TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- Mike Yeo
will enter the 2011-12 season as the youngest coach in the NHL.
That fact doesn't seem to faze the 38-year-old father of two who was named the third coach in the 11-year history of the Minnesota Wild
on June 17. Yeo, who replaced Todd Richards
after two seasons, had spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins
and helped lead the club to a Stanley Cup in 2009.
He also guided the Wild's top farm club in Houston to the American Hockey League finals last season in his only year as coach of the Aeros. He likes teams that play with speed and aggressiveness, and stresses puck-possession time in the offensive end.
New Wild coach Mike Yeo
will enter the 2011-12 season as the youngest coach in the NHL. (Getty Images)
Yeo inherits a team that has qualified for the playoffs just three times in 10 seasons (2003, '07 and '08) and has advanced beyond the opening round just once. While he certainly has his work cut out for him, Yeo is up for the challenge and ready to get the season started.
The new Minnesota coach was taking in the action at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this week and NHL.com caught up with him to discuss his expectations entering his inaugural NHL campaign.
Is there any significance or pressure in the fact you are the youngest coach in the NHL?
"It's not really something that enters my train of thought, to be honest. I'm just completely focused on trying to get our team geared up for training camp, make sure we have a great camp and are ready to start the season. With all the moves that (general manager) Chuck Fletcher made this summer, there's an awful lot of excitement around the city and within our own dressing room. The players are excited about our potential this year and what we can be. For me, I'm just completely focused on what I have to do to give ourselves the best chance to turn that optimism into something real."
Can Dany Heatley
return to the player he was in Ottawa, when he produced back-to-back 100-point seasons and was a go-to scorer?
"I've had a lot of dialogue with Dany and what I anticipate from him is to bounce back from his so-called down year (64 points in San Jose last season) -- at least that's what everyone keeps saying he had. From what I gather, he still found a way to put a few pucks in the net and I'm expecting him to do the same thing again this season. He's excited about this opportunity and challenge and I think he's motivated in terms of the so-called down year and wants to prove he still has a lot of good hockey left in him. More than anything else, he's really excited to come here and help us take that next step as an organization. I think from management to coaches to players, there's a lot of optimism to where we think we're going right now. We have a direction and Dany wants to be a part of that and he wants to help lead us in that direction."
Will Wild's makeover spring success?
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher hired a new coach and upgraded his offense with Dany Heatley
and Devin Setoguchi
, but is the new-look group strong enough to compete for a postseason spot? READ MORE ›
Do you feel your team has enough physical components to withstand the rigors of an 82-game regular season?
"I believe strongly in the leadership group that we have, and as far as toughness, Chuck did a good job this summer in making us grittier with a guy like Darroll Powe
coming in. He's going to bring a real physical edge to his game and we have some guys that we can plug into our fourth line, depending on how camp goes, who are going to make us a better team as well. I love the physical game and we're going to be a physical team and I think that's something we can pull out of our players and they'll buy into it. It's a fun way to play the game. When you're engaged in a physical game, everything else seems to follow suit."
How does Devin Setoguchi
help this team?
"Devin is a young guy with a lot of potential in front of him. I think that's one thing we wanted to address and Chuck did that. We needed scoring up front and players with a shooter's mentality, and he brings a tremendous amount of speed and that shooter's mentality. He's a high-end skill guy, so he's going to significantly improve our forward lines up front."
What does the future hold for the second of the Wild's two 2011 first-round picks, Zack Phillips
"I would say he's a longshot (to play in the NHL this season), but he still has a shot. He'll come to our main camp and he's going to get a chance to experience that. It all depends on how he plays here (in Traverse City) and then how he does in our main camp. Obviously, it's a bit of a step up from (Traverse City) to that main camp because you're playing against NHL players, so we'll see how he fares. I'm not going to say that he's already been penciled back to junior (Saint John), but he's a longshot this season to play on the team."
What is the strength of the Minnesota Wild
"That's yet to be determined, to be honest with you. I think we have a lot of great pieces right now. I'd say the strength of our team now is our motivation and it's within our guys in the locker room. They're very hungry to get this thing turned around in the right direction. We have a very capable group, skill-wise, but I think more than anything else, we've got a fire to get things going here and I think we're going to use that to our advantage."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale