Wild coach Mike Yeo was quite happy with the first month of last season, so this year’s training camp will look a lot like last year’s, with the hope of another fast start.
The Wild opened with back-to-back shutouts, went 7-3 last October and easily could have been 9-1 if not for a highway robbery by Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and a third-period collapse at Madison Square Garden.
“I like the way things went — well, until we got the mumps — so we’re going to go with the same type of template and three-team approach early in camp,” said Yeo, beginning his fifth year as Wild coach. “Practices are planned. Training camp is planned. All of our work is done.”
Players report Thursday and take the ice for the first time Friday.
“We’ll go from zero to 100 in a hurry,” Yeo said. “It’s an important process figuring out if there are any surprises, seeing the development of the kids, getting ready for the grind.”
Yes, there will be changes, for instance, to the power play and to lines.
For instance, Nino Niederreiter will get some looks at right wing with Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu, veteran Thomas Vanek could start on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Yeo might fiddle a bit with his defense pairs. Center Tyler Graovac and defenseman Mike Reilly will be given shots to make the team, as will Jordan Schroeder and Ruslan Fedotenko, who is attempting an NHL comeback.
“There will be a lot of experimenting,” Yeo said. “I’m not sure how exactly it’ll play out, but we’re going to try some different things.”
The Wild coach answered crucial questions on the eve of camp:
Q Goalie Devan Dubnyk started 38 consecutive games after you acquired him. How much do you need backup Darcy Kuemper to win games this season?
A He’s ready to take another step as a pro. We’ve seen him have some really good games, we’ve seen him have some bad stretches, but that’s not uncommon for any young player, especially for a goalie. There’s less pressure on him, so I think it’ll give him a good chance to succeed. We were forced to play Devan every game. We’re not going to play Devan every game this year. He’s going to need a break. We’re going to give him a break. Ideally we have the type of environment that’s perfect for a guy like Darcy to grow and develop where we can start him, we can handpick the games that he’s going to play, we can make sure our team is ready to play a good game in front of him to give him the best chance to succeed.
Q Will you start Charlie Coyle at center as opposed to right wing?
A Charlie, I thought, did a good job at the end of the year and want to start him at center. And then with [Erik Haula], I want to see where he is.
Q Last year, Jason Zucker made the team as a fourth-liner and worked his way up. Could Tyler Graovac make the team as fourth-line center or would you start him in the minors if that were the case?
A If we could find a role for him that got him some minutes and playing time and he’s going to make our team better, then he’ll be on our team. But if he shows he’s still going to need more time to develop, then he’ll be in the minors. He’ll get a really good look, and we’re optimistic about what he can bring. He gives us some flexibility. He’s the kind of guy where maybe you do ease him in on the fourth line or you bump him up and down, but he’s a guy that can play with skill players and create some offense.
Q If Graovac makes the team, Coyle likely goes to right wing?
Q Rookie defenseman Mike Reilly’s bread and butter is the power play. How does he get power-play time?
A It’s hard to see. If he’s on our team, he’ll probably be playing the power play. But we have a lot of guys that are capable. You look at Jonas [Brodin], Marco [Scandella], I’d like to give him a sniff. [Matt] Dumba, [Jared] Spurgeon, [Ryan] Suter. They’re really good at what they do. I need to see Mikey in some game action. I need to see what he can add and how he complements the guys we have. We spend so much time talking how we’re going to make our power play better, if adding a certain player does that for us, there’s a good chance we can work him into the lineup. But we have to make sure he’s improving, we have to make sure he’s developing. Camp will be important for him … he’s not a lock.
Q What do you expect from Thomas Vanek?
A I know he’s real motivated. It was a tough year for him. If you look at the stats, it probably wasn’t as bad as what it was made out to be. He contributed to a lot of wins for us, but he knows there’s more in the tank for him and he’s spent a lot of time working this summer. No. 1, he’s healthy and he wasn’t healthy for most the year last year.
Q How about Suter?
A I went to visit him after the season. He was beating himself up, and I don’t think that’s deserved. He had statistically maybe not his best year, but he did a lot of really good things. Second half of the year we were the best team in the league, and he was our leader on the back end. I don’t think he deserves to beat himself up, especially given the circumstances of the passing of his father and the mumps. He’s motivated, he’s excited to have a good year.
Q How do you fix the power play?
A We’ll try to create more threats, capitalize on the left-shot, right-shot. Some of it is personnel, some of it is system. We want to make sure we have two really strong units. There will be changes, and that also means there are times I start either unit. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Suter and [Mikko] Koivu, but if you think Ryan Suter’s not going to be on the power play, you’re kidding yourself. Same with Mikko. They’ll play the power play. How much, I don’t know. With who, I don’t know. It’ll play itself out in camp.
Q What do you expect from Dumba?
A To have a good camp. We warned him of the second season [jinx], and we’re not expecting him to go out and be an All-Star. You have to earn your way into this league. He did a great job last year. He’s far from done proving himself. He recognizes that. I know he’s in great shape. Given his personality, I know he’ll be ready to go.
Q With Chris Stewart, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke gone, does that open the door for Kurtis Gabriel? Are you tough enough?
A If we’re playing a team with a couple fourth-line tough guys that can’t keep up with our speed, there’s an advantage there as long as we play through it. Teams might come at us with that kind of game, but we usually raise our game. That said, if somebody comes in and shows they can do that job for us, I would have to think there’s probably room for them.
Q Are you confident with your production at center?
A Maybe we don’t have a guy who’s in the top 10 in scoring, but we have three guys I know we can put on the ice and create offense for us anytime they’re out there. But there’s more at stake. Our identity is still — we’re not the highest offensive team in the league despite the fact we scored a lot more than people realize last year, especially the second half. But our identity is still built around being a hardworking, tight defensive, strong checking team. Those guys, while they have the ability to create offense for us, they fit into that identity.
Q What makes you confident about this season?
A Having Dubnyk here from Day 1, plus our young kids are ready to take another step. I look at a guy like [Mikael] Granlund and I don’t see a reason why he shouldn’t be even better this year and Zuck and Charlie and Nino [Niederreiter] and especially Haulzy. I see no reason in my eyes why our veterans, our older guys, shouldn’t be at least as good as they have been.