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Forward spots available at Wild training camp

Thursday, 09.12.2013 / 4:59 PM

By Dan Myers - Correspondent / Training Camp 2013 blog

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Training Camp 2013 blog
Forward spots available at Wild training camp

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Chuck Fletcher was named general manager of the Minnesota Wild in May 2009, there was plenty of work to be done to rebuild a franchise whose foundation was crumbling.

Minnesota had little in the way of a prospect cupboard and its most popular player in franchise history, Marian Gaborik, was weeks away from signing with the New York Rangers.

With the Wild entering their fifth training camp with Fletcher at the helm, there should be legitimate competition for roster spots between a number of veterans and young players who gained experience last season. Among the top six, only left wing Zach Parise, center Mikko Koivu and right wing Jason Pominville are guaranteed much of anything.

They know they will be getting big minutes. Whether those minutes come as a line is yet to be seen. Wild coach Mike Yeo opened camp Thursday with that line intact.

The most intriguing roster decisions will come on Minnesota's second line, where a number of young players are competing for the three spots. Charlie Coyle, who spent much of his first season in the NHL last season as a right wing, enters camp in a battle with Mikael Granlund.

Should Granlund win it, it's likely the Wild would move Coyle back to the wing, where he could assume his spot on the top line with Parise and Koivu, play next to Granlund, or head to the third line.

"You never know what's going to happen or where they're going to need you to play," Coyle said. "If I keep playing my game, that's why they like me as a player. I've played right wing and center, so I'm pretty comfortable playing both positions."

Minnesota has a good battle shaping up for the second-line left wing spot between veteran Dany Heatley, second-year forward Jason Zucker and newcomer Nino Niederreiter, acquired in a draft-day trade from the New York Islanders in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck.

Heatley, returning from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final few weeks of last season, is considered the favorite and came to camp in condition to battle for his spot.

"Having my time off the last months of the year and having to take care of the shoulder this summer, I was in the gym a lot more," Heatley said. "I feel pretty fresh coming into this camp.”

Entering a contract season, Heatley could find his way onto the team's top line, a move which likely would shuffle Pominville to the second grouping and open a left wing spot for Zucker or Niederreiter.

Arguably the most intriguing player on the roster, Zucker possesses an impressive combination of speed and skill. For him, it's simply a matter of consistency, something Yeo has said on a couple of occasions over the summer.

With center Matt Cullen now with the Nashville Predators, a veteran Zucker leaned on heavily last season, the 21-year-old Las Vegas native will look to spread his wings this season.

"Last year, I had to wait for something to happen," Zucker said. "This year, my fate is in my own hands. I can do what I want with it right now."

Quote of the Day

It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.

— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process