A month ago, the Wild entered training camp with 10 forwards on one-way contracts and basically saved the fourth-line left wing and center spots and a potential 13th forward spot for three young guys or tryouts Ryan Carter and Tomas Fleischmann.
A month later, the Wild still has 10 forwards locked on the team with no others stepping up and firmly grabbing hold of a job.
This has to be a concern with one more preseason game left, cuts on the horizon and opening night a week from Thursday in St. Louis.
Fleischmann was released before camp started because of a medical issue and Carter has missed the last two preseason games due to illness and now an injury.
Tonight, Bruce Boudreau badly wanted somebody, anybody to “show me.”
Nobody did in a 2-0 preseason loss to Colorado.
“We keep waiting, and we keep looking for signs,” Boudreau said. “We see little signs here and there, but no consistent sign of anything. Like, you can like one guy one period or one game and not the next, and the one thing about the NHL is that you’ve got to be consistent.”
Joel Eriksson Ek showed flashes. This kid is going to be a great player at some point in the future. At the world junior selection camp in Plymouth, he dominated his age group. He generates scoring chances (four shots tonight) and is smart defensively, but tonight he did center the line that was scored upon twice in 73 seconds of the second period.
It was Eriksson Ek who made the mistake on a faceoff play on the first goal, Boudreau said, but again, of all the bubble forwards, in my mind, he has been the best. So the Wild has to decide whether putting a 19-year-old in the NHL is the right thing this season or if returning him to Sweden where he can be a stud, get big minutes and play world junior is the smartest thing to do.
At this point, my gut says since nobody has stood up and grabbed a job, I think the Wild keeps Eriksson Ek around longer. Remember, he can stay up to nine games without burning the first year of his deal.
Alex Tuch is going to be a horse someday and frankly may deserve a spot now considering nobody has stepped up to grab a job. Going to Iowa would probably be the best for him though, but he’s a tank and tonight I thought played well for the most part. He had one exceptional shift late in the third.
I haven’t done the calculations, but the Wild has about $3 million in cap space, so cap space will affect any decision making.
Tyler Graovac, this is the guy the Wild really saved a spot for. Remember, it could have signed a veteran center this summer like Matt Cullen. Instead, it left the door open for Graovac.
And the Wild continues to wait.
He did not have a good game tonight. When I asked about him, Boudreau made it clear he wasn’t pleased. Graovac had two wall plays in the first where pucks slid by him, he didn’t have a shot and he lost seven of nine faceoffs.
Remember, Graovac is battling with Zac Dalpe, who made a few nice plays tonight, and Eriksson Ek. At this stage, if Graovac makes the team, it’s either by default because they feel he has more upside than Dalpe and feel Eriksson Ek isn’t ready or because the Wild doesn’t want to risk putting him on waivers.
But he just hasn’t shown enough, which is a shame because he’s a good kid who badly wants to prove himself and earn a job.
Christoph Bertschy was OK tonight.
On the blue line, Nate Prosser had some good moments, as did Mike Reilly.
Here’s the deal. The Wild was supposed to have Wednesday off, but it’s now practicing and taking Thursday off. The Iowa Wild come to town Thursday and Friday to practice before heading to North Dakota to play Manitoba, so there very well could be significant cuts in the next couple days and Wild bubble players simply handed off to Iowa.
Boudreau said he plans to meet Wednesday with Chuck Fletcher about the team.
The Wild got off to a great start tonight, generating a 13-2 shot lead after one period.
Boudreau said, “We knew coming out in the second that they were going to be getting crap in there because they had two shots, I think in the first five minutes. We didn’t meet their push in the second period. Their veterans stepped it up a little bit. They had the 2-0 lead and in the third period they were content [to sit on it].
“I think our guys tried in the first period. We were all over them. We played fast, we did a lot of good things, but it’s a 60-minute game.”
Boudreau said the one thing he must change is “we can’t win games with six hits. You never get the puck back. It’s one of the reasons you don’t score, cause it’s one and done, you get blocked out, you don’t go to the rough areas and the paint. We had one hit after one period, five hits after two. You’re not going to win a lot of games like that. We got a few hits in the third period and every time we made contact with them in their end on the forecheck, we got the puck back.”
Alex Stalock played the third period, a plan to reward him after his 39-save win in the preseason opener. Stalock will be put on waivers in the next day or two to get him to Iowa.
Darcy Kuemper played pretty well and didn’t have a prayer on the first one. On the second, it was a juicy rebound, but his D failed him.
Matt Dumba had a tough night with his gaps and was on for both those goals with Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella.
Boudreau on Dumba: “He’s trying to do too much or thinks he can do too much instead of just play his game. Some shifts he looks really good, then some shifts he looks really bad. We want guys just to be consistent.”
A couple notes I think will be chopped out of my notebook for space:
--Center Pat Cannone cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Iowa. He could be a depth player for Minnesota this season.
“He was an Iowa Wild killer last year [for the Chicago Wolves],” Flahr said. “When I recruited him, I said, ‘You scored half your points in our building, you might as well play there fulltime.”
-- Kurtis Gabriel called Tuesday’s game “another opportunity.” He said he had a positive meeting when he learned he was being sent to the minors.
“I think I’ve improved a lot in the last couple years,” Gabriel said. “They know that. … I’m just hoping to get better everyday.”
He said the overall message from the team was to “calm down.”
“I’m a high strung guy. Just relax and play hockey and don’t worry about things too much,” he said he was told.
-- Cool moment when Boudreau congratulated Jared Bednar for getting the Avs' coaching job. Boudreau reminded him that between winning the Calder Cup last season in the AHL (Columbus' affiliate) and Colorado's 4-0 start, he has won 13 straight games. Nice to see Boudreau getting along with an Avalanche coach, if you know what I mean.
-- Just a reminder, at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jim Souhan and I will be taping our podcast at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. Please come join.
-- Rachel Blount is covering practice Wednesday. If there’s cuts, I’ll get the news up as quick as I can. I’ve got a flight in the late morning back to the Twin Cities.
Please grab Thursday’s paper. I’m planning a pretty gripping feature you’ll want to read.