With two games remaining on the Wild’s preseason schedule, coach Mike Yeo said he is moving from the evaluation phase of training camp to the preparation phase. That shift led the Wild to pare its roster to 28 players Tuesday, sending 11 prospects to its AHL affiliate in Iowa and placing seven others on waivers for reassignment.
Former Gophers forward Erik Haula was the most prominent player cut, despite drawing plenty of praise from Yeo for his play in three exhibition games. Other players sent to Iowa were forwards Raphael Bussieres, Zack Phillips, Kris Foucault, Tyler Graovac and Josh Caron; defensemen Kyle Medvec, Corbin Baldwin and Colton Jobke; and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson.
Players placed on waivers with the intent of assigning them to Iowa are forwards Carson McMillan, Stephane Veilleux and Chad Rau; and defensemen Jonathon Blum, Steven Kampfer, Jon Landry and Brian Connelly. Forward Kurtis Gabriel was assigned to Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Wild completes its preseason schedule with a pair of games against St. Louis, at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday and at St. Louis on Friday. Though Yeo still has some final cuts to make, the emphasis in those games will be on getting veteran players back into the rhythm and flow of the NHL and setting an upbeat tone for the start of the regular season on Oct. 3.
“We want to finish the right way,’’ Yeo said. “This has been the plan, that we would use the early games to try to help us make some very difficult decisions. For the most part, [the final two games] are going to be about getting our team ready.
“The young kids, the prospects, they need to play. So let’s get them on their way and get them started.’’
Haula finished camp with one assist, a team-high 10 shots in three games and a plus-minus rating of plus-2. Yeo said he demonstrated NHL speed and lauded his positioning, his play without the puck and his ability to read the play.
“On the offensive side of things, I thought he had an effect on every game,’’ Yeo said, noting how well Haula set up scoring chances. “But the bottom line, he is not going to be in our lineup for the next two exhibition games, and we were expecting for him not to be in our lineup opening night. It doesn’t make sense to keep a young kid like that around and have him not playing.’’
There are survivors
With the roster cuts looming, winger Justin Fontaine and defenseman Matt Dumba admitted to being a bit nervous Tuesday. Dumba arrived early and found a temporary stall in the main locker room — essentially a small clothes rack with a tiny shelf and a folding chair — with his name on it. Fontaine’s nameplate was affixed to a permanent stall, next to the stereo and the goaltenders.
If Fontaine is to remain on the roster for opening night, Yeo said, the former Minnesota Duluth forward must be productive on offense. So far, the coach likes his playmaking abilities, and Fontaine said his growing comfort with the pace and style of the NHL game has him feeling confident.
“[The coaches are] looking for little details on the ice, making sure you’re executing the system well,’’ said Fontaine, who has two assists and nine shots in four games. “In the last four games, I thought I continually got better. I think I can play at this level.’’
Yeo again complimented Dumba for the step he took Monday, when he kept plugging away through two rough periods and righted himself in the third. Dumba considered it a major accomplishment, too.
“I calmed myself down and found my game,’’ he said. “That was huge for me, just finding that consistency as a young guy and putting [the mistakes] into a box. You’ve just got to focus on your next shift.’’
• Captain Mikko Koivu missed Tuesday’s practice because he was at the hospital with his fiancée, who had gone into labor.
• Center Mikael Granlund practiced Tuesday after missing some time because of what the Wild called a “slight upper-body injury.’’
• The news was not as cheery for winger Mike Rupp, who is continuing to recover from offseason knee surgery. Yeo said Tuesday he doubts that Rupp will be ready to play in time for the season opener. “He’s feeling better,’’ Yeo said. “I’m not going to rule it out. But he’s got to get some quality practice time in. He’s got a lot of catching up to do.’’