Ten minutes into the first day of training camp, Wild coach Mike Yeo stopped practice and preached to his players to “make a play at the blue line.”
It was the first sign that Yeo is serious when he says he wants more puck control entering the offensive zone this season.
It will be one of the biggest themes this month.
“We want to get right after it, we want to get right to our game,” Yeo said. “Every drill, every repetition has got a purpose, and we’re going to use every minute we have.”
As always on the first day of camp, optimism overflowed. The Wild apparently had such a good day, Yeo kidded, “I’m going to call the league and see if they can award us two points already. I don’t know if they’ll go for it.”
Players are split into two groups. Some forward lines of note? In one group, Mikko Koivu centered Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, and Charlie Coyle centered Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine. In the other, Mikael Granlund centered Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley, and Kyle Brodziak centered Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell.
Yeo will experiment with several line combinations and defense pairs all month but will carry these into Friday’s scrimmage at Xcel Energy Center.
Players are excited about the system tweaks.
“We have a lot of skill that can make things happen if given the green light to make plays,” Pominville said.
It will be a work in progress all camp as players adjust and try to limit mistakes that could make life miserable for goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
“Look at the teams that did well last year, it was all puck control and puck possession,” Parise said. “I’ll be the first to tell you, you have to dump the puck in [sometimes]. There’s a time and a place to carry it in, there’s a time and place when you have to dump it in. You can’t turn it over.
“But if we can hold on to the puck a little more, it’ll help us a lot. I felt against Chicago [in the playoffs], we were chasing the puck. It was almost like they had the puck 70 percent of the game, and it’s tough to win like that.”
Granlund stands out
Yeo called Thursday a “great day” for Granlund, who says he spent much of the summer working on his footwork.
“He looks a step quicker,” Yeo said. “In that small area, small ice game, I think he’s moving his feet quicker, I think he’s stronger on the puck compared to what I saw last year.”
Yeo said he plans to be patient with Granlund and give him a chance to get comfortable without overanalyzing him after every practice, scrimmage and exhibition game.
Yeo was also pleased with defenseman Marco Scandella, who has a chance to get top-four minutes this season.
“He was kind of flawless in the execution of habits part that we were looking for,” Yeo said.
Parise is willing to skate with whomever Yeo chooses, but it’s clear he’d love Pominville on his right wing. Parise was thrilled when the Wild traded for him and developed chemistry with him last year.
“Everyone remembers him being hurt and kind of forget how good of a player he is and how big of an impact he can have on our team,” said Parise, before referring to the contract extension currently being negotiated between the Wild and Pominville. “To get him for a full year ... and hopefully more years, too, he’s going to fit in real nice.”
Camp on Thursday took place at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena because Xcel Energy Center hosted the Blake Shelton concert.
“I didn’t get lost on the way over,” joked former Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard.
Not every player was ecstatic about the opening day site.
“It was all right, except for the facility,” cracked former Wisconsin Badger Ryan Suter.
With Ballard and Erik Haula in the fold, it should be another year of Badgers-Gophers battles inside the Wild. Heatley and Jake Dowell also played at Wisconsin.
“I enjoy the rivalry. That’s what sport is,” said Heatley, who loves to jab the Gophers. “I love they don’t like us and we don’t like them. Sport should be that way.”