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Three takeaways: Wild training camp, week one

With five days of practice in the books, Wild.com's Dan Myers provides three takeaways from the first week of training camp

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

With the first week of training camp in the books and the start of the 2020-21 regular season less than a week away, here are Dan Myers' three takeaways from the opening days of Wild Training Camp, presented by US Bank:


1. Not your normal camp.

Duh, right? Very little is normal in the current abnormal climate, but that's certainly been the case through one week of training camp. 

Normally, after one week, the club would be getting ready to whittle down its roster a bit and start to get ready for an exhibition game. 

That's not the case this time. The players taking part in practices this week in downtown St. Paul will largely be the players with the team, and it's taxi squad ... at least until the Iowa Wild gets its season going at some point in February. 

That means no whittling. It also means plenty of work and lots of reps for the guys who are here. That made for some training camp practices that were very un-first week-like in nature.  

"We don't have four lines, six seven d [in each group], so guys are going through a lot of reps," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "But our work, and as you said, our pace, has been real good every single day. And that's how we want to play the game. So it's nice to have it set, they have set the standard, the bar, with their practice."


2. When it comes to lines, guess again.

I think few people expected the Wild's week one lines to look the way they ultimately did. Now, the question is whether they'll stay that way. 

For anyone jotting down potential line combinations prior to the start of camp, it's pretty safe to assume that most featured new forward Marcus Johansson skating at center, between some combination of Zach Parise, Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov. 

Wrong.

Johansson, who excelled as a wing with the Washington Capitals for many years only to struggle at center last season for Buffalo, began camp on second line left wing.

"When I spoke to Dean, and [Wild GM] Bill [Guerin], the first day after the trade, we said it could be either center or wing," Johansson said. "And I've played more wing lately than I have played center. Last year, I played center. But before that I was wing, I think, for eight years or something like that. So I'm very comfortable at wing. And I'm really excited about it."

Nick Bjugstad, who appeared destined for a wing position, perhaps on the third line, was not there this week. Nope, he was on the top line, at center, between Parise and Kaprizov. Bjugstad has the ability to play both center and right wing, so it's not like he's a fish out of water at the pivot ... it was just a bit unexpected. 

"Playing with these guys going forward, it's a great opportunity but at the same time I gotta understand it's a big role and I'm excited to try and fill that space and play with those guys," Bjugstad said. "I think there's always added pressure, but I said this when I got traded, you kind of create your own pressure as far as the individual stuff. I've been in positions where I've played top 6 I've played third line, I've played on the fourth line, so I know what it's like to have a little success there, I know what it's like to have some failures. 

"I can kind of take those experiences and use that to my advantage here being a little older and being a little more experienced. You can't play with fear, that's the biggest thing. You can't second guess yourself. You gotta trust the guy next to ya, that's the biggest thing, so I want those guys to trust me. Everyday I just put my best foot forward and good things usually happen from there."


3. A healthy Pateryn makes for healthy competition.

Defenseman Greg Pateryn played in 80 games with the Wild two seasons ago, the most he's played in a single season in his NHL career. 

But that was followed up by a miserably unlucky 2019-20, one that saw him sustain a sports hernia on the opening day of training camp, miss a bunch of time, then sustain another injury -- this time one that required a microdiscectomy. 

Pateryn never joined the team in its return to play back in July and August and has been away from the team since the group was sent home after COVID -19 pushed pause on the 2019-20 campaign. 

"It was a long offseason, but a lot of training and rehab but I feel really good, better than I have in a really long time," Pateryn said. "It's obviously disappointing, and nobody ever wants to get hurt, especially something that takes you out for a majority of the year. Then to watch your team go to playoffs and not be there to help them out is another devastating thing. I just happy that I'm feeling good and able to get back to my old self where I am a force defensively and I'm able to play my style of game without any hesitation."

As challenging as it might seem to hop back into high-level hockey after 10 months away, Evason said he's been impressed with the veteran blueliner through one week of practice. Pateryn has been paired with Carson Soucy, which may indicate that Evason is leaning towards starting the season with that as Minnesota's third defensive pair.

"It doesn't look like it's been a challenge for him if you're watching him in the practices. He's skating extremely well, he looks quick, he looks strong. We're excited about having him back in our lineup," Evason said. "It's a presence in the back end, a veteran guy who competes at the high level he does. Playing against the bigger, stronger guys, and being able to push and pull on them is a factor every team wants and he's going to provide for us."

Regardless of whomever starts with Soucy on Minnesota's third pairing, having Pateryn back -- a more defensive-style defenseman -- gives the Wild some solid flexibility on the back end. Brad Hunt has more of an offensive flair and help quarterback a power play. Louie Belpedio can do a little bit of both.

That versatility, and that competition, is a good thing. 

"That's exactly what we're looking for," Evason said. "We're not sure, obviously, the six that will start on opening night at this point, but we do have versatility, for sure. We have some young people - Belpedio and [Matt] Bartkowski - who are here. We've got some other guys who are competing for spots on our taxi squad as well. We like our back end. We've mentioned it a few times. As far as the six that we have, we feel it's as good as anybody's in the league and obviously a foundation we are building as an organization."


Quote of the week 

"I guess it's just a bonus that I don't have to look down to see him. We're happy to have him for sure." - Jordan Greenway, the 6-foot-6 winger discussing Bjugstad, the 6-foot-6 center


Note of the week 

When Wild players returned to Xcel Energy Center on Saturday for it's normal pre-game morning skate ahead of the first intrasquad scrimmage, it was the first time for many since they were asked to leave the arena on the morning of March 12. Minnesota was to play the Vegas Golden Knights that evening, but as players walked in the door for morning skate that day, they were quickly told to return to their cars and head home. The NHL paused the season just a couple of hours later. In all, 302 days passed between the stoppage that day and Friday, when players returned for the scrimmage


Stock rising

Nick Bjugstad. Going from potential middle-six winger to top-line center between Parise and Kaprizov? Not a bad spot to be in, if he stays there. The Blaine native and former Gopher says he feels as good as he has in years, and he's looked the part through one week of camp. If he stays healthy, he certainly looks like a guy primed to have a really good season.


Prospect watch 

After representing Austria in the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Wild first-round pick Marco Rossi has been in the Twin Cities serving his mandatory quarantine, one that ends this weekend. Rossi could return to the ice as soon as Sunday, but will certainly take part in practice before the club leaves for the West Coast on Wednesday afternoon.

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