Sammy Walker had the chance to polish off a hat trick, the puck on his stick as he cruised into Colorado territory during a two-on-zero look for the Wild.
Instead, Walker picked up an assist after the puck he sent to Vinni Lettieri was one-timed into the back of the net for the eventual decisive goal in the Wild's 4-3 victory Sunday afternoon in their preseason opener.
"It worked out well," Walker said with a smile when asked if he was tempted to keep the shot for himself. "I'm kind of glad that he ripped that. I thought maybe he was going to pass it back, but I'm glad it went in."
Even without the third goal, Walker's return to the Wild has been eye-catching, the 24-year-old Edina native and former Gopher scoring a hat trick at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase ahead of training camp before his three-point performance on Sunday.
But because of the logjam of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and the minuscule wiggle room the Wild have under the salary cap, securing a roster spot isn't a given for Walker — a numbers game he's trying not to focus on.
"Go prove myself, and hopefully I stay," Walker said. "If not, just keep working."
The Wild have one opening, maybe two, in their forward group, but that's not all they're evaluating.
Team brass is also sizing up call-up options, and that's how Walker made his NHL debut last season; he was beckoned from the minors in December 2022 and went on to appear in nine games overall for the Wild while chipping in his first goal and assist.
Add in the 27 goals and 21 assists he totaled with Iowa in the American Hockey League, and the winger had a successful start to his pro career.
That momentum appears to have followed him into Year 2.
"For him to produce like he did obviously in that final game in the rookie games and then to continue it [Sunday] is a real good sign," coach Dean Evason said.
Daemon Hunt didn't scrimmage with the Wild on Monday after getting injured in Sunday's game.
Hunt was hit in the head by Colorado's Tanner Kero, what Evason described as "a little bit scary.
"I talked to [Hunt] this morning," Evason continued. "He's good obviously, but he's got to go through the process."
As for Ryan Hartman, he said he feels "back to normal" after not taking contact early in camp following an offseason training injury.
Hartman has resumed skating with usual linemates Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello and took reps with the second power unit, which also included Frederick Gaudreau, Marcus Johansson, Marco Rossi and captain Jared Spurgeon. Calen Addison, Matt Boldy, Joel Eriksson Ek, Kaprizov and Zuccarello constituted the first unit.
The Wild made their first round of cuts Monday, trimming their training camp roster to 46 players.
They returned forwards Hunter Haight, Riley Heidt, Rasmus Kumpulainen and Servac Petrovsky and defenseman Kalem Parker to their respective junior teams. Forward Maxim Cajkovic and goalie Hunter Jones were sent to Iowa. Forwards Louis Boudon, Brett Budgell and Casey Dornbach; defensemen Ben Brinkman, Landon Kosior and Brenden Miller, and goalie Peyton Jones were released from their tryouts.
Haight and Heidt wrapped up their camps with strong efforts in Sunday's preseason game, with the two setting up Walker's second goal and Heidt — in his first camp after the Wild drafted him 64th overall in the second round this year — also assisting on Walker's first tally.
"Both not intimidated by the surroundings, the environment," Evason said. "[The Avalanche] had some bigger players in their lineup. It was physical, certainly early. All of our junior guys conducted themselves really well."