The Wild’s roster is becoming a bit clearer after today’s roster moves to assign defensemen Jon Blum, Justin Falk and Guillaume Gelinas and forwards Joel Rechlicz, Tyler Graovac and Brett Bulmer to AHL Iowa. This blog is a tad long with a lot of, uh, words, but try to read them at your leisure because it provides a good template right now for what GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo are thinking.
Blum, Falk and Rechlicz will officially be assigned Tuesday as long as they clear waivers at 11 a.m. Don’t be surprised if we see a couple of these guys (maybe Rechlicz and Blum) recalled to play in Thursday’s exhibition game at St. Louis.
The Wild’s roster is now 33. However, Gustav Olofsson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He will be reassigned once he’s healthy. So that puts the roster at 32. Josh Harding will start as a non-roster injured player, so it’s really at 31. And actually the Wild is still deciding what it plans to do with former Blackhawks draft pick Brandon Whitney (it may sign the goalie), but since he won’t be on the team, the roster’s kinda sorta at 30.
Twenty-three (23) players can make the opening night roster Oct. 9 against Colorado.
(Speaking of the Avs, the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater and I have started our own Podcast called, “Inside Hockey with Dater and Russo.” You can soon subscribe to it for free on iTunes (I’ll let you know when we get that up and running), but if you want to listen to the first one, click this link).
So, the roster looks like this (by jersey number):
Forwards (19): Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Jordan Schroeder, Zach Parise, Cody Almond, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Thomas Vanek, Brett Sutter, Jason Pominville, Michael Keranen, Curt Gogol, Erik Haula, Zack Phillips, Mikael Granlund.
Defensemen (9): Keith Ballard, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba.
Goalies (5): Ilya Bryzgalov (tryout), Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding, Brandon Whitney (invitee).
Tonight’s lineup vs. the Penguins (game will be replayed on NHL Network at 11 p.m.):
Kuemper (scheduled for full 60)
Sidney Crosby won’t play tonight because of the death of his grandmother.
-------With Blum, Falk and Olofsson likely starting the season in Iowa, the blue line is getting very clear.
With Suter, Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon and Ballard roster locks, there are two spots (maybe three) left (if the Wild keeps eight D).
Dumba, Folin and Bickel remain.
As I have mentioned all camp, the organization feels Bickel is valuable because he’s kind of a rover. He can play the blue line or wing and can be an extra depth guy. If Dumba and Folin are to stick, Fletcher and Yeo made very clear today that they both have to play. So for them to both stick, there either needs to be an injury (Ballard is banged up) or one of the roster locks would have to be a scratch. The only roster lock in that category would be Ballard.
Asked if Folin and Dumba could both make the team, Fletcher told me, “As long as guys are playing and developing, I’m fine with that. They’ve got to be playing. I don’t need to state the obvious, but things change quickly with injuries and situational play. Bickel, too, has had a very strong camp and those players have earned the right to be here. I said it to you last year, to me, the opening-day roster isn’t that big a deal. I think a lot more is made of it because two or three days into it, you’re already making changes. I think there’s going to be a constant battle for ice time all season long and players like Blum and Falk will factor into it again. They need to pick up their play, they need to get their game going, but we fully expect that they’ll factor into the equation at some point, too. Whether you’re here for the opening game or not, things will change. To me the bigger story is so far, both Folin and Dumba have been able to play at a pretty high level in camp, and that’s a good sign for our organization.”
Folin, Dumba and Bickel are all right-shot defensemen. Bickel will get a look tonight on the left side. Folin apparently has experience playing that side in the past, but Fletcher said, “You want to give younger players a chance to be comfortable so they can be successful,” so the Wild doesn’t want Folin or Dumba making the team on the right side.
Sooooo, that makes things clearer too. If Folin and Dumba both make it, the Wild would prefer them to play the right side. Sooooo, that means left-shot defenseman Jonas Brodin, who is so smooth he has played his off side since he got to Minnesota as a 19-year-old, would have to move to his left side if both Folin and Dumba makes the team. That would likely mean Spurgeon becomes Suter’s defense partner again, which could be why the Wild’s getting a look at Folin with Scandella tonight.
However, Yeo said we may see the defense pairs mixed and matched tonight, so maybe we see Dumba in that situation, too.
But Fletcher again made clear that he’s most concerned with the long-term development of Folin and Dumba, so if they’re both not going to play regularly to start the season, “I wouldn’t hesitate to put either one of them down [in Iowa] if they need to get more minutes. But they’ve played well and as of today deserve to be here.”
A big reason for today’s roster moves was the Wild’s coaching staff wants to get to a more manageable one group in practice. This is also a good chance to sneak Falk, Blum and Rechlicz through waivers. Again, even if any of those players is recalled for Thursday’s game (assuming they clear Tuesday), that player would not have to be placed on waivers again to get back to Iowa.
Yeo again made clear that both Dumba and Folin cannot make the team unless they’re both inside the Wild’s top-6. Dumba and Folin won’t be the seventh or eighth defenseman.
“You’ve heard me say enough times that young players have to play,” Yeo said. “I don’t want these guys coming into the game analyzing and overthinking things. That’s part of the competition for them to being able to deal with that. We haven’t made any of those decisions yet, but if you want to read between the lines or just research from my previous my quotes, I’ve said that enough times, I don’t want anybody sitting in the press box that’s a young player. They need to play games, they need to develop.”
-------It was very clear today that the Wild felt Blum had a second consecutive sub-par camp. Yeo said, “This is not a final decision. But with that said, there are some other players who have done more that deserve to be here right now. This is a guy, I know he can play games for us. He’s got to get his game sharp, he’s got to make sure he’s ready because he’s done some good things for us, but it’s just not there right now.”
-------The Wild is thrilled with Graovac.
Cue Fletcher: “I would say [Carson] Soucy and [Dylan] Labbe are the most improved kids for the non-pro players, but I’d have to say Graovac is the most improved player in our organization. Nobody’s come further than he did. I just told him, he was never in competition for our fourth-line center spot. There was no way we were going to keep him and let him play limited minutes on the fourth line. We think he has a chance to be a good hockey player and the important thing now is for him to just go and be a big-minute player and have a big role in Iowa and to develop his game. He had a very good camp, but right now, he just has to play. He played well at the end of last season. If you look at his junior career, it started with very modest point totals early and then he really developed quickly as he got into his second and third seasons, so we’re anticipating the same thing in pro hockey. He has a chance to be a very good player for us. He understood. I had a great meeting with him. We want him to be the old clichéd big fish in a small pond instead of fighting for a few minutes here. He’ll get his chance. If he continues to develop over the season, maybe he puts himself in contention to be a callup guy. But for me, it’s much more about long-term with him.”
Added Yeo, “He’s got the right attitude just as far as his determination to get better as a player. You can always tell there are certain players that kind of look at you and you almost have the feeling that they feel that you don’t know what you’re talking about. But then there’s other players that take in everything that you say, and those are the ones that gets better. This is what he’s shown from the time that he’s become a pro.”
------Fletcher on Bulmer: “He’s a young guy. Bomber (Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir) said he’s had five separate injuries over the last three seasons. When you’re into your third pro season, it’s just a huge year. Third year pros are expected to be good players in the American League. The key for him is being healthy and getting a good role on that team and just building his confidence and building his game. He was a real longshot to make our team out of camp. But with his size and versatility, I think he’ll be a real important factor for us over the course of the season. For us, it’s just about getting him going and having him play. He’s just got to get his game to a high level, and if he does, I’m sure he’ll be a player that will factor in here at some point.”
-------Yeo said he didn’t yet know what his goalie situation will look like Thursday and Saturday at St. Louis and home vs. St. Louis – the last two preseason games. I assume the Wild will give Niklas Backstrom and Kuemper one more game each, but Yeo said not necessarily and he has liked Bryzgalov’s camp.
“The challenge for us is trying to identify who’s going to be starting with us, who’s going to be our starting goalie for Game 1 and make sure whoever that is that they have to right amount of games to be properly prepared.”
-------Yeo on the importance of Bickel and Rechlicz and team toughness: “Your players play a little bit bigger. There’s a part of the game that exists that is very real, your top players and the comfort level they have, the ability for them to go out and play their game when a guy like that is around. If you want to use the word protection or whatever it is, there’s just a different comfort level. That said, we do have a team that is tough. We showed last year there were a lot of times we didn’t go in with the toughest lineup, but we’ve got a bunch of guys who are going to compete hard and play a tough game in a different sense. No matter who’s in the lineup, we have to make sure we’re ready to play that way.”
-- Thursday’s game in St. Louis will be gigantic for many players (JASON ZUCKER, for one!) because Saturday’s finale will largely be the Wild’s final roster playing. Said Fletcher: “[Thursday] is going to be a critical, critical game for many players. It’s a great opportunity for us to evaluate players when you go into St. Louis because it’s a tough building, a tough team, a great team.”