The dust might’ve settled from cyclone of moves that was yesterday’s National Hockey League Trade Deadline Day, but it’s still been a whirlwind couple of days for the Minnesota Wild’s newest members, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov.
After the initial shock of being traded (well, maybe less for Moulson, who has already moved locations once this season and was rumored to be traded again from the time he arrived in Buffalo) the players have to situate the home front with their families, figure out travel arrangements to join their new team, pack as much stuff they can stuff in a suitcase and figure out life in general. For a traded hockey player, getting back on the ice is as relaxing as a day at the spa for regular work-a-day folk and the insanity momentarily paused for Moulson, McCormick and Bryzgalov as they joined the Wild for their first practice at Braemar Ice Arena this afternoon.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo threw them right into the mix with an intense practice, acclimating Moulson and McCormick to the club’s systems and special teams.
“I thought there was real good energy in our practice today,” Yeo said. “Obviously guys are excited. We felt really good about our team and where we were at going into this trade deadline, and obviously now we’re a stronger team, we’re a deeper team.
“We’re excited to put it to work now.”
In Moulson, Yeo has another skilled forward at his disposal and today the bench boss shuffled the lines to find a spot for the left-handed winger. The three time 30-goal scorer found himself on the left wing with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle, who moved back to wing after spending a majority of the season at center. Moulson said he liked the way Coyle shot the puck and his offensive instincts. As for the center, he sees why he is the club’s captain.
“Mikko has played a lot of years in this league and done very well,” Moulson said. “He’s a very dynamic player, easy to play with.
“I think we’ll get along as a line just fine.”
Coming over with Moulson from the Buffalo Sabres was McCormick. The two were actually sitting next to each other eating with the team when McCormick got a call from a former teammate, now with the Wild.
“We were sitting side by side,” McCormick said. “I got a message from Jason Pominville. We did some digging with our agents, called Jason back and told him it was happening. We were both really happy. We were with our former teammates, the Sabres, and it was tough to see them go, but we’re onto this and this is something we’re really happy to be a part of.”
McCormick was slotted in on the fourth line rotating on the wing with Erik Haula, Dany Heatley, Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine. He plays more of a prototypical fourth-line role than the Wild has been utilizing lately. He’s a big wing, and not afraid to use his size.
“My game is a lot of grit, a lot of body contact,” McCormick said. “I like to play an in-your-face style. It’s what I’ve done my whole career, so I’m not going to change anything now.”
Yeo said that he wants to get McCormick right into the mix.
“I’m expecting that he’ll play in Dallas,” Yeo said. “I want to see what he can do here and give him a chance to get comfortable with his game.”
As for the rest of the forwards, the Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville line remained the same, as did the Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter unit. The team worked on the power play and, as General Manager Chuck Fletcher said yesterday, it looked like the Wild’s bench boss was going with 1A and 1B units. Granlund, Parise and Heatley were the forwards with one unite, while Koivu, Coyle and Moulson were on the other, and the blue line was a mix of two pairs—Ryan Suter with Pominville and Jared Spurgeon with Jonas Brodin.
“We’ve got two strong units, and that’s what it’s going to be,” Yeo said. “If you have two strong units you’re a much (more) dangerous team to play against.”
Yeo believes that the acquisition of the trio adds depth, gives the lineup flexibility and sends a strong message—the Wild is on the rise and a cohesive unit.
“It says that we believe in this group,” Yeo said. “First off, it’s sort a reward for the work that this group has put in and secondly it’s a show of faith in this group and what it’s capable of. This is a tough conference we play in and we feel that we’ve been getting better and narrowing the gap.
“This is another strong move to put us to another level, we believe.”
As for the new netminder, the pace of Wild practice impressed Bryzgalov. He doesn’t have any expectations about playing time and, with Darcy Kuemper playing at a high level, he will likely be called upon in a support role. Bryzgalov said it is his job to work hard and help the team improve, but playing time decisions come down to the coaching staff.
“First off, Kuemps has been playing great,” Yeo said. “But at the same time we needed to protect him a little bit.”
“To get a guy of that caliber, who can not only give you minutes, but win hockey games for you, obviously we were very excited about that.”
So with 20 games remaining, expect Kuemper to carry most of the goaltending load, but with five sets of back-to-back contests, Bryzgalov will get a few chances to prove himself.
The Wild will have one more practice to acclimate the newcomers before hitting the road to face Central Division rival, Dallas Stars, trailing Minnesota in the Western Conference by seven points. While the newest memebers of the team are excited to put on the Iron Range Red, Forrest Green and Wheat, they also are happy to have a few days before it becomes official.
“After waking up at 5 a.m. and flying, I’m pretty happy there is no game tonight,” Moulson said. “Tonight will probably be my best sleep in about three weeks, so I’m looking forward to that.”