I had the opportunity to take in Thursday afternoon’s prospect scrimmage at the Wild’s annual summer development camp, so I wanted to toss up a big blog before I get out of dodge for a little bit.
I also talked to GM Chuck Fletcher about a variety of subjects, including roster hopefuls and development camp linemates Joel Eriksson Ek, Alex Tuch and Sam Anas, how they’ll manage their minor-league goalies, Matt Dumba negotiations and his desire to perhaps at some point add another NHL forward.
All of that can be read on this blog and I’ll have an article in Saturday’s paper.
If you had fun Thursday or didn’t get an opportunity to take in the pretty entertaining scrimmage, the Wild will hold another one that is also free and open to the public at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Gate 1 opens at 4:30 p.m.
As for the scrimmage, Team White rallied in the second half to beat Team Green, 4-3. Afterward, they did a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime for the fan’s entertainment. I think Sunday they may add a shootout to that.
To give you a recap of Thursday’s scoring, Colorado College invitee Cody Bradley got the scoring started for White, but in front of mom and pops, Mario Lucia capitalized on a gift of a turnover in front of the net. The Notre Dame grad and soon-to-be first-year pro turned and sniped the tying goal for Green.
That was the first half. Things opened up in the second.
In came Adam Vay for White and Kaapo Kahkonen for Green.
Zack Mitchell scored a pretty goal to give Green a 2-1 lead, but Anas, the Quinnipiac star who signed as a college free agent, showed off his uncanny combination of patience and puck placement by outwaiting everybody, including the goalie, before tying it up.
That’s when the wheels kind of fell off for Green.
Brady Brassart banged up a great pass in front from Colton Beck, then Tuch set up Eriksson Ek, who followed up his initial shot for a 4-2 lead and three in a row by White.
Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan made it 4-3 late against Vay, the giant Hungarian, but that would be all she wrote.
Vay was really good. A little awkward because he seems to throw his entire frame into shots and then is in trouble if he doesn’t swallow the original one, but that’s something that can be fixed when he starts working with goalie coaches Bob Mason and Freddie Chabot.
Also, Nick Seeler, what a beast….First shift, he Kronwalled Keegan Iverson, which you know had to get Bruce Boudreau’s attention. Not sure Seeler knows the definition of summer hockey.
Iverson, who hails from St. Louis Park, looked real good, by the way, on a line with Chase Lang and Nick Saracino.
2016 first-round pick Luke Kunin was very good early in the game and Jordan Greenway is going to be a good one. Very intriguing with his size, skating and strength. I know the brass really liked Brandon Duhaime, a Floridian drafted last month.
Grayson Downing sustained an injury while skating this summer, so he’s not taking part in the scrimmages.
Also, seventh-round pick Dmitry Sokolov is still recovering from shoulder surgery. In fact, he won’t be ready until later this fall, so he’s unlikely to take part in training camp.
You can tell just by looking that he’s not in the best shape, so the Wild is really working to get him with its trainer this week to get him into a good program. Remember, this was a kid that a year ago was supposed to be a top-15 pick and ended up slipping to the seventh round. So if the Wild can get his head on straight, this could be a bigtime late-round steal.
“He had a bad shoulder all year, wasn’t in great shape and he still scored 30 goals,” Fletcher said. “A lot of potential there. If we can get him healthy and get him in shape and get him dialed in into a good program, there’s a lot of upside.”
-- Eriksson Ek: Earlier this offseason, it was reported out of Sweden that 2015 first-round pick Joel Eriksson Ek would definitely be returning to play for Farjestad next season. The Wild was quick to dispute the report, and because the Wild signed Eriksson Ek to an entry-level deal last summer, it’s the Wild that technically determines his path.
I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher on the phone before the draft, and he said that while the Wild never issue ultimatums, he made it clear the Wild wanted Eriksson Ek to at least attend training camp in September so the brass sees where he’s at.
On Thursday, I talked to Fletcher and he said Eriksson Ek will in fact attend training camp, which I believe opens Sept. 19. Farjestad’s season starts Sept. 17, so if Eriksson Ek lasted until the Wild’s opener, he’d at a minimum miss six or seven games back home. The Wild theoretically could even have Eriksson Ek start the season with the Wild. His three-year contract would slide if he plays fewer than 10 games.
“He’s coming to make the team,” Fletcher said. “Again, it’s July, but he’s a talented kid, he’s in great shape, he works hard. We’ll see what the coaches like and how he does in camp, but he’s really improved a lot in the last year.”
Eriksson Ek said, “I’d like to come to training camp. If I don’t make the team, it’ll at least show me where I am and I can learn from the best guys, see how they’re doing and learn from them.”
Eriksson Ek has added 16 or 17 pounds since this time last year, and not sportswriter pounds.
He weighed in at about 198 pounds after being 183 or 184 at last year’s camp.
“He came in in great shape. He’s quicker. He’s always been a competitive kid, but now he’s a little bit stronger and able to be a little bit better in battles,” Fletcher said.
Added Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir: “He’s become a man.”
Now, if Eriksson Ek can’t make the opening night roster – after all, he’s only 19, Fletcher said it’s to be determined whether he goes to Iowa in the American Hockey League or returns to Farjestad. Technically, the Wild could always recall him from Sweden if needed.
My gut: If he doesn’t make the Wild out of camp, he will return home because Fletcher said, “Farjestad is a great program and he’s going to have an important role on that team if he was to go back. We have to take that into consideration. He’s going to get national team games, clearly going to play on the world junior team. We’ll just see. We’ve left that completely open. We told him, ‘Come to camp, see how you fit in and see how it plays out,’ and then we’ll make the decision as to what’s best for him.”
Eriksson Ek feels “I can be a two-way player who helps the team win, works hard in both ends of the ice and go to the tough areas and score some goals.”
He plays wing in Sweden, but “I feel most comfortable playing center,” which is a good thing if you’re the Wild.
-- Alex Tuch: Looks to be in tremendous shape, although Boudreau let him know there’s a difference between great shape and NHL shape, so Tuch said that’ll be a motivator for him next month in preparation for Traverse City.
Tuch said to him development camp is the first “stepping stone” to hopefully making the Wild out of camp.
“Now that I signed, that’s my goal,” Tuch said. “Development camp’s where Bruce Boudreau first gets to see you play and hopefully it goes well and he likes what he’s seeing. I’ll take it into Sunday.”
As I’ve mentioned, training camp will be interesting this season because with six guys potentially gone the first week or two of camp because of the World Cup, Boudreau will get a good, long look at players like Tuch, Eriksson Ek, Anas, Christoph Bertschy, Mitchell, Grayson Downing, etc.
But for Tuch, he says the next stepping stone is the rookie tournament.
“I want to show what I have there compared to all the other best rookies in the NHL and hopefully make an impact and come into training camp with a lot of confidence,” he said. “Hopefully I’m able to squeeze my way onto one of those spots and make the team right away.”
Tuch said he has had instant chemistry with Eriksson Ek and Anas even in practices.
Fletcher said in his mind, the Wild has 10 top-9 forwards if you include Chris Stewart, who right now is arguably on the depth chart as fourth-line right wing.
“We have a lot more skill than we’ve had in the last few years, so I’ll be curious to see where guys like Tuch, Eriksson Ek, Anas, Mitchell, Downing, are at,” Fletcher said. “The young guys have to come in and play really well to earn a spot.
“Early in camp in particular, there will be a lot of opportunity to get ice time. It’s such a compressed schedule this year if you play well and deserve to get games in the NHL, you’ll get ‘em. We’re going to need a lot of bodies this year.”
Because of the World Cup and new “bye week” and three-day Christmas break, NHL teams are basically playing 82 games in 167 days, which is crazy if you think about it.
-- Anas: Just watch his YouTube videos. He is very skilled and showed flashes of that during the scrimmage.
“His hockey sense is elite,” Fletcher said. “He’s got great hands, you can see the creativity out there. It’s summer hockey, but you can see the instincts that he has. He’s a top collegiate player, so he’ll have to come in and get used to pro hockey. He’s a kid that we expect to be a good American league player quickly and grow from there.”
I chatted with Anas for awhile, and the 23-year-old is a super nice kid. He was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Potomac, Maryland. He played on the Little Caps.
He’s undersized, as they say, at 5-foot-8, but he says he was really small as a freshman in high school. He was cut from varsity and AAA hockey, so he played two years of AA hockey, ended up committing to Quinnipiac and played two years of junior in Youngstown, where he put up big numbers before three 20-goal seasons in college.
Anas said he got real excited before camp and it was a “confidence booster” when he saw his name on the line chart with Eriksson Ek and Tuch.
“It’s good for me knowing that I’m playing with good players and also good for me to know they think of me in the same caliber as those players, two first-round picks,” Anas said.
He said he chose Minnesota as a free agent because he felt the Wild showed a real good understanding of him as a player. He said when he studied the organization, he liked how the Wild has developed players in the AHL and eventually gave them shots in the NHL.
His dad, who was born in London, Ontario, and played college hockey in Ontario, got him started playing hockey at 2 years old. He said he spent his childhood playing hockey in the basement and watching YouTube videos of skilled NHLers. He said he attended a lot of goaltending clinics in the summer and that has gotten him to understand how goalies think and how to try to outsmart them with puck placement. He certainly looks like a finisher.
He said, “Realistically, I understand I probably have to prove myself in the AHL first. This summer I’m focusing on developing my game, whether it’s getting stronger, getting faster, harder shot. When the time comes, I’ll focus on the bigger goal.”
-- Adam Vay and goalie situation: Very interesting story. He was basically an unknown before the world championships and is now hoping to one day become the first Hungarian to play in the NHL.
Fletcher said he was a complete unknown to him before the worlds.
“He played in the Hungarian-Romanian League if I’m not mistaken last year. We don’t have a great scouting presence in that league,” Fletcher said, sarcastically. “He played well in the worlds, caught everybody’s attention. He’s a gamer. Big, athletic, he has things he has to learn, but he’s excited about that.”
Alex Stalock is expected to be the No. 1 in Iowa, so the Wild will have to figure out how best to utilize Steve Michalek and Vay. Both need to play games, so maybe they switch back and forth between backing up in Iowa and starting with ECHL Quad City.
“At some point, they’ll both need to play games, so it’s important to make sure we develop them,” Fletcher said.
-- After the players get back from the World Cup, Boudreau wants to take the team on a getaway before the season, probably between the last road exhibition game in Denver and the last exhibition game at home. Duluth is a possibility, but Fletcher said it’s hard to figure it out right now because of when the guys will be back from the World Cup.
“But they’d like to do something,” Fletcher said of the staff.
-- Jordan Schroeder’s arbitration date is set for July 27, although I’m sure a deal will be struck before that.
--Matt Dumba is the only other unsigned restricted free agent.
Assistant GM Brent Flahr is working with agent Craig Oster to get that done. Said Fletcher, “I don’t anticipate any problems. Hopefully something gets done here pretty quickly.”
-- Fletcher had about $5.5 million in cap space and if you look at the depth chart, the Wild could probably use another NHL forward. There are lots of good players still out there, including Matt Cullen, Ryan Carter, Chris Porter, Justin Fontaine, etc.
Fletcher says he wants to be patient. He knows there will be insurance plans out there if he is, but just in case there’s a trade to be made, he doesn’t want to blow his cap space.
“We’ll continue to speak to some of the agents for some of the free agents,” he said. “We’ll speak to some GM’s and see what’s maybe there and I thought it was important to get into this week and see where people are physically. There are some kids who can legitimately push for openings, so I don’t know that we’re in a big hurry to add right now. I think we’ll be patient and wait even into camp if we have to. There’s no timetable to do anything right now.”
There’s no doubt Cullen is interested in re-signing with the Wild, but like Fletcher just said, he seems like he wants to wait a little while longer.