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Five Questions About Training Camp

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild

Usually, there are all kinds of questions heading into an NHL training camp. This year, there aren't so many. We counted five, and while there are sure to be more, these are the questions we'll be looking for answers to on

Who will be the seventh defenseman?

With six defensemen - Cam Barker, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky - locked up to one-way deals, the Wild will most likely carry one other blueliner, and it should come from within.

A lot has been made about how bright the Wild's future looks on the blueline. It's one of the main reasons General Manager Chuck Fletcher used his free agent budget on the front lines, rather than finding another defenseman. He's willing to let the youngsters graduate to the big time, but who will that youngster be?

Nate Prosser has already played three NHL games, and after a rough first couple shifts, he looked completely comfortable despite starting the season in college. Marco Scandella has the size, strength and shot of an NHLer. The big questions will be his lack of professional experience, and whether he can skate up and down with NHL caliber players. Tyler Cuma seems to have put his junior hockey injuries behind him, and he could be a candidate to see NHL time. Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau both had good years in Houston, and both saw ice time in a Wild uniform.

There aren't many decisions regarding positions that need to be made at camp, but this is one of them. By all accounts, Cuma, Prosser and Scandella all had outstanding showings in Traverse City. How they look in training camp could be the deciding factor.

Does the James Sheppard injury open the door for Casey Wellman?

Prior to James Sheppard's knee injury, the chances of Casey Wellman cracking the Wild's roster seemed rather bleak, at least to start the year. Even with Sheppard out for an extended period, the Wild still has four centermen in Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu and John Madden.

Of course, Wellman could always move to the wing, and the Wild staff are likely anxious to see how that works. The speedy Wellman added significant muscle in the offseason, and Brent Flahr said he was the best player on the Wild's undefeated Traverse City team.

It appears Wellman has a much better shot at making the team out of camp, but the Wild may be more inclined to start him in Houston where he can get top line minutes, as well as power play and penalty kill time.

What is the overall health of the team coming into camp?

Last year's camp was an admitted nightmare for first year head coach, Todd Richards. He couldn't get his players used to each other during preseason games, because it seemed like every potential line was missing someone with an injury. That's supposed to happen in January and February, but not September.

The injury trend kept right on through the season with Pierre-Marc Bouchard sitting out every game after the opener. Brent Burns missed two significant chunks with injuries. Chuck Kobasew suffered a significant knee injury. Nik Backstrom dealt with several maladies.

Richards was concerned during the season, and he took action after the season. The team implemented a new offseason workout regimen for the players. Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner gave each player a detailed conditioning program, and Friday the 17th will shed some light on just how well that went. For the first time, the Wild players will undergo physical testing before they take part in their first training camp practice.

Said Fletcher: "We feel we're going into training camp this year with a much better collective idea of what we need to do in camp, and we need to do everyday in practice to get to where we want to be. We have a good plan in place to maximize the time we have to get ready. We expect the players to be in shape, and we expect to have three productive weeks prior to Finland."

As for guys who dealt with injuries in the offseason - Koivu, Harding and Stoner - all appear to be ready to go full tilt.

Will Bouchard be on the ice for training camp, and who will he skate alongside?

Bouchard has spent the last week skating with teammates, and scrimmaging. But camp will ratchet up the intensity, which should be a good indicator for where Bouchard is at. All indications are that he'll be out there starting Saturday morning, but how much of the grind he'll be put through is up in the air.

Wild management is very confident that Bouchard will return, and make a big contribution this year. But whether or not that is in October or later has yet to be finalized.

Who needs to have a great training camp?

Two weeks ago, the obvious answer would have been Sheppard. Now, there is very little competition for spots. Most positions are locked up, and training camp and preseason will be more about getting players familiar with their linemates and defensive partners than deciding who gets cut.

That said, guys like Scandella, Prosser, Cuma, Wellman, Robbie Earl, Cody Almond and Warren Peters will all be trying to get noticed, and hopefully earn an early callup if they don't find themselves in Helsinki the first week of October.
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