part of hockey. You get a little stressed, but you can’t really focus on that. I’m here right now. That’s all that counts. I’ve been pretty happy with my camp. I thought I’ve played well. I’ve done well on the power play and made some plays out there. I feel a lot more confident this year. I feel like there’s a lot of little things in my game that are a lot better that maybe the regular eye doesn’t see, but I hope the coaching staff and everyone else does.”
On Prosser, Yeo said he plans to talk to Prosser. “I just want him to have a bit of patience because we do have some things to sort out [with Folin and Dumba] and I know Pross’ game and I know he can come in and be a very good player for us.”
But he won’t play Saturday and probably not in Thursday’s opener vs. the Avs.
With Prosser, it’s about trust. “I know he’s going to compete, I know that he’s going to play the system, I know he’s going to be very difficult to play against. He’s a tough guy in front of the net and a tough guy to get scoring chances against. That’s something that all the coaches value greatly and he’s a big part of our dressing room, too, so we’re happy to have him back.”
Prosser said, “It feels like I never left, like nothing’s changed. Same exact stall. It literally feels like I just went somewhere for two weeks and skated with a few different guys and came back right where I was. Good to be back.”
Prosser said reality set in when his two girls woke up this morning and he was there in the same house.
Assistant coach Andrew Brunette joked, according to Yeo, that it felt like the movie, Saving Private Ryan: “Saving Private Prosser. Go behind enemy lines. We smuggled him out and brought him back on the flight home for us. I coached Pross a long tme. Happy to have him back.”
Yeo said with the demotions, “I guess the message is there’s nothing permanent, and that message also goes to the guys that are here. Nothing’s permanent. This is where we’re at today.”
Bickel played right wing in the skate today. Yeo said that’s where he’ll stay unless he needs him back at the blue line. One reason is it opens the door for Dumba and Folin and Prosser, but I also wonder if Yeo saw what havoc physical forwards like Ryan Reaves and Paul Bissonnette caused last night and wonders if Bickel can play that role on the fourth line with Fontaine injured.
Haula centered the fourth line today. After those early scrimmages, Haula’s camp hasn’t been very good. He had a very bad game in Pittsburgh and struggled last night.
Yeo admitted today that he’s not happy with Haula’s camp, talked to him on the bench during last night’s game and planned to pull him in his office after today’s practice.
“We have to remember with Haulzy and it’s important that he remembers it too, he hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet. So we can’t be too quick to throw the world at him and we can’t be too quick to get down on him. He’s still a young player who’s developing.”
Yeo said the fourth line role today wasn’t a message, but in the next breath, he said he was rewarding guys who have been playing the way the team expects.
Haula said of his camp, “It’s been tough. I feel like I’ve done good things and I’ve also been a little inconsistent maybe. Good thing it’s preseason. I know what I’m capable of, I know what my identity is and what my job is. I’ve just got to play strong and keep my mind strong and just get ready for the next practice and the next game.
“There’s been times where I haven’t played as well as I wanted to play. It’s preseason, thank God, luckily. I still have a few practices and a game hopefully to get ready and get going.”
Trust me, DO NOT freak out about all this Haula stuff. He will be fine. He will have a significant role. This isn’t Yeo picking on him. This is just a coach making sure that a very important player on this team wakes up and gets his game in order.
But Haula is a second-year pro and still has to earn his place. And his game in Pittsburgh was, by his own admission, awful (three glaring turnovers). And last night, he had one scoring chance, but he was on for the tying goal and just did not play well. He has got to play better, and as we all have seen, can play better.
Speaking of turnovers, Almond is still trying to get out of some bad habits. He has had some big boo-boos, but for the most part, Yeo seems improvement in his quickness and pace of play and playmaking ability. But he wants him to lose some of these big-ice habits and fit more with the Wild’s style of game.
Darcy Kuemper will start Saturday. Yeo didn’t tell us yet the rest of Saturday’s lineup. He indicated it will largely be the NHL lineup (and frankly, it should, because in my opinion, the only game we saw the Wild play most its lineup was earlier this week against Pittsburgh, and despite three third-period goals by Jason Pominville, I thought the played terribly).
But Yeo indicated some guys in Saturday’s lineup will be there because “we have to finish answering questions we need answered.”
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