Players will take to the ice for the first time Saturday in training camp, but the Wild is already off to a head start in the mind of Chuck Fletcher.
The Wild general manager got the players' body fat and body composition test results back Friday afternoon and said there were "no red flags at all."
That might not sound like a big deal, but considering that Fletcher also said, "Last year, we had four players that were at a level that was not appropriate for an NHL player," this is a very big deal.
After seeing the Wild fall apart in the last six weeks last season and noting that some players looked tired and haggard in the third period of games, Fletcher put out strict guidelines and a public edict that players better arrive to camp in shape this season.
"It's the first day, but the players made a pretty good statement that they put in the work," Fletcher said. "Now we have three hard weeks ahead of us to get ready for the season, so hopefully we can stay healthy during camp. But the fitness is a good start."
Fletcher said that because a few players who didn't come into camp in shape last season immediately got injured, such as Guillaume Latendresse.
"But I'll tell you, last year it wasn't just Latendresse. He took the brunt of it, but it was more than him unfortunately," said Fletcher, who has previously alluded to injury-plagued Marek Zidlicky being in the same category as Latendresse. "A couple guys made dramatic improvements from last year.
"Look at Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He hasn't had an opportunity to fully train the last two summers because of the head injury. He was healthy all summer, was able to train, was able to skate, was able to enjoy his life. He's come to camp a completely different player.
"Guillaume Latendresse, I give him a lot of credit. He's much lighter, his body comp test is much better, he did a lot more skating this summer than he did the previous summer.
"Even a player like Mikko [Koivu]. He was coming off [shoulder surgery last summer], so he could do a lot more training. [Niklas] Backstrom is in great shape. This is good."
This is good especially because coach Mike Yeo plans to deploy a "demanding system" that calls for players to skate hard and play physically.
"We will be reinforcing fitness all year," Yeo said.Holdover excitement
So much has been made about newcomers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, and to a much lesser extent speedy physical checker Darroll Powe, but Fletcher is also excited to potentially see a full year of Latendresse and Bouchard.
Of the Wild's top six wingers, five are essentially new if you consider that Latendresse played only 11 games last year and Bouchard was just feeling his way back to being a regular NHLer after returning Dec. 1 from a long-term concussion.
"I'm excited to see a healthy, productive Pierre-Marc Bouchard. What level can he get to? He's just entering the prime of his career," Fletcher said. "And Latendresse, he's healthy, this is a contract season. He's a young player who hasn't even hit the prime of his career.
"We feel we have a team that's able to produce a lot more than we did last year, and hopefully we have players who can hit levels where they haven't played in their careers."Etc.
• The Wild plans to honor former Wild players Derek Boogaard, who died May 13, and Pavol Demitra, who died Sept. 7, on opening night Oct. 8 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild is also designing a sticker for player helmets that will honor Boogaard and Demitra, and the team plans to have a Derek Boogaard Night this season. His family is expected to attend. The date has not been chosen. Boogaard, who was 28, played five years for the Wild and was drafted by Minnesota in 2001.
• Yeo said he knew he was coaching in Minnesota during the Wild's corporate golf outing Wednesday: "That was a cold January day in Houston."