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Duhaime making his mark with Wild, leaving it on opponents

Speedy rookie forward is very much in the mix for a spot in the Opening Night lineup

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

As Wild forward Marcus Foligno peeled himself off Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the second period of Thursday night's exhibition game in Denver, he looked to his left and had to do a double take. 

Moments after being awkwardly checked into the former Wild netminder by Colorado defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, Foligno's teammate Brandon Duhaime had taken exception and dropped the mitts with another Avs defender, Dennis Gilbert, who watched the whole thing unfold nearby. 

To Foligno's surprise, the 24-year-old Duhaime was doing a job Foligno himself is normally tasked with: sticking up for a teammate. 

"Darcy Kuemper and I were having a nice chat in the crease, so I was occupied, but I looked to my left and I didn't know what was going on," Foligno said. "I didn't know if Hartzy (Ryan Hartman) was in there or something, but it was good to see him in there. He did a great job with that fight."

Needless to say, if there were any veteran teammates that were unfamiliar with Duhaime after a week of training camp, he left a lasting impression with that single act.

"That's a guy who is willing to do anything just to be here," Foligno said. "That goes a long way with a lot of the guys on the team."

Needless to say, Duhaime has left a lasting impression with coaches too. With two weeks to go until Opening Night in Anaheim against the Ducks, Duhaime has spent a majority of training camp skating on a line with Nico Sturm and Nick Bjugstad, which made up 2/3 of the Wild's fourth line last season.

They're also expected to man that spot again this season ... so it doesn't take a sociology major from Providence College to figure out just where Duhaime stands among the pecking order of guys fighting like crazy to make the NHL club.

Video: Training Camp Day 8: Brandon Duhaime

"You try not to read into the linemates and stuff like that, and just try and go out there and whoever you're playing with, just do your best with those guys," Duhaime said. 

For many young players just reaching the upper levels of professional hockey, the biggest challenge in sticking in the NHL is finding a role.

Most players who play at this level have been big scorers or stars of their junior or college teams. But not every guy that comes along can continue producing like that at the NHL level. 

Since leaving Providence after his junior season in 2018-19, Duhaime has played two seasons for the Iowa Wild, where he's honed in on what type of player he needs to be if he's going to carve out an extended NHL career for himself. 

It's a process that started at Providence under coach Nate Leaman, widely regarded as one of the top college coaches in the country. 

"They did a really good job of, even though I wasn't top-6 there, I played a bottom-6 role but with a little more playmaking," Duhaime said. "They did a really good job of letting everyone know the expectation of the pros is that you have to be able to play in all situations like that; everyone getting in on the forecheck, everyone finishing hits. It wasn't just the bottom-6 guys doing that at that school, it was everyone."

Duhaime was a man on a mission doing just that on Thursday night in Denver, aggressively getting in on the forecheck and demolishing just about anyone that attempted to move the puck before his arrival. 

In addition to his forechecking work and his fight, Duhaime was rewarded on the scoresheet with an assist, and over the course of camp, has shown glimpses of what Wild assistant coach Brett McLean calls his "sneaky-good skill."

He also showcased his blazing speed, an attribute he says he's had when he was younger, lost a bit as he grew in size, but was able to recapture once he was able to spend some quality time in the weight room at Providence.

Video: Training Camp Day 8: Dean Evason

"That's what he brings to the table," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "You get excited when people and guys bring what they're going to bring for us. I mean, that's his game, that's what he's going to bring. He's going to bring that physicality, that grit level and finishing checks, and when push comes to shove, he's able to stand up not only for himself, but his teammates as well. That was a real good showing."

A fourth-round selection by Minnesota in the 2016 NHL Draft, former Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was convinced early on that Duhaime would eventually fill into the exact kind of player he is now. 

Five years, two GMs, three years of college and two pro seasons later, Duhaime is motivated to reach that potential by any means necessary. 

Presented with an opportunity in training camp, Duhaime hasn't eased himself in. So far, he's taken the ball and run with it. 

"You play two years in Iowa and you kind of develop that pro game and see what it takes to get to the next level," Duhaime said. "I think they did a really good job of telling me the expectations that they have for me and I'm just trying my best to do that."

Photo by Chris Barriere

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