Minnesota Wild Training Camp, presented by Andersen Windows, will open the doors of Xcel Energy Center to the public this weekend for a practice (Saturday at 9:30 a.m.) and a Green vs. White scrimmage (Sunday at 11 a.m.). So, Wild.com thought it would be a good idea to give fans, new and old to the team, five things to watch for over the weekend.
While training camp is a time to for the coaching staff to implement systems, game plans and work X’s and O’s, it is also a time to figure out possible line combinations. Sometimes chemistry is recognizable and potent as Walter White’s blue product. However, it doesn’t always work that way. Training camp is a time to tweak line combos and figure out where players fit on the depth chart.
With the offseason changes at forward, lineup questions loom large. Last season after Charlie Coyle was called up from the American Hockey League, he played a majority of the season on the wing with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. There has been speculation that Coyle will move to center this season. If Coyle moves to the middle, which line will he center? Who will take his spot on the top line at wing? Jason Pominville? If Coyle is a better fit on the wing, will Kyle Brodziak be used as a No. 2 centerman? Which wing will newly acquired agitator Matt Cooke land? While it is far too early to set anything in stone, it is fun for fans to speculate line combos and we’ll get a sneak peak at what Wild bench boss Mike Yeo might be planning when the regular season games roll around.
Wild bench general Mike Yeo talked about wanting to be more of a puck possession team. He wants Minnesota to create scoring opportunities off of the rush, but still make smart decisions when entering the zone, whether it be dumping the puck in the corner or trying to generate shots on goal when crossing the blue line. Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks, and the Wild’s first round opponent, dominated the puck possession game. With players like Koivu, Parise, Coyle and Pominville, who hold the puck like a starving dog holding on to a T-bone, the coaching staff wants to play into the strengths of the team’s top talent.
Training camp is the ideal opportunity to implement new systems. Unlike last season’s lockout shortened seven-day camp, the coaching staff has more than two weeks and six preseason games (and Sunday’s Green vs. White scrimmage) to fine tune and ingrain any new systems into the team.
Often, the puck possession game starts in the D-zone. Last season, Ryan Suter was an ice-time behemoth on the blue line. When the Wild inked Suter to a 13-year contact, you knew what you were getting in the blueliner: a calming pin-point passer who can quarterback the power play while skating against opponent’s top forwards. However, no one, expect maybe the Wild brass, could’ve expected the breakout rookie season Jonas Brodin had. The only questions surrounding the Wild’s top D-pair are “Can Suter average 30-minutes a game?” and “How much better can Brodin get?”
In the offseason, the Wild added Baudette-native Keith Ballard and former first-round pick Jonathan Blum to add depth and competition amongst D-men three through six. This will be the first time Wild fans will get to see those two additions in action. Jared Spurgeon will be the team’s No. 3 defenseman and Clayton Stoner is coming off a career-high 10 assist. If Marco Scandella can play at the same level as last season’s playoff, the Wild’s backend should be solid.
Since taking the reigns, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr have been stockpiling high-end prospects like they were on an episode of Hoarders. Last season we got a little taste of what was coming down the pipeline in young players from first-year players Jonas Brodin, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Darcy Kuemper and the aforementioned Coyle. This training camp, the Wild brass will be taking a hard look at the up-and-coming youngsters. With offseason moves opening up spots in the roster, especially upfront, players like Granlund, Zucker and the newly acquired Nino Niederreiter will fight for top-6 spots amongst forwards.
On the blue line, 2012 first-round draft pick Mathew Dumba is skating in his second training camp with the Wild. Last season, the 19-year-old impressed the Wild enough to stick around with the team after its abbreviated camp, traveling with the team on its first road trip. Dumba didn’t see any game action and returned to his junior team in Red Deer for the duration of the season. This year, the defenseman stated that he’d like to follow in the footsteps of another former first-rounder, Jonas Brodin, and join the Wild’s D-corp. Wild Training Camp will be like an audition, or even a tryout, for the youngster.
Speaking of tryouts, the Wild has invited a number of players who are not under contract to camp. A well-known name around the League is veteran David Steckel, who Minnesota has brought in on a pro tryout. The 31–year-old has played 419 games in stints with Washington, New Jersey, Toronto and Anaheim. If the centerman impresses at camp and the Wild decides to offer him a contract, Steckle would add size (at 6-foot-6 he’s got plenty of it) and a proven top-tier faceoff man up the middle.
Other camp invitees are Carter Sandlak, Corbin Baldwin and Cody Corbett. Sandlak was impressive skating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and skated for Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League last season. Baldwin spent most of the season with the Wild’s ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, but was called-up to the Houston Aeros a few times. Minnesota-native Corbett was at the Wild’s Prospect Camp in July and is looking to turn some heads in his home state. While none of these players will make the Wild out of camp, you never know how a player will devolve and they could end up playing in Iowa this season, or one day even crack the Minnesota lineup.