DULUTH - So much has been made of Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker, but Saturday night when the Wild opens the 2011-12 season against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the first member of the 2010 draft class to wear a Wild uniform will be Brett Bulmer.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday that the 19-year-old's name will be on the Wild's opening night roster submitted to the NHL by Wednesday's 2 p.m. deadline.
"Brett looks like he's going to be a pretty good hockey player," Fletcher said. "He's had a great training camp and is deserving. But the start of the regular season is another big level up from the preseason, and as the season progresses, the pace will continue to pick up.
"He'll have a lot more challenges along the way."
One year ago, Fletcher considered Bulmer, selected 39th overall in 2010, the biggest project of the Wild's draft class. He was tall, lanky, a bit awkward, very much raw.
One month ago, Fletcher considered Bulmer a "long shot" to make the Wild this season. He had a great summer of training, but he was still 19 entering a training camp in which forwards Cody Almond, Casey Wellman and tough guy Matt Kassian were knocking on the door.
But on the eve of rosters having to be submitted, Almond still was sidelined because of a back injury, Kassian because of a finger injury and Wellman was with Houston of the AHL after an average camp.
With every roster cut Bulmer survived this month, his confidence skyrocketed. Whether it was scoring his first goal or getting into his first fight, Bulmer looked more and more as if he belonged.
"I definitely thought it was possible to make the team," Bulmer said.
Defensemen Marco Scandella and Justin Falk also will be on Wednesday's roster submission, as well as recently acquired winger Nick Johnson. Goalie Matt Hackett might stay, too, if Josh Harding opens the season on injured reserve because of a twisted ankle.
The 6-2 1/2, 193-pound Bulmer skates well, has shown flashes of skill and a propensity to mix it up. He's willing to drive the net or station himself there, showing why the Wild projects him to be a power forward down the road. He hasn't looked physically intimidated or overmatched.
Still, Bulmer knows making the opening night roster doesn't mean he's secure.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself," Bulmer said. "I know they have that 10-game rule, too, so that's the next goal to work toward."
Bulmer's referring to the fact that the Wild can keep him for nine games and still return him to his Western Hockey League team, Kelowna, without burning a year of his three-year contract.
Truthfully, the Wild couldn't care less about that rule. If the Wild burned a year, it actually would be beneficial. In the next few years, the Wild hopes to infuse a handful of players on entry-level deals, such as potentially Granlund, Larsson, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Zack Phillips.
Having so many players with expiring first contracts at the same time could become problematic.
The threshold Fletcher cares most about is the 40-game rule. If Bulmer plays 40 games, his seven-year free-agent clock would begin ticking.
"There's two keys with Brett: Is he contributing and is he playing?" Fletcher said. "We'll monitor his ice time and his role and how he's playing and if he's contributing."
Bulmer's parents will fly in for their son's special night Saturday. He'll even get to switch from his assigned No. 54 to his usual number of 19, which is available.
"It's going to be pretty amazing," Bulmer said of Saturday's NHL debut. "It's a childhood dream. WHL draft, NHL draft, they were very special, but this is a whole new level. I've watched NHL games my whole life, so it's going to be the proudest moment of my career and my life."