Nick Bonino doesn't feel like a newcomer.
He's been in Minnesota since mid-November, skating with Wild players at Tria Rink in St. Paul as he prepares for his first season with the team after being added in an offseason trade from Nashville.
"Everyone's been very welcoming," Bonino said last week by phone. "It's been easy to acclimate, for sure."
Still, Bonino has more to learn to completely integrate with the group, and less time to do so than he normally would.
After months of uncertainty about how the NHL would return following its bubble-wrapped playoffs, the league finalized a 56-game, division-based season last month that will start on the heels of an expedited training camp.
Wild players report for fitness and medical testing Sunday before their first on-ice practice Monday, and the next week, on Jan. 14, the team will begin its 20th anniversary season in Los Angeles.
"We'll have about 10 days to work on stuff and get a quick refresher — or I guess an introduction for me to the systems we'll play," said Bonino, who was acquired in a deal that sent Luke Kunin to the Predators. "But I'm really excited. I don't mind the quick turnaround. I'm excited to get going."
The Wild's first real action will be its season opener against the Kings.
Preseason games have been nixed from this year's scaled-back training camp. But ahead of his first regular season since having his interim tag removed, coach Dean Evason has budgeted a pair of intrasquad scrimmages to simulate a game day — even scheduling morning skates and moving the competition from the team's practice rink to Xcel Energy Center.
Special teams will also be under the microscope; after using the first practice to emphasize speed, the power play and penalty kill will be spotlighted each session.
Although he's not overhauling the upbeat style he implemented last season, Evason is planning a few tweaks to the system so that the team might be able to roll out a different look when it's playing the same team in back-to-back games.
Not only has the Wild been relocated to the newly created West Division, one of four temporary divisions for the season, but it'll play each opponent at least twice in a row before taking on another team.
"We're not certainly trying to reinvent the wheel," said Evason, who replaced the fired Bruce Boudreau last February before becoming the permanent head coach in July ahead of the playoffs. "We're going to do what we do and hopefully play with that same energy and tempo and pace that we've, I think, established here as a group last year, and hopefully we can continue to carry that forward."
Evason also expects to do quite a bit of teaching.
Aside from Bonino, the Wild also traded for forwards Marcus Johansson (from Buffalo for center Eric Staal) and Blaine native Nick Bjugstad. Prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov is ready to debut, first-rounder Marco Rossi will vie for a spot, and Cam Talbot is the team's new starting goaltender. Previous No. 1 Devan Dubnyk was traded to San Jose; so was young forward Ryan Donato, and captain Mikko Koivu wasn't re-signed.
Goalie Alex Stalock (upper body) and winger Mats Zuccarello (right arm surgery) are sidelined with injury.
"Everyone just seems excited for the year," Bjugstad said, "and we're all optimistic about what's ahead of us here."
Already, Evason has line combinations and defensive pairings in mind for the season, but he recognizes he may have to adapt — a flexibility he will stress as key in an unusual season like the one the Wild is facing.
"We need to see how the chemistry is, and certainly we'll be able to evaluate every day through practice," Evason said. "But the two games that we are going to play will tell the tale, as well. We'll just see who has chemistry. It may not present itself right away; it might be a situation where we're going to adjust."
But that won't be the only evaluation team brass has to make.
Another unconventional aspect of the upcoming season is the addition of taxi squads, a group of four to six players who can practice and travel with teams and play once recalled to the active roster.
In addition to such Iowa players as Kyle Rau, Luke Johnson and Louie Belpedio, the Wild will also have recent free-agent signees in camp in Mitchell Chaffee, Joseph Cramarossa and goalie Andrew Hammond. Defenseman Calen Addison, whom the team secured in the Jason Zucker trade with Pittsburgh, is also included on the 41-player camp roster.
"Yes, we have our lineup penciled in," Evason said. "But there's still lots of decisions to be made of who's going to stay here with us and clearly who's going to go to Iowa."
Despite the changes brought on by forging ahead with a season while the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Wild's objective has been unaffected.
This is a team that was on the upswing before COVID-19 stalled the league last March and then sputtered when the season resumed in the bubble, getting knocked out of the qualifiers in four games by Vancouver.
And after major renovations to the roster, the team expects to compete.
"It's a fun time to be a member of the Wild," Bonino said. "I feel like joining this team now, it's a great time to be joining them and I'm excited."