Facing the team he once captained and played with for 12 seasons, Eric Staal looked right at home in a Wild sweater on Sunday night.
Staal assisted on Charlie Coyle’s second-period tying goal and scored the eventual winner in the third period on a delayed penalty to help lead the Wild to a 3-1 preseason victory over his former Carolina Hurricanes.
It came in the first game the Zach Parise-Staal-Coyle line were put together, and I wrote about them as my main story in Monday's paper, so please give that a read. It'll be on the Wild page soon.
I was chatting with Jordan Staal and Cam Ward in the press box before the game and during the first intermission, and both are convinced Staal will resurrect his career in Minnesota. In the elevator ride down after the game, Ward looked at me and said, "Not bad." I walked by Jordan Staal, and he joked, "Told ya."
It's just one game, as Parise, Staal and Coyle all said, but it was a good start and there were glimpses of what this line could be capable of.
Jason Zucker scored an insurance goal late in the third after teenager Joel Eriksson Ek stole a puck and set him up. Eriksson Ek, 19, centered the third line of Zucker and Jason Pominville, which was by far the Swedish first-round pick’s best opportunity in camp as he vies for a roster spot.
Bruce Boudreau offered a scoop in the postgame presser, promising that Eriksson Ek would play the final two preseason games.
“He looked good,” Pominville said of the 2015 first-round pick. “He’s a guy I noticed early in camp and thought he had size and all the tools. He played well all over the ice, defended hard and made some plays offensively.”
Remember, as I wrote in this feature last week, if Eriksson Ek doesn’t make the team, it sounds like he’ll return to Sweden to play this season for Farjestad rather than play for AHL Iowa. If it’s close, the Wild could extend Eriksson Ek’s opportunity by playing him up to nine games without burning the first year of his three-year contract.
Please click the link for the reasoning from Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr.
Other roster hopefuls to play Sunday included forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Zac Dalpe, Jordan Schroeder and defensemen Christian Folin and Victor Bartley. Bartley, however, didn’t play in the third period because of an injury Boudreau did not yet have an update on.
Tyler Graovac, Mike Reilly, Ryan Carter, Nate Prosser, Christoph Bertschy and Alex Tuch, who are all vying for spots, didn’t play. Boudreau said Carter, Tuch, Bertschy and goalie Darcy Kuemper have the flu.
Wild regulars Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Marco Scandella did not play.
“I thought it was Dalpe’s best game,” Boudreau said. “You know what you’re going to get out of Kurtis Gabriel every night. He’s going to be a physical presence, and sometimes he’s going to take a penalty, sometimes he’s not. Schroeder, that was his best game by far as far as his speed and individual play. … It was a pretty solid effort by him.”
Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter all made their preseason debuts, with Parise and Koivu registering assists on Staal’s goal. Suter had four shots and was +3 in 24:34 of ice time.
Devan Dubnyk felt good and made 16 saves (the Wild outshot Carolina 38-17). The only goal was a screen by Bryan Bickell, the old Blackhawks Wild killer now in Carolina.
I thought Parise looked great on the penalty kill, as did Pominville.
In Minnesota, Pominville has rarely killed. In Buffalo, it's his bread and butter. So Boudreau plans to use him there with the Wild, especially if he's not going to be full-time on the power play. Remember, if Reilly makes the team, Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Reilly and Matt Dumba will likely be the pointmen. So, if Boudreau uses the Staal line as one unit and Koivu, Granlund and maybe Chris Stewart or Niederreiter as the third forward of the second unit, Pominville could be the odd guy out.
If Reilly doesn't make the team -- and the Wild has not been happy with his camp, Pominville could play the point on one of the units.
Niederreiter will practice for the first time Monday. Boudreau indicated that Niederreiter and Zucker will get looks on the Koivu line. Stewart played there tonight.
I'll be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell tonight (Sunday) with Dawn Mitchell and I'll be on Sirius XM on Monday morning at 9:30 with Gord Stellick and Rob Simpson.
That's it for me. Practice on Monday has been pushed back to noon. After practice, I have appointments to sit down with three different players, two outside the arena. So there may be a very late blog, barring news.
There could be some cuts, although the Wild's not going to bring its A lineup to Denver, so it shouldn't be a mass cut day if there are cuts.