Bruce Boudreau is tired of scouring video daily, tired of driving to Edina from St. Paul’s eastern burbs to examine every aspect of every player he was not yet allowed to get his hands on.
But that finally will change Friday when the first-year Wild coach, hired in May after barely being out of work a week, skates onto Xcel Energy Center’s ice for the first time.
“We can’t wait,” Boudreau said, including assistants Scott Stevens, John Anderson and Darby Hendrickson. “I’ve never been in an office as long before a season as this year. I mean, we’re going on a month. I look forward to getting this thing started.”
Players report Thursday. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and most likely Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula will return from the World Cup of Hockey on Friday. The United States and Finland have been eliminated, but each still has a meaningless game to play Thursday.
That means Boudreau will have a full training camp (the returning players will get a few days off, though) to work with most his players (Nino Niederreiter and Team Europe advanced to the semifinal). That should be beneficial when it comes to line combination experiments and the implementation of his system.
Here’s a primer heading into training camp:
What are the potential lines to start the season?
A lot depends on if Granlund and Charlie Coyle start at center or wing. Initially, it’ll be wing. The Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville line was great during last season’s second half, so they’ll get a chance to reunite. But Boudreau wants to give Niederreiter a shot with Koivu and Granlund. Granlund could start at right wing, not left, which means Jason Zucker also will get a crack on the line. Initially, free-agent pickup Eric Staal will center Parise and Coyle. The fourth line is up for grabs. Reacquired Chris Stewart could start there, but Boudreau knows about Koivu and Stewart’s chemistry two years ago. If Haula isn’t up to par or if Tyler Graovac doesn’t earn a spot, that could force the Wild to start Coyle at center and Haula on the fourth line. Graovac, Zac Dalpe and Tomas Fleischmann will battle for fourth-line center. At wing, tryouts Ryan Carter, Fleischmann and roster hopefuls Jordan Schroeder and Kurtis Gabriel will compete.
Do rookies Joel Eriksson Ek, 19, and Alex Tuch, 20, fresh out of Boston College, have bona fide chances to make the team?
Boudreau says he’d love both to start in the AHL, “but they might come into our camp and be so good that you can’t not have them on your team.”
Who’s the No. 1 center?
Here is evidence that when a new coach comes in, there are no preconceived notions. Former coach Mike Yeo used to go through pains to label Koivu his No. 1 center, even ensuring Koivu’s line was first in line rushes during practice and warmups. Boudreau when asked about the No. 1 center? “I’m hoping — we’re hoping — that it’s going to be Eric Staal. He’s been really unmotivated the last couple years. He went into camp in Carolina last year by his own account not in the greatest of shape. And he looks fit as a fiddle now. He looks hungry, and if Eric Staal is anywhere the player he was two years ago, then I think you guys are in for a real treat because he’s a bull. I think Mikko’s a great No. 2. He really reminds me of the way I used Ryan Kesler last year with [Ryan] Getzlaf being the No. 1 [in Anaheim].”
Will Ryan Suter play half the game?
More proof the new coach has the hammer. Boudreau says, “We can manage the minutes, I think, a lot better. I don’t think anybody has to play 30 minutes a game on this team. We can bring it back to between 24 and 18 for everybody, and I think that’s going to give them a lot more jump to play offensively when they get the opportunity.” Regarding his ice time, Suter says, “It doesn’t matter as long as the team’s winning and as long as everyone’s playing well.”
Is defenseman Mike Reilly a roster lock?
He’ll have to earn it because Christian Folin and Nate Prosser both require waivers to be sent to AHL Iowa, and Reilly does not. He’ll get a lot of exhibition games, and there’s an opening for him to earn a power-play point spot along with Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba.
Does Gabriel have a legit chance of making the team?
Boudreau says General Manager Chuck Fletcher “knows I want to be more aggressive, more in-your-face, so we’re going to try to get bigger and tougher and stronger.” But Boudreau wants a fourth line that he can put out against anybody and not be worried he has to get them off the ice right away.
Oh, will Boudreau strip the ‘C’ from Koivu?
No. Boudreau: “I don’t want this being skewed in any way. There is no controversy in who the captain of the team is. Mikko, and it’s going to stay that way.”