Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk isn't used to staying on the shelf this far into the preseason schedule. That has made him extra eager to play Thursday at Columbus, when he will make his first preseason start in the team's third game.

It was a busy summer, Dubnyk said, with a trip to the NHL's award ceremony in Las Vegas to accept the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and contract negotiations that led to a new six-year, $26 million deal. As much fun as that was, he said after Wednesday's practice that he was excited to return to Minnesota and a team that feels like a perfect fit. During the day's first practice session at Xcel Energy Center, Dubnyk was on the ice with most of the returning players from last season's Wild roster.

"It feels so good coming in here,'' said Dubnyk, who was traded to the Wild in January and saved the season by going 27-9 with a 1.78 goals-against average. "It feels right. I guess that's a good way to put it. Just to be back with these guys, and know I'm going to have a chance to grow and win a lot of hockey games with this group going forward, is very exciting for me and my family as well. We love this city.''

The job security has left Dubnyk happy and relaxed--but not too relaxed. He said he still has room to continue improving his game, and the security of a long contract will not change his focus. The happiness, he said, was a primary reason for his career revival last winter, and that will remain at the top of his mind.

"I just want to earn every game that I play and enjoy every game that I play,'' he said. "That’s what I was really focusing on last year. That helped me go out there and have fun and be able to play well. I just want to make sure that between now and the end of this contract, every single time I play, I'm playing the next one because I gave (coach) Mike (Yeo) a reason to put me back in the net.''

Other notes from today's practice:

--Forward Jordan Schroeder didn't participate because of a sore groin and won't make the trip to Columbus. But Yeo said he was just taking a "maintenance day'' and will be available to play Saturday against Edmonton in Saskatoon.

Yeo is really pleased with what he's seen so far from Schroeder. "Compared to where he was last year in training camp, he’s a much different player right now,'' Yeo said. "I think he’s found a way to be effective. This is what we need from him. Whether he’s playing with skill guys or playing with checkers, he’s finding a way to be effective, to play his game and to complement whoever he’s with.''

--Defenseman Mike Reilly--who was drafted by Columbus, chose not to sign and then landed with the Wild as a free agent--will not go to Columbus. Reilly did play with the big boys Wednesday, joining the practice group that included most returning veterans. "I just felt that it was important for him to come in and be part of the group,'' Yeo said. "I think that can really help his learning curve.''

--Thursday's full lineup: G, Dubnyk and Kevin Lalande; D, Folin, Olofsson, Brodin, Strachan, Prosser, Palmquist; F, Coyle, Fedotenko, Fontaine, Zucker, Dalpe, Carter, Niederreiter, Vanek, Knight, Graovac, Bulmer, Haula.

--No cuts were made Wednesday, but Yeo chose to separate the practice groups to have his veteran players together in order to get them on the same page. "With that first group we're working with, I just think the familiarity (is good),'' he said. "If you're doing D zone coverage, it's good to do it with your line. And it's good to do it against that type of caliber of player.''

RACHEL BLOUNT         

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