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 resumes preseason play Saturday against Winnipeg at Xcel Energy Center, its first home game of the fall. Coach Mike Yeo unveiled a lineup Friday that is heavy on the big names, for two reasons: he wants to keep the home fans happy, and he wants his veterans to get the repetitions they need to get up to speed.
There are two notable exceptions. Thomas Vanek, whom Yeo said was "bumped'' in Thursday's overtime loss at Pittsburgh, was too sore to practice Friday. Yeo was vague about the injury but said it is "basically a bruise''; both he and Ballard probably could have practiced, Yeo added, but he decided it was prudent to give them the day off. Ballard has lower-body soreness. Both originally were scheduled to play Saturday but will rest instead.
F--Parise, Granlund, Pominville, Niederreiter, Koivu, Coyle, Cooke, Haula, Fontaine, Brodziak, Keranen, Rechlicz
D--Suter, Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon, Olofsson, Dumba
Yeo said Backstrom will play the entire game.
During the second of Friday's two practice sessions, technicians tested the massive new scoreboard by running highlights from last season. Several players sat on the bench and were mesmerized, watching themselves at larger than life-size. It really is a behemoth structure. The new bells and whistles also include upgraded ribbon boards and outdoor display boards, and the lighthouse structures on the corners are wrapped with lighted displays as well.
Here is Winnipeg's anticipated lineup courtesy of the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe:
Jets have this lineup with one D to be scratched
Pardy-Ellerby (or Clitsome)
Pavelec (Taylor backs up, on call)
With the Baby Wild's training camp starting today in Iowa, Minnesota executed its first big round of roster cuts this morning.
The Minnesota Wild reassigned 11 players -- 10 to Iowa to reduce its training-camp roster to 39 (really 38 because Josh Harding will ultimately be designated as a non-roster injured player).
The maximum NHL roster can be 23 players (minus players who started on injured reserve).
Iowa-bound: Corbin Baldwin, Brady Brassart, Raphael Bussieres, John Curry, Kurtis Gabriel, Alex Gudbranson, Johan Gustafsson, Colton Jobke, Zack Mitchell and Ryan Walters.
Defenseman Dylan Labbe, who truly impressed the brass in camp and looks like a player, was returned to QMJHL Shawinigan.
So the roster now looks like (by jersey number order):
Forwards (22): Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Jordan Schroeder, Zach Parise, Cody Almond, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Thomas Vanek, Brett Sutter, Joel Rechlicz, Jason Pominville, Michael Keranen, Curt Gogol, Tyler Graovac, Brett Bulmer, Erik Haula, Zack Phillips and Mikael Granlund.
Defensemen (12): Keith Ballard, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Jon Blum, Ryan Suter, Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin, Guillaume Gelinas (injured), Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba.
Goalies (5): Ilya Bryzgalov (tryout), Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding (suspended), Brandon Whitney (invitee).
The Wild (0-1-1 in the preseason) hosts the Winnipeg Jets in its first home exhibition game Saturday night.
Thomas Vanek and Keith Ballard won't play because of injuries. Vanek is banged up from a check last night.
The game lineup: Parise, Granlund, Pominville, Niederreiter, Koivu, Coyle, Cooke, Haula, Fontaine, Brodziak, Keranen, Rechlicz, Suter, Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon, Olofsson, Dumba, Backstrom, Kuemper.
Backstrom is expected to play the full 60.
Evening from the friendly sky following the Wild’s 3-2 overtime exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pretty choppy game after some early flow in the first 10 minutes.
Brandon Sutter scored two goals, including the overtime winner after Ilya Bryzgalov couldn’t handle Simon Despres’ shot off a faceoff. The puck hopped up in the air and landed on the ice for the easy Sutter slam dunk.
“Maybe the brass will get confused which Sutter got two tonight,” joked Wild center Brett Sutter, Brandon’s cousin, as he stretched on the Wild’s locker-room floor after the game.
Brett Sutter, the son of L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter, played a solid game and coach Mike Yeo was happy with the “momentum shifts” he got from the fourth line of roster hopefuls Sutter, Cody Almond and Stu Bickel.
He said for the most part he liked what he got from his big guys, too, and Mikko Koivu set up Thomas Vanek for a second-period power-play goal and Mikael Granlund set up Zach Parise for a nice goalmouth tap in after some good battle and cycling from Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville.
Darcy Kuemper stopped 14 of 15 shots and had no chance had denying Sutter’s first goal, which was set up by Beau Bennett. On a 3-on-5, Marco Scandella picked off a pass and took off with Matt Cooke.
Paul Martin hustled to break it up, so it became a 4-on-1 heading the other way. The Wild recovered, but Scandella was perhaps so out of gas that he fanned on his clearing attempt. That left Jared Spurgeon and Kuemper stranded and Bennett set up the easy goal.
But Kuemper, other than a couple miscues with the puck, was happy with his game, as was Yeo.
“He looked in control, comfortable and definitely didn’t have any chance on the one he gave up, Yeo said.
Said Kuemper, "It was a good starting game and now I just have to keep getting better and preparing for opening night."
On Vanek’s goal where he established position at the goalmouth and scored off a redirection, Yeo said, “He’s got a knack for that, that’s for sure. This is what we talked about, how he’s able to position himself, free his stick up. There were a couple others where he got sticks on pucks where a lot of people can’t get their sticks on. He’s a threat there and it’s nice when Mikko recognizes that.”
Vanek was also a pest in the offensive zone, forcing a couple turnovers and near scores with Koivu and Justin Fontaine. The line combined for seven shots.
“They had some good moments,” Yeo said. “I thought Fonzie did a good job, they had good pressure going. I think we were able to generate some good shifts in the offensive zone. We didn’t shoot particularly well tonight [as a team]. I didn’t think we shot quick enough. I think we ended up getting a lot blocked and a lot that went off sticks, and we missed the net a lot. But overall we generated some chances.”
Matt Dumba had two shots in 24-plus minutes and made a nice play to Koivu before Vanek’s goal. But Yeo noted how prior he passed up a shot.
“These are the things that we’ll teach him and things that we’ll work on, just scanning the ice and recognizing there was an opportunity. He could have grabbed the puck and taken a couple strides toward the end and really let one rip, but he’s got that quickness to jump backdoor and jump into holes and he’s a threat to shoot back there.”
On the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line, which had a bunch of good plays around the net, Yeo said, “They were good all night long. I liked a lot of our top guys tonight. First game, you always know that these guys, … the pace of play picks up from the scrimmages, so now getting that first game, I’d expect us to keep getting better.”
Erik Haula had a tough night. Had some glaring turnovers and appeared to get hurt late, although he stayed in the game. Jason Zucker also had a tough night physically. He took an uncalled high stick, got run a few times and got into a fight with Despres, who is 6-foot-4. Zucker is not 6-4, so he took a pretty good whipping and was seen walking into the medical room after the game.
But he stayed in the whole game and had a strong second half of the game, especially on the penalty kill.
This is key because the way the Wild shapes up, Zucker is unlikely to get No. 1 or 2 power-play time if he makes the team. Yeo wants everybody to typically play a special teams role and he’s played Zucker on the penalty kill the first two preseason games. Zucker has performed quite well.
“He’s playing hard. He’s just showing he wants to be here,” Yeo said. “We’re trying to give him every chance and he’s buying into it and doing a good job.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard sustained a lower-body injury. He had soreness in the area where he had his surgery to repair a sports hernia, so the team was just being cautious.
When Ballard left the game, Bickel, who was playing wing, slid over to sit with the defensemen. But he ended up not playing (in overtime, the Wild went with three forwards for part; Pominville), but it was another area where Bickel provides value.
On Dumba and Christian Folin, Yeo lumped them into the same category, saying, “Both of them showed strong moments and both showed some young moments.” Yeo said Dumba and Folin, vying for that sixth D spot, will see more preseason action so the team can help them “get rid of the young moments.”
I am actually off Friday because I need to sit down to write a big story for Sunday’s paper that you will all want to read. Rachel Blount will cover practice for me. I’d suspect Friday will be a fairly significant cut-down day because Iowa’s training camp starts up.
Afternoon from Pittsburgh, where the Wild plays the Penguins tonight at 6 CT in an exhibition extravaganza at the sparkling building across the street from the now-parking lot that used to be the Igloo.
THERE IS NO TV TONIGHT, so stop asking. You can listen on KFAN or the @russostrib Twitter Network.
If you missed today's big story, it's Zach Parise talking about the need for teams to try to dump the dump-and-chase. Great quotes in here.
In tomorrow's paper, I'll be writing about the separation of Parise and Mikko Koivu in training camp and how it's proof of just how much deeper the Wild is getting. Prior to Mikael Granlund's breakout last season when Koivu was injured, there was never a thought in coach Mike Yeo's head to split Parise and Koivu.
Tonight's Wild lines:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Jason Zucker
Brett Sutter-Cody Almond-Stu Bickel
D pairs: Uhhhhhh, I've got to be honest. I didn't grab em because I was in the Pens room getting coach Mike Johnston on his former player, Matt Dumba. That video will be tomorrow's award-winning Wild Minute video on startribune.com/wild. But the D's in the lineup tonight are Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Dumba, Christian Folin and Keith Ballard.
Forwards Michael Keranen and Joel Rechlicz are on the trip but expected to be scratched.
The power-play units in today's morning skate:
Parise-Granlund-Pominville with Scandella and Brodin; Vanek-Koivu-Fontaine with Dumba and Spurgeon.
I assumed Yeo planned to scratch one forward and one defenseman on yesterday's blog, but reporters should never assume anything, so my bad.
Yeo is actually going to give Bickel, a defenseman, a look at right wing tonight. I think I mentioned this when I wrote about Bickel in that ex-Gophers feature over the weekend, but what may give him an inside track toward making the team is the Wild can keep him as a seventh defenseman but it would also give Yeo an extra physical option at forward.
He's versatile. He played defense as a kid, played forward throughout high school, moved back to D in junior and played what he guesstimated was 20 to 25 games at wing with the Rangers over a span of two years.
Also tonight, Zucker will skate as a right wing. The left-shot speedster said he loves playing right wing entering the zone because he's on his forehand and thus can shoot and make plays easier. Where it's a big adjustment, Zucker said, is leaving the zone and that's what he worked on a lot in the morning skate.
Brandon vs. Brett Sutter tonight or Brent's kid (Pittsburgh's) vs. Darryl's kid (Minnesota's). Brett Sutter said all the Sutter cousins are very close and in fact he said Brody Sutter (Duane's boy and property of Carolina) got his first exhibition game the other night. Further proof of how old I'm getting because I remember a young Brody Sutter running around the Panthers locker room when Duane coached them.
In fact, I covered a 21-year-old Adam Lowry play for Winnipeg the other night -- Dave Lowry's boy.
Other former Panthers' kids from their Cup Finals-run team playing today? Tom Fitzgerald and Gord Murphy. And of course, I remember Dave Gagner's kid, Sam, running around there, too.
There's your first 10 #flareference's of the season.
I have no point to any of that.
What does Yeo want to see tonight?
"It's just getting started," he said. "Obviously, you want to win these games. I want to win these games. And you want that intensity out of your team, but it's early here. You're still evaluating players. Even from our top guys, I'm evaluating their conditioning level. I'm evaluating where their game's at, but also, you're looking at your team game. You want to see that start to come together. You've seen us. We're doing a lot more scrimmage, a lot more five-on-five stuff, and the big part of that for me is I feel we're pretty strong in a lot of system areas, but early in the season, it's that next play. It's what you do after that, and that's more of what I'm looking for. Can we string two, three, four good things in a row together as opposed to just one good thing, one bad thing? That's when you know your game's getting close."
That's it for now.
I'll be on the Marek and Wyshynski Podcast over on Yahoo at 1:40 p.m. CT.
UPDATED: Here is the roster for Thursday's game at Pittsburgh.
Goalies: Darcy Kuemper (2 periods), Ilya Bryzgalov (1 period)
Defensemen: Keith Ballard, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba (one will be scratched)
Forwards: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Cody Almond, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker, Matt Cooke, Thomas Vanek, Brett Sutter, Joel Rechlicz, Jason Pominville, Michael Keranen, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund (one will be scratched).
There have already been some significant injuries to significant players in the NHL. Pavel Datsyuk sustained a shoulder injury and Derek Stepan and Jordan Staal sustained broken bones in their legs.
However, this doesn't mean the Wild -- or any team -- will hold their players out in the exhibition season. Most players need to get up to speed and condition and they want to play.
Parise, in fact, today me yesterday, "Some guys are different. I just think that’s the best way to get up to game speed, get your timing down, get your reactions back. For us, I think we can work on some things as a line and as a power play. That’s the time to do it."
Said coach Mike Yeo, after knocking wood when asked about the injuries around the league, "You don't think about it. If you're playing not to get hurt, that's when you get hurt. You have to go into the game the right way, you have to have your battle level up, you have to make sure your mind's in it. You can get hurt in practice. You can get hurt off the ice in a gym. You just have to make sure that you're ready to go out and compete hard."
In other news, the Wild has signed Ryan Walters to an AHL contract.
The Wild had a long practice at Xcel Energy Center this morning. The second half of practice was a power play vs. penalty kill scrimmage.
The Wild was largely a quality 5-on-5 team last season, but when it came to power play and penalty kill, it wasn't up to snuff. Coach Mike Yeo wants improvement in both areas this season.
The Wild's power play ranked 16th last season at 17.9 percent and 27th on the penalty kill at 78.8 percent.
"I liked the way we did it [with the special teams scrimmage] and tried to create a little competition between the two groups and not necessarily 100 percent that those are the groups that you’ll be seeing going forward, but a good way of splitting them up and giving them a chance to go head to head," Yeo said. "What I like about it is it just brings out the intensity level, and that’s what you want. If you’re going to work power play, you want to go against a penalty kill that’s really trying to shut you down and vice versa with the penalty kill as well, so I thought it went well."
On it being critical to improve the special teams this season, Yeo said, "It’s huge. It’s absolutely huge. We have to have a goal every game coming in of being plus-1 on the power play or better obviously. Because if you do that – again, I think we’re a very strong 5-on-5 team, so now if we can we can do that, we’re giving ourselves a great chance to win a hockey game."
No. 1 unit will be Parise-Granlund-Vanek-Pominville-Suter. No. 2 unit may have a number of players, but: Nino-Koivu-Coyle-Brodin/Scandella-Spurgeon.
Obviously, there are other forwards like Erik Haula, Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine that can slide in at times. Also, it'll be interesting to see how Matt Dumba plays the rest of camp. He'll get a good look Thursday in Pittsburgh, but if there's a chance there's no room for him right now on the power play, I'm of the opinion it would be smarter for a 20-year-old defenseman to play 25 minutes a night and get No. 1 power play time in the minors.
This is the first year Dumba is allowed to be sent to the AHL, so if there's no reason to force-feed him on the big club, I believe Iowa will be the proper way to develop him. This is provided the Wild is comfortable with a guy like Christian Folin or Stu Bickel playing fulltime in the NHL.
Yeo said he wants improvement from the second unit this year and more scoring.
"Right now, the way we had it at the very least today, we would be more of a 1A and 1B team," Yeo said.
On whether he goes with a forward at the point or two defensemen (I don't see how the No. 1 unit won't have Vanek and Pominville on it, which means the No. 1 unit at least likely would have four forwards), Yeo said, "We have guys that are capable of playing back there. We have some defensemen at this point in camp where we definitely want to try them out and see what they can do. It’s kind of based on what we’re looking for at a certain positon. Obviously the one guy is going to be more of a quarterback and he’s going to need to distribute and walk the line a little bit more (i.e. Suter). That other player, whoever it is, whether it’s a forward or defenseman, we need somebody who’s ready to shoot the puck, we need somebody who’s a threat on that weak side and that’s one thing that’s sort of been lacking. That’s what we’re looking for."
Scandella looked awesome today in the power-play scrimmage and Yeo said, "That’s why we kind of elevated him up. He’s got a heavy shot, he’s been having a great camp, so he definitely deserves an opportunity to show what he can do there."
Brodziak (back) and Fontaine (groin) practiced today. Fontaine is on the trip to Pittsburgh. Brodziak stayed behind. He said he's feeling a lot better, but Yeo said, "I don't think it's right to throw him into a game after just one practice, so yeah, give it a couple more days."
I'll talk to you after Thursday's morning skate in Pittsburgh. Lots of cuts on the horizon as Iowa starts its camp Friday.
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