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Boudreau's pre-camp thoughts from Wild Media Day

Coach believes team will defy expectations, has a chance to be strongest of his four-year tenure

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- The Wild conducted it's annual media day on Thursday, doing so at TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center for the first time. 

While players weren't on the ice, the event is the unofficial start of training camp and the 2019-20 season. 

Minnesota hits the ice for the first time on Friday at TRIA Rink and the club's first preseason game is quickly approaching. The Wild plays its first exhibition game against the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday to open its exhibition schedule, with a road trip to Winnipeg following the next day.

Some quick observations from Wild coach Bruce Boudreau ahead of the start of camp:

• The biggest question marks surrounding the team, according to its head coach, will be the health of forward Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba. 

If captain's practices have been any indication, the two look ready to go. 

But that doesn't mean the team won't try and ease two of its most important players back into the mix. 

Dumba, who had surgery to repair a torn pectoralis muscle around Christmas, won't be hitting max levels on any of the lifting tests the team has conducted. 

Koivu, meanwhile, is expected to be eased into practice and exhibition action. He likely won't play against Colorado or Winnipeg early on in the preseason, but his activity will be ramped up as the season opener in Nashville draws closer.

"He's going to be the one to let me know, his comfortability level to know whether to go in right away or to practice a little bit longer before he goes in," Boudreau said. "As soon as he gives me and the trainers give me the OK to participate, he'll participate."

Video: Media Day topics with Bruce Boudreau

• The Wild will start the on-ice portion of training camp on Friday with every player under roster after re-signing restricted free agent forward Kevin Fiala to a two-year, $6 million contract on Wednesday.

But that doesn't mean Fiala will be with the team for the start of camp.

The Swiss-born winger, who spends his offseasons in Europe, has to get proper paperwork filed for a work visa before he can come to Minnesota.

Boudreau said he expects Fiala to miss the weekend, but the hope is that he will join his teammates on the ice by the start of next week.

"I assume that as soon as he can get his paperwork that he's going to be on the next flight," Boudreau said. "Now, is that two days or is it 15 days? Usually teams can expedite it pretty quickly, so I'm hoping."

Boudreau said he doesn't expect the layoff to set Fiala back too much, but that will be learned rather quickly upon his arrival in St. Paul.

"The only thing I'm concerned about in that respect is what he's been doing while he's been at home," Boudreau said. "You knew what the guys were doing here every day, and hopefully he was skating with a team back home and working hard like I think he would be. If he does that then he won't be too far behind."

• One player who came to camp in tremendous shape is forward Joel Eriksson Ek. Boudreau said Eriksson Ek passed the team's bike test with flying colors, finishing 20 seconds faster than anyone else. 

With as many as five centers competing for four spots at the center position, Eriksson Ek has a clear physical advantage over those he'll be battling for ice time with.

"I don't want to pigeon hole him into the fourth-line center," Boudreau said. "If he's better than the guys up top, then he's going to play in that situation. He's proven he can play, and it's his time, I think, right now to start to shine. He's in great shape and I expect him to come out and fight for every bit of ice time that he's gonna get."

With Koivu being eased into things and Eriksson Ek in tremendous shape, that could open a door for the latter to make an early push for a spot in the team's top-9. 

But Boudreau said don't count the captain out so soon.

"It usually all sorts itself out, but you have to look at the body of work they've done in the past," Boudreau said. "But if you know Mikko, you guys have been doing this a long time, Mikko is going to fight for every bit of ice time that he gets. He's a proud guy, he's our captain and he's our leader, so I anticipate him to come out here and defy people to be better than him."

• While League-wide expectations for the Wild have been less than flattering, Boudreau said he believes this year's club has a chance to be the best one he's had since arriving in Minnesota in 2016. 

Part of that will come from the chips on the shoulders of veterans who have had to listen to the shade being directed by way of the pundits all summer. 

"That's good, let them pick us to be in the bottom," Boudreau said. "But we believe in ourselves and we're counting on surprising people. This is a team, you take last year out of the equation, even the last half of last year out, we're one of the highest point-producing teams in the previous two years. I think we were fourth overall in points at 106 and 101 before last season. 

"What tailed off was our last 25 games but we were in playoff position and solidly so I don't think the world is over for this group. I think this group is going to be better this year than its been in the previous three years."

• With Opening Night just three weeks away, Boudreau said he expects to get a good idea of what his roster looks like rather early in the preseason.

While players like Nico Sturm and Gerald Mayhew, as well as tryout forward Drew Stafford, will likely get good, long looks in the preseason, a bulk of the rest of the NHL roster is already pretty well-cemented.

That includes newcomers Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, who have been in town for a couple of weeks now and participating in captain's practices.

"The chemistry getting in with Zuccarello and Hartman, that's going to be really important, I think, and getting the attention to detail of what we're supposed to be doing right off the bat here," Boudreau said. "Quite frankly, we're going to get down to our team quicker than most years, so we want to make sure that we're ready to go for a quick start this year. We know our schedule is daunting, and we have to get out of the gate quick, so that's going to make us get to our team a little quicker than normal."


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