The ice was freshly groomed, there was a chill in the air and players were strapped into their equipment as they milled around TRIA Rink on Thursday between photo ops and other media obligations.
After a hectic summer on the heels of a disappointing non-playoff finish, getting back to a familiar setting and routine was a source of encouragement for the Wild as it reunited for training camp with its focus on the future instead of the past.
“There’s so much noise out there,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “For us just to be back and playing, that’s where we’re all at home and where we feel the most comfortable. We’re looking forward to it.”
Before beginning a six-game preseason schedule Tuesday, the Wild will have four days of practice, starting Friday. The season opener is only a few weeks later, Oct. 3 in Nashville against the Predators, but ahead of that debut, there’ll be plenty of questions to answer in camp.
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How will Kevin Fiala settle in after being a late arrival?
Fiala was the last Wild restricted free agent to sign, agreeing to a two-year, $6 million contract Wednesday, and he was not among the players who reported Thursday for medicals and fitness testing as he awaits a work visa.
The team is hopeful he’ll join the group by the beginning of next week.
“He’s got a special skill set, and he has the ability to be a very good player in this league and we wanted him here,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “I think in the end, it’s a fair deal for both sides.”
This is an important season for Fiala, who was acquired for Mikael Granlund in a trade with Nashville last season. He showed flashes of impressive skill in the 19 games he played with the Wild but not consistently. Getting acclimated with a line could help with that.
“Hopefully he was skating with a team back home and working hard like I think he would be,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“So if he does that, then he won’t be too far behind. So we’ll find out as soon as he gets here.”
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Are Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu ready to return from injury?
Dumba proclaimed himself “good to go” Thursday after being sidelined last December with a torn pectoral muscle, while Koivu (surgery for torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee) still needs to get comfortable on the ice.
“Where I’m at right now, I think it’s as good as it could be,” said Koivu, who didn’t share a specific return date.
Both are expecting to skate Friday, although Boudreau said he’d likely lighten Koivu’s workload to start.
It’s unclear how much preseason action either could see, but Boudreau envisions most veterans to log three or four games.
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What will the Wild look like up the middle?
The options at center are all familiar names, but the order they appear on the team’s depth chart may be different.
Perhaps Joel Eriksson Ek builds off a strong finish to last season and jumps up the pecking order; Boudreau said he doesn’t want to confine Eriksson Ek to the fourth line. A potential promotion for him could mean Koivu slides down, but that could also depend on how Victor Rask shows in camp.
Luke Kunin is another possibility.
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Who will fill out the third defensive pairing?
The top four is set (Suter, Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon), but Nick Seeler, Brad Hunt and Greg Pateryn are the returnees battling for the last two slots.
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Could any depth players win a roster spot?
There are a few intriguing candidates: Nico Sturm at center and Louie Belpedio and Carson Soucy on defense.
And while professional tryouts don’t always lead to contracts, right winger Drew Stafford will be one to watch — especially since he’s expected to practice Friday with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker.
“I want players to make an impression,” Guerin said. “I want them to push for jobs, and I want this to be competitive.”