The Wild’s eventual opening night blue line is getting clearer thanks to Monday’s roster cuts. Among the six players assigned to Iowa of the American Hockey League, defensemen Jon Blum and Justin Falk were demoted.
With banged-up Gustav Olofsson expected to be reassigned once healthy, eight defensemen are left in camp including locks Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin and Keith Ballard.
The Wild is expected to keep seven or eight, meaning there could potentially be room for the three remaining — Stu Bickel and rookies Matt Dumba and Christian Folin — to make the team. Each played in Monday’s 4-1 exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Xcel Energy Center.
Dumba, 20, especially impressed again, playing with flair, lugging the puck up ice and assisting on Zach Parise’s first-period power-play goal. It was the third consecutive game Dumba had an assist as the Wild, behind Jason Pominville’s three third-period goals for a natural hat trick and 32 saves from Darcy Kuemper, improved to 2-1-1 in the preseason.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things right now,” Dumba said. “My skating, just everything, is all coming together and feels really good. … If I can keep doing that, I think if all goes as planned, hopefully I stay here.”
Bickel, 27, is looking as if he might stick. He can provide toughness and play forward or defense. The question is whether the Wild’s willing to keep both Dumba and Folin, 23.
The short answer? As long as both are in the top six.
“If you want to read between the lines or just research from my previous my quotes, … I don’t want anybody sitting in the press box that’s a young player,” coach Mike Yeo said.
If the Wild is healthy, the only chance Dumba and Folin can both play is if one of the players with NHL experience is initially the seventh (or extra) defenseman. That candidate would be Ballard.
“They’ve got to be playing [to stay],” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I don’t need to state the obvious, but things change quickly with injuries and situational play. … There’s going to be a constant battle for ice time all season long and players like Blum and Falk will factor into it again. They need to pick up their play, they need to get their game going, but we fully expect that they’ll factor into the equation at some point, too.”
Falk and Blum will be sent to Iowa if they clear waivers Tuesday. Blum had a second consecutive average camp.
“He’s got to get his game sharp, he’s got to make sure he’s ready because he’s done some good things for us, but it’s just not there right now,” Yeo said.
After Monday’s game, the Wild reassigned forwards Jordan Schroeder (he’ll be placed on waivers Tuesday) and Zack Phillips to Iowa.
Bryz being Bryz
Throughout the third period, backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, on a tryout, sat on the bench taking selfies with fans through the glass. In fact, such a large line amassed, ushers put an end to it.
“What’s he think, he’s a model?” joked equipment manager Tony DaCosta, who stood next to him. “Then he starts waving them all down! Then he throws his [toque] on the ice when Pommer gets his hat trick!”
Graovac draws praise
Fletcher called Tyler Graovac, 21, a 6-4, strong-skating, skilled center, “the most improved player in our organization. Nobody’s come further than he did.”
Graovac looks like a 2011 seventh-round steal. He was assigned to Iowa along with bruiser Joel Rechlicz and winger Brett Bulmer.
“He was never in competition for our fourth-line center spot,” Fletcher said. “There was no way we were going to keep him and let him play limited minutes on the fourth line. We think he has a chance to be a good hockey player and the important thing now is for him to just go and be a big-minute player and have a big role in Iowa and to develop his game.
“We want him to be the old clichéd big fish in a small pond instead of fighting for a few minutes here.”
• Bulmer, 22, a second-round pick in 2010, had a pedestrian training camp. After five separate injuries in three years, Fletcher said, “Third-year pros are expected to be good players in the American League. The key for him is being healthy and getting a good role on that team and just building his confidence and building his game. … He’s just got to get his game to a high level, and if he does, I’m sure he’ll be a player that will factor in here at some point.”
• The Wild assigned defenseman Guillaume Gelinas to Iowa and returned goalie invitee Brandon Whitney to Victoriaville of the Quebec League.