TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Every player competing for the Wild at this weekend's 2019 NHL Prospects Tournament dreams of one day pulling on a Minnesota jersey and suiting up in an NHL game at Xcel Energy Center.
Many will vie for a spot on the team, but perhaps the one player with the most realistic chance of breaking camp on the NHL club when it opens the 2019-20 regular season in Nashville next month is forward Nico Sturm.
Sturm, a 24-year-old centerman about to embark on his first professional camp, is hoping to get a jump on some of the veterans he's competing with by performing at a high level in the final days before the start of Minnesota's training camp, which begins at TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center on Sept. 13.
He got off to a positive start in that regard in the tournament opener on Friday when Sturm scored Minnesota's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. While the result wasn't what Sturm and the Wild wanted, the goal kept alive a months-long trend for the German-born pivot, who's done everything in his power to put himself in position to win an NHL job.
"During the week, when I've been working out or skating, I've had my mindset on late August and the beginning of September," Sturm said. "This is the most important part of the year for me right now. I need to show why I deserve a spot on the big team."
Sturm played in two games with Minnesota after signing out of Clarkson University last spring. He went scoreless in those two games, but Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't look out of place.
"He didn't look like he was in awe of anything," Boudreau said. "He competed well. We didn't play very well in either of those games, but I thought he tried really hard."
He continued his push at the team's development camp in June, making a strong impression on Boudreau with both his on-ice performance and his off-ice leadership. At the end of the camp, Boudreau sat him down and had a simple message: Continue working hard the rest of the summer and he'd have a real chance of breaking training camp on the big club's roster.
"That's all I needed for fuel over the summer to go to skates and to work out," Sturm said. "I think I can help this team get better. I know I can skate at the NHL level and that's why I'm here, I want to show that."
Sturm said he didn't take much time off after last season. His brief taste of the NHL left him with a strong desire to get back as soon as possible.
He spent most of the summer in the Twin Cities working out with only a brief trip back home to see family and friends. He participated in Da Beauty League and became well acquainted with the team facility.
"I was at TRIA Rink an awful lot this summer and he was there working out an awful lot," Boudreau said. "It wasn't as though he took the summer off. He did all his college stuff then came back and worked his butt off. He's gonna get a good long look [in training camp]."
Sturm's tenure with the team has been much shorter than most of his Traverse City teammates, but that hasn't stopped him holding up his end of the bargain off the ice as well.
A captain as a junior last season at Clarkson, leadership comes naturally for Sturm. But it also comes with the territory for someone who has not only reached the NHL, but hopes to remain there for good.
"If you want a spot on the big roster, that's kind of a given. That's required from you to stand out, not just on the ice," Sturm said. "But like [new Wild GM] Bill Guerin has said in a lot of interviews, they're looking for character guys off the ice. I think that's a big part too.
"I think I've seen a lot already. I'm not the youngest guy at 24 and I've played in a lot of places with a lot of different people. For me, I feel ready."
While Sturm has put himself on the radar heading into the start of training camp, Boudreau said he doesn't want to see his rookie take his foot off the gas, especially this close to the start of the season.
"There can't be any let-up," Boudreau said. "He's the kind of guy, when you look at the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, there's no such thing as getting satisfied. We're a team that, we have to take the best players. And even if he's close, he's going to be pushing someone to be better and that's so vital, especially at the start of the season."
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