We just got done chatting with Wild coach Mike Yeo prior to tonight's exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Wild cut 17 players this afternoon to trim its roster to 27. It's actually 26 because injured Grayson Downing is still on it. That means at least three more cuts to come, and it'll likely come from Tyler Graovac, Brett Bulmer, Mike Reilly and Tyson Strachan as long as Niklas Backstrom starts the season on the roster and guys like Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin and Nate Prosser are on the team (which they're expected to be).
But, Justin Fontaine is expected to miss the start of the season with what Yeo is calling a "sore side." It is not from the David Clarkson kneeing on Thursday in Columbus. It stems from a subsequent hit along the boards in the same game.
So if Fontaine misses the opener for the second year in a row because of a training camp injury, that could open the door for two of those players to make the team.
At this point, it would be surprising if Graovac doesn't make the club, but Yeo really praised the steps Bulmer has taken coming into camp this season and he offers a physical, nasty element the Wild lacks from any of its other forwards.
I still think the Wild keeps seven defensemen. So barring injury, Reilly and Strachan may start the season in the minors. I haven't written much on Strachan yet. That'll change. I'm featuring him in Tuesday's paper.
In tonight's game, Yeo wants to put Graovac in a spot where he could potentially play if the season were starting. So he'll center Thomas Vanek and Jordan Schroeder. Erik Haula will center Ryan Carter and Bulmer.
Jason Zucker is a little "sore" right now, so the Wild doesn't want to risk aggravating his injury. So he'll miss tonight's game and Charlie Coyle, who had three assists and won 12 of 16 faceoffs at center in Columbus, will play right wing with Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu. Niederreiter, who has played well at right wing all camp, will move to left wing just for tonight. I'll feature Niederreiter in probably Wednesday's paper.
The four players who stuck today – Graovac, Bulmer, Reilly and Strachan – will all accompany the Wild on its team-building trip to Duluth. The team leaves after tonight's game and returns after practice Wednesday, which remember is free and open to the public at AMSOIL Arena at 10:30 a.m.
The opening night rosters for each team much be submitted by Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. The regular-season opener for the Wild is Oct. 8 at Colorado.
Yeo on Reilly: "The plan with Mikey was this all along, to give him as much of an opportunity to be around our group, to learn things and to show what he can do before we come to any kind of decision on him."
Yeo on Strachan: "He earned it. He's a veteran guy, you can tell he's a pro. I've been pretty impressed with his games. He's something different identity-wise from the rest of our group in terms of just a bigger body, physical presence" and Yeo likes "how he's moved the puck and played the game."
Yeo on Bulmer: "He's just taken a step. … It doesn't really matter how you get there as long as you do. So far he's looking like he could be a player. This game will be important for him tonight.
Yeo said they've all earned the opportunity to still be here.
As I alluded, because the Wild isn't the toughest team, Yeo said if there was an opening, it would probably be for that type of player. "Bulmer has recognized that. He has played a big game. He's still got to get better. I want to make that very clear. ... I'd like to see a little more pace in his game, but he's doing a lot of things we would be looking for in that type of role in terms of finishing checks, being strong on the puck and managing the puck the right way. If he continues to do that, then he's giving himself a great chance."
Yeo said at least bringing Bulmer, who many considered a 2010 second-round bust before this camp, is a "good pat on the back for him. He's put in the work this summer. This is the best conditioned that he's ever come into vamp. Everybody develops at their own pace. It's been a rough go for him the last few years, so for him to have something positive here I think is real important."
I wrote about Bulmer in today's paper. If you didn't read, please go to www.startribune.com/wild.
On whether Graovac and Bulmer can both make the team, Yeo said, "I don't have a definitive answer on that. Hopefully they both force our hands. … We're not going to carry two extra forwards, especially if they're young kids."
But again, if Fontaine starts on injured reserve, that could change things.
On Zucker, Yeo said, "a little bit of soreness, precautionary. I like where he's been. There's no point for us to push him out there and fight through some discomfort and risk him injuring anything any worse. He's had a good camp so far."
Talk after the game.