In an attempt to improve the Wild’s depth up the middle and perhaps sign an eventual bargain, the Wild will bring veteran center David Steckel into training camp on a professional tryout agreement.
Steckel, who has played 419 games for four teams over eight NHL seasons, was one of the out-of-work victims of the shrinking salary cap this summer.
“It was a difficult summer,” said Steckel, 31, a faceoff specialist who played 21 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season. “I’d like to still think that I can play in the NHL. I’m thankful Minnesota gave me an opportunity, so in the end, hopefully I can make an impression and stick with the team.”
Steckel, who led the NHL in 2010-11 by winning 62.3 percent of his faceoffs for Washington and New Jersey and has the second-best career faceoff winning percentage among active NHLers (.583 since 2005-06), has a strong identity as a player, coach Mike Yeo said.
Knowing that he is not a scorer (79 career points), Steckel is a big body at 6-6 who is responsible defensively and a solid penalty killer.
The Wild is lacking a clear-cut No. 2 center after allowing Matt Cullen to depart via free agency for Nashville and third-line center Kyle Brodziak, who scored 22 goals two seasons ago, is coming off a down year (eight goals, minus-18).
Yeo said Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, both 21, rookie Erik Haula and even Brodziak will get second-line center looks throughout camp.
“The center position is a position where we do have a couple question marks, and bringing in a guy with Steckel’s experience and his pedigree — he could potentially answer one of those questions,” Yeo said. “We’re going to try a lot of different combinations and a lot of people at different positions, and he’s now in that mix.”
The pro tryout doesn’t bind Steckel to the Wild. He’ll remain an unrestricted free agent throughout camp, meaning he could sign with any team at any time. If he doesn’t make the team, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Steckel might play in Des Moines of the AHL to “wait for an opportunity with us or somebody else.”
“He’s a proven NHL player, and we know he can play in the league,” Fletcher said. “It’s just a numbers game, so we’ll see how things sort out in camp.”
Training camp opens Wednesday with physicals and fitness testing. The Wild will take the ice for the first time Thursday at Ridder Arena before moving to Xcel Energy Center on Friday.
This weekend, the Wild will hold two sessions that are free and open to the public. On Saturday, fans can watch practice at 9:30 a.m. On Sunday, fans can watch the Wild scrimmage at 11 a.m.
Single-game regular-season tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Xcel box office and at noon at all other locations.
Progress on Pominville
The Wild is working toward signing veteran forward Jason Pominville to a contract extension. The former Sabres captain scored four goals and nine points in 10 games after his April 3 acquisition last season.
“They’ve talked a few times for sure and are going back and forth about what the plans are,” Pominville said last week. “We’ll just go day by day and see if both sides can make progress and go from there.
“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.”
Left winger Mike Rupp, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after last season to repair a torn meniscus, might not be ready for the start of camp. Rupp has been skating on his own but not yet in full drills.
“He’s feeling better and working hard and after talking to him [Monday], I’m a little more optimistic, but it’s a question mark,” Yeo said.