Luke Kunin prepared for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau’s rigorous skating test throughout the summer. But when it came time to line up for the sprint session Friday during the first practices of training camp at Xcel Energy Center, Kunin was excused.
“I guess they didn’t want me to do it,” he said. “But I feel good. My testing was good. I feel like I’m ready to go when I get cleared.”
The 20-year-old forward wasn’t medically cleared Thursday as he continues to recover from surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee. While he’s frustrated to still be limited, he is certain the cautious approach is the right one to take.
“I want to play,” Kunin said. “I’m a hockey player. I want to be out there helping my team, but you gotta think long term [about] your health for a long career. You can’t rush it, but we’re doing all the right things. I feel good. Just can’t wait to go for real.”
It’s been weeks since Kunin first started skating after he suffered the injury in a March 4 game against the Red Wings, but he isn’t poised to get cleared for contact until he checks in with doctors in early October.
That timeline rules him out for preseason action, but Kunin’s objective is still to make his season debut with the Wild rather than in the American Hockey League.
“This is where I want to be,” he said. “I think I belong. I understand the process, whatever that may be. The organization, the coaches, will make that decision. But wherever I am, this is my goal.”
Although everyone knew Boudreau’s skate test would headline the first day of on-ice work, that didn’t make the challenge any easier.
Players had to skate goal line to goal line twice and then to center ice. They had to do that three times, in 37 seconds, 40 seconds and 41 seconds, and were given a two-minute break between each.
If a player didn’t finish in time, he had to do an extra round. Only four players (forwards Matt Hendricks, Matt Read, Gerry Fitzgerald and Dmitry Sokolov) had to repeat the drill.
“It was hard,” winger Zach Parise said. “I think what made it harder was it was a pretty tough practice [before the test]. A lot of up and downs. I think that made the test a lot harder, but I’m happy that it’s over and we don’t have to worry about it until next year.”
Plenty can change before the puck drops on the Wild’s season Oct. 4, but potential opening-night lines and pairings worked together Friday.
Center Eric Staal was back with wingers Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund. Captain Mikko Koivu centered Parise and Nino Niederreiter. Rookie Jordan Greenway lined up next to center Joel Eriksson Ek and Charlie Coyle, and Eric Fehr was between Marcus Foligno and J.T. Brown.
Three of the top four on defense were in one group, but Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn formed a duo — the possible pairing.
“We do have similar games, a little bit grittier and more defensive,” Seeler said.
Forwards Mike Liambas (upper-body strain), Ivan Lodnia (minor injury) and Connor Dewar (lower-body injury) did not practice Friday.
Practice Saturday, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center will be open to the public.
Gates 1 and 2 will open at 8:45 a.m., and fans are invited to bring water in portable containers (maximum of 3 ounces) to help the team create the ice for the season. The drop-off is from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., into a Zamboni located inside Gate 1.
Fans who contribute water will receive a “This is Our Ice” jersey patch and be entered for a chance to win tickets to the March 25 game against the Predators. Those who turn in water from a Minnesota lake will get a 10,000 Lakes Challenge T-shirt, while supplies last.