The Wild won’t play another exhibition game for 11 months!
The 2015-16 campaign is fast approaching as the Wild closed the preseason tonight with a 4-2 record and 6-1 pounding of an inexperienced Buffalo Sabres lineup.
Jason Zucker and rookie Tyler Graovac, with final roster cuts looming, each had a goal and assist. Zach Parise scored a power-play goal, Nino Niederreiter scored his third goal of the preseason and Zac Dalpe and Thomas Vanek each scored their first. Mikko Koivu had two assists. Charlie Coyle, outstanding all preseason with a league-leading seven assists, had another two, including a highlight-reel drive into the zone to set up Graovac.
Devan Dubnyk faced only 11 shots as the Wild, which scored 22 goals in six exhibition games, outshot Buffalo 42-11. In nine periods of preseason action, Dubnyk faced only 54 shots in three victories.
“Not much I can do about that,” said Dubnyk, who would have loved some more shots. “There’s nothing I can do about the shots I faced in the preseason, so I’m not going to think about it after tonight other than that was not overly entertaining to stand back there.”
The big takeaways tonight:
-- Coyle and Nino Niederreiter again were terrific. Niederreiter was a net-crashing machine all preseason.
-- Graovac, who got some prodding from Mike Yeo at the start of the preseason, got better every game and had his best tonight.
He joked that he finally hit an open net after Coyle forced a neutral-zone turnover, then flew up the gut and past the Sabres defense, especially Rasmus Ristolainen, to feed him.
“I think I started off not bad, made adjustments every game and got better every game,” Graovac said.
On if he’s confident he’ll make the team out of camp, Graovac said, “It’s stuff to stay out of the media and stuff, you know, reading your tweets and all that stuff. I’m just taking it day by day. You can never be comfortable up here. Every day you have to push yourself. It’s really easy to play with Vanek and Coyle. Coyle’s a workhorse on the right side and makes it easier for me to get open and Vanek sees the ice so well, I just have stay up the middle and he’ll find me.”
Yeo said he was happy with the improvement of all the so-called new guys, from Graovac and Brett Bulmer to Tyson Strachan and Dalpe.
On Graovac, Yeo said, “He’s finding a way. I think it was important for us to give him an opportunity with some skill guys. … We’re seeing improvement in certain areas, especially in how he plays without the puck.”
Yeo said there are areas he can get better, like puck strength, but he’s learning to adjust at this level and there’s “no doubt he’ll get that. … He’s done everything he can to help his cause.”
Dalpe was real impressive tonight. If Erik Haula can’t start the season with a groin injury, this kid can play. He skates well, is solid defensively, won of 6 of 9 faceoffs and scored a nice goal after Ryan Carter picked a pocket in front of the goalmouth for Dalpe.
Dalpe played in the green-white scrimmage for Iowa on Wednesday night, “so I was in a groove. It felt good to come up here and contribute.
“It’s always an incentive when you go down and you’re the first guy to get called up,” Dalpe, 25, a former Buckeye and Carolina Hurricanes draft pick, said. “You have to have a good attitude about it. On the unfortunate side, I’ve been sent down and called up a lot.”
Asked what he thinks he has to do to become a full-time NHLer, Dalpe said, “Just coming into my identity. Maybe at times, maybe it was trying to be something I wasn’t, not on purpose, just the way the game goes. [I’m a] hard-working guy and hopefully now being told what to do or where they see me is something I can take advantage of.”
Yeo liked Dalpe’s game again.
As for camp, Yeo said, “I’m pretty pleased with the effort and the focus that we’ve had. We know things will ramp up, things will get tougher here, whether it’s lineup, intensity, pace or battle. I think it’s been a good camp and we feel like we’re ready, and now we have to make sure we use this week properly.”
On Dubnyk, Yeo said, “He’s had a good camp. Tough game for him [because of the lack of action], but there’s still some saves that needed to be made. … He’s playing very big in the net. … I think that he looks ready. I think that our whole group looks ready. We have a full week now before our first game. This was a good camp. I feel really good where our group is at, but what’s important now is that we use this week the right way.”
We talked to GM Chuck Fletcher before the game about the Chris Porter pickup. Check out that story here and how it may affect guys like Jordan Schroeder and Brett Bulmer off the hop. I will say, we asked about Mike Reilly not being in a top-6 role, and Fletcher said that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start in Iowa.
I still have trouble buying the Wild plans to keep eight defensemen and no extra forwards, but we will see. Here’s Fletcher’s quote:
“We did last year with [Matt] Dumba and [Christian] Folin at times where we had those players with the NHL roster,” Fletcher said. “They weren’t playing every night, but they were learning and watching and practicing, and then at times they needed the game reps [and were sent to Iowa].”
That’s it for now. Talk to you from Friday’s practice. The season opener is getting closer.