Saturday morning update: Brett Bulmer and Tyson Strachan cleared waivers and have been assigned to Iowa.
Friday morning was kind to Tyler Graovac.
The only text message he received from the Wild was what time to show up for practice, not what time his Town Car was leaving for Des Moines. He walked into the locker room and his nameplate still appeared on a stall between Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville.
And on the ice, Graovac was one of 11 forwards and in his recent spot between Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle.
Opening night rosters don’t have to be submitted to NHL Central Registry until Tuesday at 4 p.m., but do the math and connect the dots, Graovac seems a shoo-in to be in Thursday’s lineup in Colorado.
“Good sign, good feeling, a little confidence boost, but … the hard work’s just beginning,” said Graovac, an enticing 6-foot-4 center with wheels and skill who has just gotten better throughout training camp. “This is very exciting for me. I’m just kind of enjoying the moment, but like I’ve said, I can’t be comfortable here.”
Coinciding with the waiver claim of winger Chris Porter, who practiced for the first time Friday, the Wild trimmed its roster to 25 players – two more than the maximum. Right wing Brett Bulmer and defenseman Tyson Strachan were placed on waivers. If they fly through Saturday, they’ll be assigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League. Center Zac Dalpe was also returned to Iowa.
Defenseman Mike Reilly remains on the roster as one of eight defensemen. But like Graovac, he too can’t get too comfortable.
As a first-year pro and not yet amongst the Wild’s top-6 defensemen, there’s likely only so much time the Wild would feel comfortable with Reilly “learning and watching and practicing” (General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s words) without playing.
“I don’t know where it’s going to go from here,” Reilly said. “Really, for me, I’m like other guys. It’s a day by day process for me. That’s the way I’m approaching each day. It could be my last day of being here, so just keep going and hopefully it all works out.”
Reilly added, “I didn’t know after Duluth and after last night’s game (he was scratched) if I’d still be here, but I’m still here, so it’s very exciting. I’m still learning. I just have to keep going every day.”
On whether it could benefit him to just watch games even if not playing, Reilly said, “Yeah, definitely. That’s one thing to look at it. I think I can benefit a lot watching a lot of games. Obviously the pace is going to be a little higher than the preseason, … but I think I can benefit a lot watching the guys keep practicing and getting a lot of game reps and things like that and watching a lot of video and keep getting better day by day.”
The Wild, expected to carry three goalies to start the season, technically needs to make two more roster moves. But Justin Fontaine is expected to start the season on injured reserve with an oblique injury. That would put the roster at 24.
Center Erik Haula, who has a groin injury, and right wing Jordan Schroeder, who has an upper-body injury, also didn’t practice Friday. If one of them opened the season on I.R., the Wild’s opening night roster theoretically may be set.
The Wild will take Saturday off, so it’ll be determined Sunday if Haula and Schroeder can practice.
“What we do for Game 1 might be radically different than what we do for Games 3 and 4 and 5 when we’re out west,” Fletcher said Thursday night. “If everyone is healthy, we’re going to have to make some decisions and do some things.”
He added, "Everyone gets so worked up about who makes the opening night lineup, but we throw it out the window the next day and make whatever adjustments we have to make. You may want a certain team to play against Colorado then a different team to play at home against St. Louis. Things happen to force your hand. We’ll have some tough decisions. But I think that’s good."
Coach Mike Yeo was unavailable for comment Friday on the Wild’s roster decisions, but Fletcher insinuated Thursday night that Reilly would stay at least temporarily and that the Wild was willing to risk waivers on Bulmer, a 2010 second-round pick who worked hard this offseason to get back on the Wild’s radar after a disappointing start to his pro career.
“You’ve got to make sure he’s getting the reps,” Fletcher said. “So many injuries the last two years – I know he didn’t play well, but every summer he was hurt and rehabbing. This is the first time he’s been healthy, so my expectation is if he was down, he’d be a better player.”
Fletcher said Bulmer just needs to play games.
“He’s had [two] head injuries, a shoulder injury, a knee injury,” Fletcher said. “He’s had four significant injuries in the last three years. He’s one of those kids where it seems like he’d get back, get healthy and get going, then bam there’s something else to derail him.”
I know Bulmer is cheap and young, but I’d still be surprised if anybody took him off waivers. You do that and you’re basically deciding he’s on your roster to start the season. This is still a kid that’s had a lot of injuries and some very poor minor-league seasons.
But Bulmer’s inexperience and need to play minutes is one reason the Wild decided to claim Porter, who played six years for the St. Louis Blues and lives in Eden Prairie, off waivers from the Flyers.
“I woke up this morning in my own bed and was excited to come to the rink and see a lot of the guys that I’m familiar with and get a practice out of the way and get my legs under me,” Porter said. “It was strange. The hockey world’s crazy. One minute you’re in Philadelphia and next thing you’re back home.”
Porter skates with many Wild players in Edina before the season.
“You don’t usually walk into a locker room and know half the team already. It kind of feels like home already,” he said.
It was clear Friday that Graovac, who has been having private tutorials with Yeo away from the ice all camp, felt at home, too.
“I think I bring a lot to this lineup,” Graovac said. “I bring a lot of size, I bring a lot of skill and speed. If I can do well on my faceoffs and defensive end, these guys (Vanek and Coyle) will work magic for me on the wall. I know that for sure already.”
He said it was nice to see that line in practice today, still.
“I think we’re building chemistry, working the corners,” he said. “I’ll still trying to get aware of where they are on the ice, but it was a great workday today.”
On Yeo’s prodding earlier in camp, Graovac said, “I had high expectations on myself, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think the coach wants the most out of me. I think that’s what he tried to push, to get the most out of me. It was more adjustments. He pulled me aside, we did a little video. He said this is what I need you to be better at, this is what I need you to do. It was just more coaching and being a student of the game. He definitely pushed me, that’s for sure. I definitely stepped up a little more.”
Reminder, no practice Saturday, so I'll be working ahead. Plans right now: Mikael Granlund story Sunday, Christian Folin Monday, Nino Niederreiter Tuesday, Mikko Koivu Thursday and what I hope is a cool article planned to advance next Saturday's home opener. Also, our NHL preview and predictions will appear Wednesday and Wild preview Thursday.