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State of the Wild: Roster Cuts Provide Some Clarity

Wednesday transactions leave Minnesota with only a couple more moves to make before season-opening lineup is set

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- After a slow drip of moves over the first 12 days of training camp, the Wild shifted much closer to its opening roster in one fell swoop Wednesday, moving nine players off its NHL roster.

In the span of a little more than 24 hours, Minnesota has seen its roster go from 37 players down to 26. It has at least three more cuts to make before next week's season opener, Oct. 5 at Detroit.

The busy day wasn't entirely unexpected. Wild assistant coach John Anderson hinted it was coming following a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. 

 

"I would think that's the definite plan. At some point, we have to get ready for the Detroit game," Anderson told Wild.com. "I think it's time. To me, tryouts are over. Let's get on with it."

Goaltender Steve Michalek and defenseman Brennan Menell were the first to be moved to Iowa on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, the Wild assigned forwards Christoph Bertschy and Kyle Rau to its AHL affiliate, while placing forwards Pat Cannone, Landon Ferraro, Kurtis Gabriel, Zack Mitchell and Cal O'Reilly, defenseman Alex Grant and goaltender Niklas Svedberg on waivers. 

If they clear, each will be sent to Iowa on Thursday.

While some battles continue over the final days of training camp, the decision to place Svedberg on waivers means Alex Stalock has won the backup goaltender job behind starter Devan Dubnyk.

"Every year, I think for anybody, it's a competition," Stalock said. "Coming in at this level, like I've said before, every goalie is unbelievable. The way every guy competed, the games they played ... it was a great preseason so far. Obviously, there's two games remaining, but I think guys are happy with how their game is during camp."

Video: Alex Stalock Earns Backup Job

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher indicated the decision was made largely by the year of service provided to the organization last year by Stalock last year, who played in 50 games with Iowa.

"All our goaltenders had a really good camp; I think our goaltending was strong throughout the preseason. Svedberg played excellent in the games he played, as did Al," Fletcher said. "But as we've seen over the years, we often need more than two goaltenders to get through a season. We have high expectations this season, so today is a snapshot in time, and for now, Stalock is here. But he's going to have to continue to play hard and perform. I'm sure Svedberg will push and play real well down in Iowa and be ready for us if we need him." 

The roster decisions remaining to be decided include the final defensive pairing and what to do with the Wild's players signed to professional tryouts. 

Coach Bruce Boudreau has indicated he is leaning toward keeping the veteran, Kyle Quincey, on the right side of Minnesota's third blue line pairing, at least to start the year.

That has made for an open competition between Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson for the position to Quincey's left. That call could come down to the wire, as both have had their moments so far during the preseason. One thing to remember as the battle between Reilly and Olofsson reaches its conclusion: Reilly can be sent to Iowa without going through waivers, while Olofsson can not. It seems unlikely Olofsson, a second-round pick in 2013, would clear waivers and the Wild has no interest in losing a quality, young, affordable defenseman for nothing.

In terms of tryouts, both Daniel Winnik and Ryan Malone have seen extensive action so far in the preseason. 

Winnik has a history with Boudreau, having played two seasons for him in Anaheim, and the coach has spoken glowingly about him a couple of times during camp.

He likely won't cost a ton, and potentially brings plenty of flexibility to the lineup if Minnesota chooses to sign him. In addition to scoring a career-high 12 goals with the Washington Capitals last season, Winnik is an elite penalty killer and is trusted in his own zone, both good qualities in a fourth liner.

"He's played well, he's a professional, he's a guy that I think can play a role on this team, but we'll just have to take a look at the big picture when we get a little more information," Fletcher said. "I've had some conversations with [Winnik's agent] Pat Morris. We'll continue to talk and just see what their expectations are and obviously see what our health is. We have another game tomorrow and a game Saturday, so it'll depend on how Dan plays, our cap, our roster, our health. It's not just about Dan, it's about everything around him."

Malone has made an impression with his infectious personality, but a numbers crunch may make things difficult. He could be an option for a one-way deal in Iowa, which would make him eligible for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in February. 

It would also allow him to build his game back after sitting out each of the past two seasons. A few solid months in Iowa followed by an attempt at a Gold Medal in PyeongChang could potentially make him an option for Minnesota during the stretch run later in the season. 

Other decisions left to be decided with two preseason games remaining:

Which rookie forward sticks around, Joel Eriksson Ek or Luke Kunin? Both players were outstanding in Traverse City and have had solid camps. Eriksson Ek was the odds on favorite at the start of camp, and likely still is, but Kunin hasn't made it an easy decision.

For what it's worth, Eriksson Ek centered Minnesota's third line at practice on Wednesday, playing the pivot between Marcus Foligno and Charlie Coyle. 

Kunin centered the fourth line of Winnik and Chris Stewart, serving as a likely place holder for Matt Cullen.

It's also conceivable the Wild could send both Eriksson Ek and Kunin to Iowa to play big minutes at the beginning of the season while shifting Coyle to center, but that doesn't seem likely at this point.

Ryan Murphy remains with the roster and is one of three right-handed shots remaining among eight defensemen. Fletcher indicated that defenseman Matt Dumba, a righty, "tweaked" his ankle in Dallas on Tuesday. While the injury isn't believed to be serious, Murphy will likely stick around and pitch in over the final couple of preseason games.

Carson Soucy also remains in camp and has put himself in position to perhaps be an early call-up in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

Both Boudreau and Zach Parise said they'd like to see the forward play in at least one preseason game this week. At this point, however, there's no reason to force it. Parise has played in 830 NHL games over his career and conditioning isn't a concern. The primary objective will be getting him feeling as good as possible before the season opener in Detroit next Thursday.

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