On the day off between trips to Columbus and Saskatoon, the Wild held a pretty workmanlike practice Friday at Xcel Energy Center. Missing from the first group--composed mostly of core players--were Justin Fontaine and Ryan Carter. Fontaine has a charley horse and pain in his side after David Clarkson kneed him in the leg during Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets. Coach Mike Yeo said Carter was being held out of practice as a precaution and won't play Saturday in Saskatoon, but should be ready for Sunday's home game against Winnipeg.

The kids will get another chance to impress Saturday against Edmonton. You know it's a young lineup when Yeo says, 'We've got a few veteran defensemen in there. By 'veteran,' I mean second-year guys.'' The group who will accompany goalie Darcy Kuemper to his hometown:

Forwards: Keranen, Graovac, Schroeder, Bertschy, Haula, Mitchell, Fedotenko, Dalpe, Bulmer, Hagel, Sutter, Knight, Carey

Defensemen: Scandella, Dumba, Reilly, Folin, Olofsson, Strachan, Fortunus

Goalies: Kuemper, Irving

Yeo said this could be the last opportunity for many of those young players to make their case. For the final two preseason games, Sunday vs. Winnipeg and next Thursday vs. Buffalo at home, he wants to use a lineup as close as possible to the one that will make the trip to Colorado for the Oct. 8 season opener. Yeo wants those players to have a couple of games together to propel them into the regular season.

The coach hedged on saying the roster would be pared significantly on Sunday, but he said the players who go to Duluth for a couple of days next week for practice and team-building will be "pretty much our group.'' He also said while the Wild will be watching the waiver wire--Friday marked the first day that NHL teams could waive players in camp--he is confident that some of the youngsters can step up, whether on a full-time or a spot-duty basis.

"There’s been some guys that have shown they’re capable of playing games,'' he said. "Whether it’s playing with us full-time or playing in situations where we need somebody on a call-up basis, that’s a bit of a different story. We’ll see as it goes, but I do know we have guys that can play games for us.''

Kuemper anticipates about 50 family members and friends will be at SaskTel Centre to see him play in that arena for the first time as a pro. He's been anticipating the game since the preseason schedule came out, and it will be a big test. It appears that No. 1 draft pick Connor McDavid will play for the Oilers on Saturday night in an arena likely to be filled with Edmonton fans.

Yeo said he's been pleased with Kuemper's camp so far and thinks the goalie just needs more playing time to avoid a repeat of last season's inconsistency. The coach also noted that the Wild's goalie situation isn't any clearer because of Niklas Backstrom's strong play in camp. "We're really no closer to a decision right now than we were,'' Yeo said. "At some point, we'll have to figure this out.''

And two items from Mr. Russo, including an invite to hang out with him next month:

--The NHL decided not to suspend Columbus' David Clarkson for his kneeing penalty on Fontaine. The league examined video and felt he didn't lead with the knee and Fontaine kept his leg back to jump out of the way. But the league said Clarkson may have been lucky that the game wasn't on TV and there weren't additional angles of the incident.

--Also, on Oct. 6, the Star Tribune will hold a preseason Wild event at the rotunda at our headquarters at Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis. Former NHLer and Bloomington Jefferson star Mark Parrish will be on the panel with Michael Russo and others. Come on down to our headquarters during your lunch hour between 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. There will be food, giveaways, questions and answers and a lot of laughs.

RACHEL BLOUNT

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