WINNIPEG – Mike Yeo said Thursday morning that the Wild won’t be “rushing to any conclusions” when it comes to the decision-making for the handful of open spots in training camp.
Well, it’s a good thing there are still 13 days until opening night because the “kids” are making it awfully hard for the Wild brass.
Every roster hopeful who played in Thursday night’s 4-1 exhibition win over the Winnipeg Jets had a strong game.
“A lot of guys helped themselves tonight,” Yeo said.
Charlie Coyle, battling for the No. 2 center spot, scored one goal. Teenager Matt Dumba, vying for one of the eight defenseman positions and potentially one inside the top six, also scored.
Former Gophers point-getter Erik Haula had an assist and was solid all over the ice. Mikael Granlund had an assist on Dumba’s goal, and Nino Niederreiter, battling for a second- or third-line spot, played a big part in creating Dumba’s goal by crashing the net.
Justin Fontaine hustled all night, pivotal in helping cause a turnover that led to Coyle’s goal. And Kris Foucault, who may not be in the conversation for a roster spot, scored a goal and appeared much faster than when he made his NHL debut two years ago.
“We’ve got competition this year,” Yeo said Thursday morning. “There’s older players that I’m sure are looking around and saying, ‘I better be ready to go,’ and there’s younger players that are saying, ‘There’s an opportunity for me.’ … These are big games for everybody.”
One of the veterans is defenseman Clayton Stoner. He could conceivably be fighting for playing time if Dumba makes the team, but the two were paired together and were stalwarts Thursday.
Goalie Josh Harding, in his preseason debut, stopped 16 of 17 shots through two periods. Darcy Kuemper stopped all 11 shots he saw in the third period. The Wild killed seven power plays, and defenseman Steve Kampfer scored a shorthanded empty-netter.
The Wild’s first-liners, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, and No. 1 defense pair Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin should make their preseason debuts Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
Haula, a center at the University of Minnesota, played wing with Granlund and Niederreiter. He created plays all game, was fast, triggered several transitions and was reliable defensively.
“If I make the opening night roster or not, I’m just trying to do my best in training camp every day I come here,” Haula said. “It’s my first training camp, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can and keep my ears and eyes open.”
• Wild left wing Jason Zucker, who sustained a groin injury Tuesday against Columbus, is expected to skate with a strength and conditioning coach Friday. If all goes well, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Zucker could practice Saturday.
• Left wing Mike Rupp is improving from offseason knee surgery, but Fletcher said he is doubtful to play in the preseason.
• Forward Brett Bulmer remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury and won’t start the season for AHL Iowa. This is an important season for Bulmer, who has run into a glut of injuries in his pro career.