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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Posts about Wild off-season news

Wild prospects set to begin play in Traverse City; Wild snippets

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 5, 2013 - 10:26 AM

Matt Dumba, Erik Haula, Zack Phillips and several other Wild prospects are in Traverse City, Mich., today through Monday to play in a prospects tournament with Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus and the Rangers.

The Wild plays Detroit tonight, St. Louis on Friday, Dallas on Sunday afternoon. On Monday will be the 7th- and 5th-place games, the consolation game and the championship game. As far as I know, these games can't be seen on TV, radio or the Interweb, but I'll try to keep half an eyeball on it.

It should be a good tournament for the Wild. It'll be interesting to see how players like Dumba and Haula do -- two players that have shots at cracking the Wild's 23-man roster out of training camp. The Wild hopes to see vast improvement from Bulmer and Phillips this month as both are considered still big parts of the Wild future and hopefully callup material this year. Bulmer, however, continues to rehab from a knee injury and stayed in Minnesota.

Other prospects in this tournament turning pro and Iowa bound this season include Raphael Bussieres, Johan Gustafsson and Tyler Graovac. The Wild will also decide this month whether to sign Kurtis Gabriel and have him start his pro career in Iowa or return him to Owen Sound for his overrage year.

Training camp begins Wednesday for the Wild with fitness testing and physicals. The Wild will be on the ice the first time a week from today at Ridder Arena before moving to the X. The Wild hosts Columbus on Sept. 17 in its first exhibition game of a six-game schedule. And remember, the Wild still plans a quick getaway/bonding trip after the final exhibition game Sept. 27 in St. Louis. It would likely be Sept. 29-30. Originally, the Wild was thinking Duluth or Brainerd, but it's keeping this top secret for now.

The training camp roster and schedule will be announced soon.

Most Wild players are in town and are skating today and Friday in Edina before moving to the X Monday and Tuesday. The Wild also has a team golf outing Monday.

I met Nino Niederreiter yesterday. He looked outstanding on the ice and definitely has a swagger to him. Mikael Granlund also looked very, very good. but he typically does in these informal NHL skates. We'll see how he looks in camp.

As I wrote on the blog a few days ago, Jason Pominville looks good, feels good and is in the midst of contract negotiations for an extension.

One bit of injury news: veteran left wing Mike Rupp still hasn't been cleared to play from his offseason knee surgery. He is skating alone, but he hasn't been in drills or informal skates yet, so it's still up in the air as to whether or not he'll be ready for the start of training camp.

Here is your prospect tourney Wild roster:

82 Olivier Archambault 5-11 192 Left 2/16/93 Le Gardeur, Quebec Drummondville QMJHL 64 32 34 66 56 INVITEE
54 Brett Bulmer 6-4 214 Right 4/26/92 Prince George, B.C. Houston AHL 43 4 3 7 41 EN/10
71 Raphael Bussieres 6-1 198 Left 11/5/93 Longueuil, Quebec Baie-Comeau QMJHL 60 29 39 68 43 EN/12
68 Josh Caron 6-4 216 Right 2/10/91 Campbell River, B.C. Orlando ECHL 25 1 1 2 41 FA/10
47 Rhyse Dieno 5-10 172 Right 7/3/93 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Red Deer WHL 48 27 32 59 8 INVITEE
67 Marshall Everson 6-2 220 Left 9/5/90 Edina, Minnesota Harvard ECAC 32 11 5 16 16 INVITEE
62 Kurtis Gabriel 6-4 214 Right 4/20/93 New Market, Ontario Owen Sound OHL 67 13 15 28 100 EN/13
53 Tyler Graovac 6-5 196 Left 4/27/93 Brampton, Ontario Ottawa/Belleville OHL 60 38 35 73 18 EN/11
56 Erik Haula 5-11 192 Left 3/23/91 Pori, Finland U. Minnesota WCHA 37 16 35 51 14 EN/09
81 Colton Heffley 6-3 213 Right 5/27/94 Swift Current, Saskatchewan Kelowna WHL 68 6 21 27 77 INVITEE
83 Zane Jones 6-3 219 Left 6/8/94 Olds, Alberta Calgary WHL 69 21 23 44 51 INVITEE
52 Miles Koules 5-11 190 Right 6/25/94 Los Angeles, California Medicine Hat WHL 69 19 21 40 18 INVITEE
61 Zack Phillips 6-0 196 Right 10/28/92 Fredericton, New Brunswick Houston AHL 71 8 19 27 10 EN/11
80 Carter Sandlak 6-2 205 Left 5/18/93 Vancouver, British ColumbiaBelleville OHL 60 9 14 23 98 INVITEE
75 Ben Walker 5-11 186 Right 6/21/93 Fargo, North Dakota Victoria WHL 59 19 33 52 54 INVITEE
38 Corbin Baldwin 6-5 215 Left 2/5/91 Winnipeg, Manitoba Orlando ECHL 38 0 5 5 49 INVITEE
73 Alex Basso 6-1 183 Right 6/15/93 Toronto, Ontario Sarnia OHL 57 11 33 44 49 INVITEE
76 Jason Beattie 6-3 205 Right 9/13/88 Newmarket, Ontario Niagara University AHA 25 3 4 7 32 INVITEE
57 Cody Corbett 6-1 194 Left 12/14/93 Lakeland, Minnesota Edmonton WHL 71 7 35 42 48 INVITEE
43 Mathew Dumba 6-0 181 Right 7/25/94 Regina, Saskatchewan Red Deer WHL 62 16 26 42 80 EN/12
74 Colton Jobke 6-1 190 Left 4/20/92 Delta, British Columbia Regina WHL 31 3 15 18 58 FA/10
78 Dylan Labbe 6-1 190 Left 1/19/95 St. George, Quebec Shawinigan QMJHL 61 7 21 28 57 EN/13
79 Jeremy Price 6-1 190 Right 9/26/90 Milton, Ontario Colgate ECAC 36 6 14 20 12 INVITEE
50 Alexandre Belanger 6-1 184 Left 8/19/95 Sherbrooke, Quebec Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL 44 24-13-4 1 3.46 .875 EN/13
70 Johan Gustafsson 6-2 202 Left 2/28/92 Koping, Sweden Lulea HF Sweden 33 20-13-0 4 1.79 .932 EN/10

Hockey Day Minnesota lineup set

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 4, 2013 - 11:36 AM

The Handke Pit in Elk River will be the site of the outdoor high school games for Hockey Day Minnesota on Jan. 18.

Fox Sports North will have the day's games on television, concluding with the Wild-Dallas game from Xcel Energy Center.

The Gophers-Ohio State men's game at Mariucci is also on the card; the teams play the previous day in an outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium that was announced yesterday.

Here's the lineup:

Rochester Lourdes vs. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (boys), 10:15 a.m. at Handke Pit, Elk River

Elk River vs. Stillwater (boys), 1 p.m., Handke Pit

Elk River vs. Anoka girls (*tape delay on FS North), 4 p.m., Handke Pit

Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey vs. Ohio State, Mariucci Arena, 5 p.m.

Wild vs. Dallas Stars, Xcel Energy Center, 8 p.m.

Pominville extension talks going "back and forth"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 3, 2013 - 4:15 PM
One month from today, the Wild opens the 2013-14 season against the Los Angeles Kings.
By the end of the week, most players on the Wild should be in town and on the same sheet of ice. Players have been skating at multiple locations, but starting Wednesday, the Wild players plan to combine forces and skate together as other NHLers continue to head back to their NHL cities. Kyle Brodziak, Torrey Mitchell, Clayton Stoner, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Niklas Backstrom, Nate Prosser and others should be joining the Octagon crew.
There were a lot fewer NHLers from other teams down at the Octagon camp today. Some players still in town today were Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, the Rangers’ unsigned Derek Stepan, Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin, Buffalo’s John Scott, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone, Montreal’s David Drewiske and others.
From the Wild, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Matt Cooke, Keith Ballard, Stephane Veilleux and Josh Harding, wearing these snazzy new red pads, skated at Octagon.
Short a defenseman because guys like Jake Gardiner, Dustin Byfuglien, Alex Goligoski, Matt Carle and Matt Gilroy weren’t there, Cooke, a left wing, played defense as Ballard’s partner and looked comfortable there impressively enough.
Last week, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher joined me at the Star Tribune booth for a 30-minute Q and A with Wild fans and Star Tribune readers. Fletcher was optimistic about the team, said the Wild should be more of a “well-oiled machine” after a proper training camp this month (camp starts Sept. 11, last camp was a week long due to the lockout) and talked a lot about the prospects of guys like Coyle, Zucker, Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula and Matt Dumba making the team. All will be given great looks, and Dumba would have a real quality chance if he proves himself in camp because the Wild can keep him up to nine games without burning a year of his deal. Dumba is 19, leaves for Traverse City on Wednesday with the rest of the prospects for the rookie tournament and must either make the Wild or return to Red Deer of the WHL. Because of his age, he cannot play in Iowa. Jonas Brodin was able to play in Houston as a teenager because he was not a Canadian Hockey Leaguer.
Fletcher talked about the need for players like Brodziak to have bounceback years and says the “time is now” for Marco Scandella to prove himself. Stuff like that.
Two weeks ago, the Wild had organizational meetings, and as of now, Fletcher said it’s the teams decision not to invite any player in for a pro tryout. For instance, former Wild left wing Guillaume Latendresse signed one today with Phoenix.
Pro tryouts don’t bind players to teams, and with lots of free agents still available, Fletcher said he’d prefer to not bring anybody in and potentially block the ability of a young player to make the team. If this month Fletcher determines the Wild needs to sign a player due to his young kids not being ready or injury, “we can quickly make adjustments,” he said.
There are plenty of options so far.
I talked this morning with Pominville, and as Fletcher said during last week’s Q and A, he has begun talking more often with Pominville’s agent regarding a contract extension.
Pominville, the former Buffalo Sabres captain acquired April 3 for two prospects and two draft picks, including the Wild’s 2013 first-round pick, is entering the last year of his contract.
“They’ve talked a few times for sure and are going back and forth about what the plans are,” Pominville said. “We’ll just go day by day and see if both sides can make progress and go from there.”
Pominville, 30, would like to stay in Minnesota long-term.
“They committed to getting me, so just that means a lot to me and being part of a group that is committed to having success and being in a city that loves hockey, that makes it even better,” he said. “I want to stay and be part of what they’re building.”
Pominville says he is completely 100 percent from sustaining a head injury and whiplash from that Dustin Brown elbow with three games left in the regular season. Pominville missed the last two games of the regular season and first three games of the playoffs. When he returned, he admits he wasn’t himself, not because he wasn’t healthy, but because he hadn’t practiced since the injury.
Pominville scored four goals and nine points in 10 games after being traded. Minnesota doesn’t make the playoffs without him, frankly. He scored two goals and two assists in two games vs. Columbus, which was huge when you consider the Wild won a tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs. The April 13 game against Columbus, Pominville tied it and forced overtime with 3:15 left.
He is excited though about a full training camp with his new team.
“What’s going to be nice is to be able to really start from scratch and get to know the systems from the start,” Pominville said. “You get thrown into the action after being traded and trying to learn here and there. And with our schedule last year, we didn’t have time to even practice, and even when we did, they were so light, there was not much system work going on. This year throughout camp, I’ll be able to learn a little more and get to know the system a little more and even get to know the guys better.”
I’ve gotten a lot of questions, by the way, if Pominville could be the answer at No. 2 center. He did play some center in today’s skate, but he joked that was only because Veilleux didn’t want to take a lot of draws. Pominville is a winger, plain and simple. He can take draws, but he’s not a center.
Most likely on Day One of camp, coach Mike Yeo will have Pominville on the right of Parise and Koivu and really look at Coyle and Granlund throughout camp at No. 2 center. But we’ll see lots of line combinations in camp, so get ready.
Pominville, a Canadian with dual citizenship, did say he was disappointed the U.S. didn’t invite him to orientation camp for the Olympics late last month in Virginia. Parise and Ryan Suter were there. But GM David Poile told me Pominville is “back on the board” and will be scouted heavily the first three months of the season.
Lastly, my deepest condolences to longtime Russoville reader and supporter Nick In New York on the loss of his father. NiNY wrote an incredible blog on their relationship the other day. I am humbled that I was mentioned and it meant a lot, but I want to post the link here because it’s an amazingly special tribute to his dad, the bond they shared and proves yet again how special the sport of hockey is to so many of us. Please give a read.

Wild unveils new white road jersey

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 1, 2013 - 11:47 AM

In front of a large crowd this morning at the State Fair, Wild forwards Stephane Veilleux and Nino Niederreiter unveiled the Wild's long anticipated new white road jersey.

From the news release: "The new road jersey follows the more classic design style of the red home jersey unveiled in 2003 and the green alternate jersey unveiled in 2009. The jersey keeps the primary Wild logo at the center of the sweater and features Iron Range Red numbers and collar, including Minnesota Wild text hidden on the inside of the collar. Additional features of the new jersey are Forest Green lettering, a traditional lace-up collar in classic Wild Forest Green and the Wild circle crest as a shoulder patch. The new road uniforms include Forest Green stripes on the arms and waist of the jersey, as well as on the new white socks."

The jersey can be seen above -- as modeled by Zach Parise. The jerseys are available at all Wild Hockey Lodge locations exclusively Tuesday through Saturday. It can then be purchased at stateofhockeystore.com.

The Wild will wear the jersey for the first time Sept. 19 during an exhibition game at Winnipeg.




Question for Chuck Fletcher? Come to State Fair today; More on Brunette and the power play

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 29, 2013 - 8:21 AM
If you’re a Wild fan and down at the State Fair today, please stop by the Star Tribune booth at 12:30 p.m. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be joining me for a Q and A. We will open it up to the audience, too. If you can't come, please leave questions in the comment section and I will ask a few. The Q and A will also be live-streamed on the web site and highlights will appear on the site later on.
In today’s newspaper, I have an article (can be read here) about former Wild left wing Andrew Brunette, the Wild’s advisor to the hockey operations department who will add power-play consultant to his repertoire this upcoming season.
Nobody has been on the ice for more power-play goals in Wild history, so coach Mike Yeo called “Bruno” an “invaluable resource.”
In concert, Brunette and Yeo will come up with the power-play units. Several will be tried in training camp, which begins Sept. 11.
“We can’t figure that out because we don’t know who will be here yet,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to find out if [Mikael Granlund’s] going to be here, if [Jason Zucker] is going to be here and so on. [Nino] Niederreiter, too. A [newcomer] like him, we don’t really know enough about yet.”
As of now, Brunette says he doesn’t plan any dramatic changes. For instance, the power play won’t be quarterbacked from, say, behind the net, which was Brunette’s specialty.
He plans tweaks and he plans to sit down with some of the key power-play guys on the Wild and kick around ideas with them.
“The power play is a finicky thing,” Brunette said. “It seems if it’s not scoring, it really gets bashed and if you are scoring and still not doing the right things, it’s let go. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to explain what makes a good and bad power play. You can talk about shots on goal, puck possession, but at the end of the day, if the puck’s in the net, it’s valued as successful.”
Last year, the Wild’s power play improved from 27th in the NHL in Mike Yeo’s first season to 16th. However, it went 0 for 17 in the playoffs and despite being the second-best power play on the road during the regular season, it ranked a lowly 28th at home.
Brunette has some ideas. So does Yeo. They’ll be looking to generate more quality shots, get more shots through without being blocked and improve on the overall net-front presence of the team.
“I think our whole game can be better, but especially [our net-front play] on the power play,” Brunette said. “It has to be a mentality everybody has to take. It can’t just be one guy that stands in front of the net.”
Brunette still has several duties for hockey ops, like scouting and heading to Des Moines to work with the prospects. So Brunette won’t take over the power play as a whole because sometimes he won’t be around.
But Yeo said everything about the power play will be discussed with Brunette and when he’s in town and Yeo feels it’s time to work the power play significantly on the ice, Brunette will take the ice.
At July’s development camp, Brunette donned a coach’s track suit with director of player development Brad Bombardir to work with the prospects. He had a blast.
“I really enjoyed that, and it was very fulfilling working with the kids and trying to find things to help them out and be a little bit better,” Brunette said.
Yeo first talked to Brunette about taking over the power play around the draft in June. They talked more about it a few weeks ago to determine how it would work.
Assistant coach Darryl Sydor used to run the power play, but Yeo wants to use Sydor in other areas.
“I really want to concentrate on individual work, skill work, getting on the ice early, video or even spending more time with the players this year,” Yeo said. “I can’t do everything. As much as I’d love to, the head coach doesn’t have as much opportunity to do the one-on-one work that quite often you wish to do.
“A lot of that falls on the assistants, so this is about freeing up time for Syd to spend more time with the players. It’s something that he’s really strong at.”
Below is a chart that wound up not squeezing into today’s newspaper. Also, see you at the Fair. Please stop by!
Lastly, Avery Peterson, the Wild's sixth-round pick and Grand Rapids native, has committed to Nebraska-Omaha, the Duluth News Tribune reports. He was recruited by St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State. As of the draft, he planned to play at Sioux City of the USHL this upcoming season.
Also, Bjorn Krupp -- Uwe Krupp's son -- will clear unconditional waivers today so the Wild can officially terminate his contract. Paper move.
Andrew Brunette, who has been on the ice for more power-play goals (216) in Wild history and ranks second in Wild history with 55 power-play goals, is the team’s new power-play consultant. Brunette scored 114 career power-play goals, and his 108 from 1998-99 to 2011-12 ranked 15th in the NHL during that span. Here are some facts about the Wild’s power play:
Power play under coach Mike Yeo:
2011-12: Ranked 27th overall (15.1 percent); ranked 13th at home, 30th on the road)
2012-13: Ranked 16th overall (17.9 percent); ranked 28th at home, 2nd on the road)
Dany Heatley: Since 2001-02, the Wild right wing leads the NHL with 139 power-play goals. (Ilya Kovalchuk 138, Teemu Selanne 133, Jarome Iginla 128 and Alex Ovechkin 127). The Wild scored five power-play goals in 17 games after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury April 3.
Mikko Koivu: Scored no power-play goals last season  but 13 power-play assists. Ranks fourth in Wild history with 36 power-play goals, first with 109 power-play points and tied with Marian Gaborik for first with 145 power-play points. Has been on the ice for 191 power-play goals, fourth in Wild history.
Zach Parise and Jason Pominville: Combined for 101 career power-play goals.

Ryan Suter: In his first season with the Wild, he had 12 power-play assists and 15 power-play points.



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