Sixty-nine players split up among three groups will hit the ice for the first practices of Wild training camp Friday, but the team might not have such a robust list of participants for long.
With 13 of the first 18 games of the regular season on the road, a potentially make-or-break slate, the team is planning to make cuts sooner this year so that the players ultimately tasked with tackling that stretch can prepare for it together.
“We know our schedule is daunting, and we have to get out of the gate quick,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So that’s going to make us get to our team a little quicker than normal.”
That won’t be the only difference in camp.
After visiting the Avalanche Sept. 22 for its fourth contest of the preseason, the Wild will remain in Colorado and practice outside Vail for two days before continuing to Dallas for another tuneup against the Stars on Sept. 26. Team bonding is the objective, but the decision is also indicative of the coaching staff exploring new ideas after a down season.
“You take a long look when you don’t make the playoffs,” Boudreau explained. “What can you do different that’s A, better or B, just different but trying to accomplish the same thing. We’ve looked into all of that stuff.”
Center Joel Eriksson Ek needed just 3 minutes, 55 seconds to log 2 miles during a bike test Thursday, a performance Boudreau later singled out.
“He did the bike test 20 seconds faster than anybody on the team, which is ridiculous,” Boudreau said. “He’s in great shape.”
Eriksson Ek, 22, is one of a few young players Boudreau is expecting to contend for a more significant role this season, with sophomore Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin also on Boudreau’s radar.
“Established people, the veterans, they’re going to have to fight for their ice,” Boudreau said, “because these guys are ready to make a move.”
The logo on the front of winger Mats Zuccarello’s jersey has changed, but the number on the back is the same.
Zuccarello will wear No. 36 with the Wild, the same digits he sported during his previous stints with the Rangers and Stars, after defenseman Nick Seeler handed off the number. Seeler will don No. 55, a switch Zuccarello said will land Seeler a few dinners on the road this season.
“My plan was to go in and choose a new number,” said Zuccarello, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Wild as a free agent on July 1. “I don’t like taking numbers, but someone told me that he wanted to give it so I called him. That was just unbelievable.”
Fellow blue liner Matt Dumba was the last Wild player to wear No. 55. He wore it 2013-15. Before that, Nick Schultz had it from 2001-12.
“I liked when Dumba had it,” Seeler said. “I thought it was a cool number. I liked [Niklas] Kronwall growing up, and he’s 55. He was someone who I watched when I was younger.”
• Just how many roster spots are up for grabs is unclear since team brass is still discussing if the Wild will flex to the 23-man limit or not. “We’ll see what’s best by the end of training camp,” General Manager Bill Guerin said.