The Wild finalized its roster Tuesday, choosing to keep center Tyler Graovac, send defenseman Mike Reilly to its AHL affiliate in Iowa and put forward Jordan Schroeder on waivers.
While Graovac will center the Wild’s third line in Thursday’s season opener at Colorado, Reilly was unable to establish himself as a top-six defenseman and was sent to Iowa so he can play regularly. Coach Mike Yeo stressed that his minor league stay “is not a long-term deal.’’ He said the former Gopher, whom the Wild signed as a free agent last summer, showed he fits the mold of the ideal Wild defenseman with his reliable defense and his skating and playmaking ability.
“It was really important that we kept him here as long as we could,’’ Yeo said. “But I don’t think it’s very valuable for him to be around and not playing games right now.
“He’s had a good camp. He’s come a long way. That’s just part of the process. He’s going to be a pretty special player.’’
Yeo expects that Schroeder, who missed time during camp because of illness and an upper-body injury, will be assigned to Iowa once he clears waivers. Like Reilly, Schroeder would not have been part of the opening-night lineup, and Yeo doesn’t want him to be idle.
“It was a bit of a tough camp for [Schroeder],’’ Yeo said. “We see a lot of value in him. I think he did a great job last year, and we know he can play different roles for us. We just want to make sure his game is ready to go.’’
The roster also includes winger Justin Fontaine, who will begin the season on injured reserve as he continues to recover from an oblique injury. Fontaine and center Erik Haula (groin injury) both resumed practicing Tuesday. Yeo said Haula is ready to play Thursday, while Fontaine needs to improve his conditioning and fine-tune his game before he will be ready to re-enter the lineup.
Graovac had been waiting for several days to get the verdict on whether he would stay in Minnesota or go to the minors. Tuesday, he was summoned to Yeo’s office as soon as he arrived at Xcel Energy Center and got the good news before practice.
Yeo said Tuesday that Graovac “demanded a roster spot’’ with his consistently impressive play throughout camp. The center played in five games and had one goal and one assist. He has meshed well with wingers Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle.
Graovac has been given a simple mandate: Keep making progress. If he wants to have a long stay, Yeo said, he will have to prove himself against elite players day after day, a test that Graovac is eager to try.
“I worked really hard to get here,’’ he said. “But the hard work is just beginning. They want a solid two-way game. It’s about getting better every day, like I did at training camp.’’
Graovac also changed his uniform number Tuesday. He had been wearing 53 since it was assigned to him when he joined the Wild organization at age 18; when he was given the chance to pick his own number Tuesday, he chose 44. “I’ve always been a fan of the number 4,’’ he said. “I figured I’d just double the number.’’
Season opener events
The Wild will hold two free public events Thursday to celebrate the season opener.
The team will host a “Wake-Up Rally’’ from 6-8 a.m. Thursday at the Caribou Coffee on the skyway level of U.S. Bank Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. The event includes complimentary coffee and other beverages, Wild magnet schedules and newspapers.
There also will be a viewing party at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul, where fans can gather to watch the game telecast on the giant screen in center field. Gates open at 6:45 p.m., with the party beginning at 7 and the game at 8. Fans can sit in the stands or bring blankets to sit on the field; lawn chairs are not permitted.