The Wild players who did not participate in Monday's preseason opener at Winnipeg practiced for 1 1/2 hours Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center. Among them: goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who will play the first two periods of Thursday's game at Pittsburgh.
Rachel Blount here today, subbing for Russo.
Kuemper signed a two-year contract just in time to make it to the first day of training camp last Friday, though he didn't get on the ice. He said a rigorous offseason conditioning program strengthened his legs and got him into excellent shape, easing his transition into camp. After performing well last season when Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were sidelined with illness or injuries, Kuemper said he feels ready to take on a bigger role this season if required--something that could happen, given that Harding is out indefinitely with a broken foot and Backstrom is working his way back after a season shortened by abdominal surgery.
"It's definitely exciting,'' said Kuemper, who was 12-8-4 last season with a goals-against average of 2.43 and save percentage of .915. "Obviously you always want to be a go-to guy. I've been that guy at every level getting to the NHL. If that’s asked of me, I'm going to be super excited for it and do my best to try to take advantage of it and be out there to help my teammates.''
Backstrom looked impressive in Monday's 2-1 loss to Winnipeg, playing 30 minutes and stopping all 12 shots he faced in his first game since last January. Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two goals on eight shots; he will play the third period of Thursday's game.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said he will take his time in deciding how to use his goalies. "I think (Kuemper) has gotten better every day in camp, and that’s what I'm looking for,'' Yeo said. "We're not in too much of a hurry to make any judgments. We want to see all the guys get into some game action; we saw (Backstrom) and we saw (Bryzgalov) last night, and now (Kuemper) will get his opportunity in Pittsburgh, and we’ll go from there.''
Matt Dumba, who played 13 games with the Wild last season before being sent back to his junior team, is likely to make his preseason debut in Pittsburgh as well. The young defenseman is hoping to make the roster out of camp again and stick around longer this time. He's in for a tough battle with Christian Folin, who turned heads with his play Monday, but Dumba said his experience from last season--and a good summer of workouts--have him ready for the challenge.
"I'm really happy with where my training took me this year,'' Dumba said. "I think my body developed a lot. I feel a lot stronger, and the on-ice stuff, I feel better than ever.
"I need to just focus on myself and what I can do for this team. Being my best, focusing on that and taking one step at a time is just what I'm looking at, and letting the cards fall as they may. Just knowing I'm working my hardest and doing whatever it takes to make this team. I hope I can stay here full time. That's my goal. I'm going to do whatever it takes to stay here and contribute here, and I think everybody knows that here. That’s where I stand.''
Yeo said he is looking for more consistency from Dumba. While he values Dumba's ability to create offense, he wants to see him learn how to do that in the most effective way, while taking care of business on defense as well. He has liked what he's seen from Dumba in camp scrimmages, he said, and is eager to see how that translates in games.
"We definitely want to create more offense and generate more scoring opportunities from the blue line,'' Yeo said. "And this is a guy, with his mobility and his shot, he certainly has the ability to help us in those areas, along with playing an important part on our power play. These are things he’ll get a chance to show, and these are things we’re looking for. But the other parts of the game have to be there, too. You have to take care of your own end, you have to be strong on the defensive side of the puck, you have to show you're fitting in with our system.''
In injury news, Kyle Brodziak (back) skated on his own Tuesday morning but didn't participate in practice. Yeo expects him to return to practice tomorrow, along with Justin Fontaine (groin strain). Fontaine isn't seriously hurt, Yeo said, but he doesn't want to risk further injury.
Also on Tuesday, the Wild sent goalie Alexandre Belanger, centers Reid Duke, Pavel Jenys and Chase Lang and defenseman Tanner Faith back to their junior teams. It also signed defensemen Alex Gudbranson and Hunter Warner to three-year, entry-level contracts.
Warner, 19, is an Eden Prairie native and a bruiser who played last season for Fargo and Waterloo in the USHL; his 127 penalty minutes in 50 games were 11th-most in the league. He and Gudbranson, 20, who plays for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL, both attended the Wild's summer development camp as invitees and are currently in camp.
As of late afternoon, the Wild had not announced its travel roster for the Pittsburgh game. We'll update the blog with that information when it's released.