Almost all the Wild’s roster spots were claimed before the team even opened training camp, the byproduct of returning a mostly veteran group without much turnover.
But the results of some of the position battles that did occur the past few weeks are starting to trickle in. The Wild is getting closer to finalizing its opening-night look — especially after forwards Matt Read, Kyle Rau and Mike Liambas, defenseman Matt Bartkowski and goalie Andrew Hammond cleared waivers Sunday.
“We told all those guys that they had great camps, and they did,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “In my mind, we’re a 26- and 27-man roster, but we can’t keep 27 guys up here at the same time.”
That group of players wasn’t subsequently assigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League, but that could happen Monday. Hammond actually skated with the Wild on Sunday, as No. 1 Devan Dubnyk took what the team called a maintenance day to prepare for the season after a rigorous training camp.
“We figure his load is going to be pretty heavy during the course of the season,” Boudreau said, “and if anybody could use an extra day, it would be him.”
The team must reach the 23-man limit by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Boudreau anticipates the Wild carrying 22 players, although 23 is a possibility.
Injured defenseman Josh Thrower can be assigned to Iowa once he’s medically cleared; same with forward Luke Kunin, who’s recovering from a torn ACL. He has a checkup Tuesday, and Boudreau has said it’s likely Kunin will bank some game action in the AHL once he’s at full strength.
Kunin also has the option of starting the season on injured reserve. Still, the Wild has more decisions to make, with Nate Prosser, Gustav Olofsson and Ryan Murphy vying to stick around in a depth role. All three would have to pass through waivers to report to Iowa.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on the blue line this year,” Boudreau said. “The bad news is obviously somebody’s got to go through waivers. I don’t know who it’s going to be. We’ll find out probably by morning.”
Despite making a strong impression in the preseason, scoring two goals and finishing with three points in four games, Read didn’t nab one of the team’s forward spots.
“We signed J.T. [Brown] in the summer for a reason, so I think he deserves the chance off the bat,” Boudreau said. “But Matt, we don’t want to keep him around and not play him. We want to keep his legs going, and I’m sure at some point in the season he’ll be back.”
The Wild didn’t practice Saturday, but the players were still together — participating in team-bonding activities with the Minnesota National Guard at Camp Ripley.
Raiding a room and rappelling down the side of a building were among the challenges players faced after taking a helicopter ride upstate.
“Really neat experience,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “I’ve fortunately been able to do that before, but to see the look on the faces of guys who haven’t — it was exciting. And everything was fun. Working together on some of the teamwork drills was probably my favorite part.”
Although the Wild has had to integrate just a handful of new faces, the team feels it’s still important to welcome the newbies while also getting everyone else reacquainted after the offseason.
“It’s just making sure that every year you kind of rekindle it,” winger Jason Zucker said. “We spend four months apart, and it’s good to get back together and we always have a couple new guys. So it’s good for those guys to see the way the rest of the group comes together.”