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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The Wild is bringing Stephane Veilleux up from Iowa today, and sending Jason Zucker back to its American Hockey League team. A third forward, Carson McMillan, was also reassigned to Iowa.
McMillan and Zucker were called up for last night's game. Zucker struggled a bit in a 3-2 loss at Nashville, and McMillan didn't play.
Veilleux is a 31-year-old feisty veteran who could give the winless team some spark in Thursday's game against Winnipeg.
Second-line center Charlie Coyle will miss 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee, the Wild announced tonight. The injury occurred with 8:54 left in the second period Saturday against Anaheim when Coyle was checked in the neutral zone by the Ducks' Andrew Cogliano.
This is a huge blow for Coyle and the 0-0-2 Wild. Coyle won the second-line center position early in an outstanding training camp, one in which he scored three goals in five exhibition games.
"It's not an ideal situation, but I'm fortunate it's nothing worse than it is," Coyle said. "I'm going to keep a positive mindset and I'm looking forward to recovering and doing everything I can to be healthy again."
In response to the Coyle injury, one week after Jason Zucker was the final cut in training camp, the 2010 second-round pick was recalled from AHL Iowa before even playing his first game.
Zucker, the speedster left wing, scored four goals in 20 games last season and an overtime winner in the playoffs.
Coach Mike Yeo says it's too early to determine the plans going forward and the Wild felt it was time to give Zucker a shot, but my guess:
Mikael Granlund will move to second-line center with Zucker on the left and either Dany Heatley or Nino Niederreiter on the right. Kyle Brodziak will center Matt Cooke and either Niederreiter or Heatley.
Perhaps we'll learn more at Monday morning's practice. The team practices in the Twin Cities before flying to Nashville for Tuesday's game.
The NHL has experimented all preseason with hybrid icing after league GM's recommended the rule change back in June. After a survey among NHL Players' Association members (i.e. the players) this past weekend, hybrid icing has finally been approved in the NHL.
The NHL was the only league that had a full-on race for the puck.
As Wild fans know, former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster sustained a horrific injury in March 2008 in San Jose when he was hit from behind accidently by now-Wild winger Torrey Mitchell as Foster went back to touch up an icing.
Foster broke his femur and it sent his career into flux. In a class move, former Wild GM Doug Risebrough re-signed Foster even though Risebrough knew Foster wouldn't be close to ready by the next season. But it gave Foster motivation to rehab and he indeed worked his way back to play the final six games of the 2008-09 season.
Foster's injury led to a slight rule change -- a two-minute minor if a player going back to beat out an icing hit his opponent with the sole purpose of not going after the puck.
But Foster, now playing in the KHL, had long campaigned for no-touch or hybrid icing, particularly after Carolina's Joni Pitkanen broke his ankle in several places late last season. If you remember, an angry Foster sent me a flurry of comments he asked me to tweet and write at the time.
Well, Pitkanen's season is over for Carolina and his career is in jeopardy. I texted Foster a little bit ago, but it's late out in wherever he is over the ocean. When I hear back, I'll add his thoughts.
Here is the press release:
NHL TO IMPLEMENT HYBRID ICING FOR 2013-14 SEASON
NEW YORK/TORONTO (September 30, 2013) -- The National Hockey League
Players’ Association (NHLPA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today that
Hybrid Icing will be implemented for the commencement of the 2013-14 regular season. The
Hybrid Icing rule had been tested during the 2013-14 preseason.
“After testing hybrid icing during the preseason games, the players participated in a
survey and a majority of teams supported this rule change in an effort to make the game
safer,” said Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director. “We are
hopeful that the implementation of the hybrid icing rule, which is a middle ground between the
old rule and no-touch icing, will help minimize the incidence of Player injuries on icing plays.”
The Icing Rule now reads Rule 81.1 – Icing:
For the purpose of this rule, the center red line will divide the ice into halves.
Should any player of a team, equal or superior in numerical strength (power-play)
to the opposing team, shoot, bat or deflect the puck from his own half of the ice
beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play shall be stopped. For the purpose
of deflected pucks, this only applies when the puck was originally propelled down
the ice by the offending team.
For the purpose of this rule, the point of last contact with the puck by the team in
possession shall be used to determine whether icing has occurred or not. As such,
the team in possession must “gain the line” in order for the icing to be nullified.
“Gaining the line” shall mean that the puck, while on the player’s stick (not the
player’s skate) must make contact with the center red line in order to nullify a
For the purpose of interpretation of the rule, there are two judgments required for
"icing the puck". The Linesman must first determine that the puck will cross the
goal line. Once the Linesman determines that the puck will cross the goal line, icing
is completed upon the determination as to which player (attacking or defending)
would first touch the puck. This decision by the Linesman will be made the instant
the first player reaches the end zone face-off dots with the player's skate being the
determining factor. Should the puck be shot down the ice in such a manner that it
travels around the boards and/or back towards the end zone face-off dots, the
same procedure shall be in effect in that the Linesman shall determine within a
similar distance as to who will have touched the puck first.
For clarification, the determining factor is which player would first touch the puck,
not which player would first reach the end zone face-off dots.
If the race for the puck is too close to determine by the time the first Player reaches
the end zone face-off dots, icing shall be called.
The puck striking or deflecting off an official does not automatically nullify a potential icing.
Following today's moves to send Jason Zucker and Jake Dowell to Iowa, here is the Wild's anticipated 22-man opening roster and lineup Thursday night vs. Los Angeles (this is barring transactions; the fact the Wild sent Jake Dowell down, too, opens the door to perhaps a waiver pickup Monday):
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Dany Heatley
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Mikael Granlund
Justin Fontaine-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Injured: Mike Rupp (knee)
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba
Extras: Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser
Fontaine will make his NHL debut; Yeo said there's a good chance of Dumba as well.
Fontaine is very excited to make the team, and both Fontaine and Dumba say they're not taking anything for granted. They know nothing is cemented in stone. Dumba said he's well aware he can still be returned to Red Deer before he plays in a 10th game without the first year of his contract being burned.
Zucker tweeted: @Jason_Zucker16: Nobody to blame but myself.. Have to be better and will be better! See you soon Minnesota! #JustWait #MNWild
As for Zucker, I'm shocked at frankly the shock out there. It's been clear the last four days that he was on thin ice. He got hurt at the wrong time in camp and was outperformed by Nino Niederreiter for the second-line left wing spot -- for now. He can be back at anytime.
As for Mikael Granlund, he had a great camp, looks faster, grittier and stronger. If you have two shooters on the second power-play unit in Coyle and Niederreiter, Granlund makes sense because he's a puck distributor. Zucker is another shooter. The Wild also has concerns with Zucker's defensive game, and although he scored a playoff OT winner in Game 3, he didn't produce down the stretch of last season. This is all in the Wild's mind.
Again though, he will play games here this season. He's 21 years old. The AHL is a developmental league and most the great players in this league have played in the AHL. He hasn't even had to spend a full year in the minors (55 games), so chill.
Here are Mike Yeo's thoughts on today's moves, particularly sending Zucker down:
Zucker conversation: Obviously everybody’s goal is to be here, so you’d be pretty concerned if a player was happy or didn’t show some disappointment. As far as Zuck, it really comes down to we’re not prepared to put him on the fourth line right now and we’re not prepared to have him be a healthy scratch. What you saw on the ice today was us gearing up for Game 1 and we’re really not focused on anything beyond that.
Nino and Granlund: He earned it, as far as I’m concerned, the games that he played. We like what he can add to the [Coyle-Heatley line]. Playing against a team like L.A., we’ve got a bigger body. You’ve got a guy that can shoot, a guy that can skate, a guy that can handle the puck. He played like a top-6 forward in training camp and we’re giving him that opportunity up there. Granny had a good camp, too. We spent the entire camp really looking at him as a centerman. We feel we can get a lot out of him as a winger, too. He had a good camp. He showed that he’s battled harder, he’s showed that he’s faster, defensively he did a very good job for us, and we feel he can be a good complement to the [Cooke-Brodziak] line. You have two guys with size and two guys that play a strong, hard game, so we feel putting a guy there with Granny’s ability to distribute the puck, it could complement that line plus give Granny a bigger role.
Message to Zucker: Just make sure you’re on top of his game because we don’t know when it’s going to be. We know that he’s there and to be perfectly honest, I like the idea that everybody on our team knows that he’s there. It shouldn’t be too difficult to make sure that you’re ready to go knowing that there’s a guy like that waiting in the wings.
Fontaine: He seems like he’s the kind of guy that you can move in different parts of your lineup. He plays an intelligent game, he can play well with the puck, he can execute, he can make some plays, but at the same time, he can play well positionally. It makes him the kind of guy you can put in different parts of the lineup. Plus, he’s the kind of guy that I don’t think we’re going to have a ton of concern right now playing him on the fourth line or third line. He’s at a point in his development where we don’t have to really stress about making sure he gets too much. The next step for him is playing at the NHL level and developing there
Interchangeable parts: Or Granny can go up, or Granny can play center. It even gives us some flexibility even in the game. Having Granny in the lineup is also big for our power play. It gives us flexibility through the course of the game and night to night to throw out different look.
Dowell: The message was pretty clear. We’re being honest with it that our focus is sort of for this game -- getting ready for this week and then thing can change in hurry.
Not carrying an extra forward to save salary cap/proximity of Iowa: But also it doesn’t help anybody to sit around and not play. So it's just a matter of Iowa is close and they're playing the same game, the same system, so let's just concentrate on the group that we're going in with. So to have anybody up here who's not going to play and just sit around and be an extra, it doesn't help the guys that are in the lineup and it doesn't help them.
Dumba NHL debut Thursday: I would say there's a good chance of that.
How will you use him: Again, this is a game one focus for us with this group. With the amount of young guys that we have, I think it just has to be something that we stay on top of night after night.
Prove himself being one of the best defenseman in St. Louis: He played his gap, his skating ability, makes him a tough guy to play against defensively. There's still some things that he can get a little better at with some teaching and some time here he'll continue to get better at that. What it comes down to is his ability to move the puck, his ability to get in the play. We're a team that needs to generate more from the offensive blue line and he's a guy that has the ability to.
What do you want to accomplish the next four days: Well, bigger picture things. Obviously there's tactical parts that we want to get into. We've got the team building trip which will be nice. Bottom line is our main focus is on pace, making sure that we're doing things at game speed, the speed that we want to play games at when we drop the puck on Thursday. Number two is the competitiveness. You saw a lot of battle in our practice today. Number three would be the detail and the habits. And number four would be the execution -- just making sure that we're sharp and crisp and we have a good feeling going into game one.
How fluid will the lineup be: Most of the time, you're not making a lot of changes to your lineup when things are going really well. So I hope that we play 82 in a row with the same lineup (laughing). But I don't think that that's going to happen. And even at that, we won't be afraid to change the lineup if we win. We won't be afraid to change the lineup if we lose because we've got moving parts. Because we've got guys that are capable of playing different positions and guys that are capable of pushing. So I think that's going to be interesting following the story line of that as things go on. Again, we don't know what it's going to look like in Game 5. We know what it will look like in Game 1.
How do you keep from getting stale next four days: We're going to back off a little tomorrow. Obviously today was a very tough practice and we're going to back off tomorrow so we can ramp it back up on Tuesday.
The Wild has assigned Jason Zucker and Jake Dowell to Iowa of the American Hockey League, trimming its roster to 22 players this morning.
Obviously disappointed, Zucker left the Xcel Energy Center with his bag and sticks and declined to comment.
Again, as the Wild has said over and over this camp, in its mind, whoever didn't make the opening-night roster simply won't be in the lineup opening night vs. L.A. on Thursday. It's not, "not making the team."
With Iowa in such close proximity and so many players on contracts that allow the Wild to send them up and down freely, this could happen for some time.
Zucker will be back at some point. But against big, tough L.A., coach Mike Yeo must feel he needs rugged Zenon Konopka in the lineup, meaning one of the kids will be scratched.
Zucker would be that guy. He's admitted to feeling sore since his groin injury, Mikael Granlund has also had a quality camp and the second power play has two shooters in Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Zucker is a shooter, Granlund a puck distributor.
We haven't talked to Yeo or GM Chuck Fletcher, but to send Dowell down and go below the maximum 23, the Wild is likely looking to save precious salary-cap space since Dowell would be the clear extra forward. This also would allow the Wild to sign David Steckel at any time if it wants.
So, as of now, UMD-Bulldog Justin Fontaine is on the team. Same with Granlund, Niederreiter and Matt Dumba.
And of course, Coyle.
By the way, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are practicing today here at the X, as well as Torrey Mitchell. The Wild heads to Duluth for two days after practice.
Opening Night roster as of now (must be submitted at 4 p.m. Monday)
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville
Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell
Mikael Granlund-Zenon Konopka-Nino Niederreiter
(If it were me, I'd switch Fontaine and Niederreiter, but Fontaine's been on that line most of camp, so I'll put him there for now)
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba
Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
Injured: Mike Rupp (knee)
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