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Training Camp: Three Things to Watch

Battles on the blue line, in crease among competitions expected to heat up before season

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- With Bruce Boudreau's second training camp as coach of the Minnesota Wild set to begin on Friday at Xcel Energy Center, here are three things to keep an eye on as the regular season approaches:

1. Battle on the blue line

The offseason trade of defenseman Marco Scandella to the Buffalo Sabres has opened up a spot on the back end. 

Veterans Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba have locked up four of the six places available, but the final two are up for grabs during camp. 

The candidates vying for the jobs include Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, veteran free-agent signing Kyle Quincey, and another free-agent addition, Ryan Murphy. Both Quincey and Murphy were signed by Minnesota on July 1.

Quincey's one-way contract and $1.25 million salary would seem to give him a leg up on the competition for one of the spots, but it certainly doesn't assure him of one.

Boudreau was impressed with the play of both Reilly and Olofsson in their second stints with Minnesota last season. After waffling between the AHL and NHL for the past couple of seasons, both appear ready to push for permanent positions with the big club.

Murphy was a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes (12th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, but has been unable to stick at the top level. He played in 27 games with Carolina last season, tallying a pair of assists, but dished out 10 helpers in 35 games with the Hurricanes the year before that. 

Quincey, Reilly and Olofsson are all left-handed shots, while Murphy is the lone righty in the group. So unless Murphy makes the team, one of the other three will be playing on his off hand; not ideal, but certainly not a deal breaker.

2. Who's lining up where?

With restricted free agent Marcus Foligno in the fold, Minnesota has 11 forwards on one-way contracts seemingly locked in at the NHL level. Now, it's simply a matter of slotting them into line groupings.

Boudreau is expected to start camp with the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund line intact. After that, the coach has plenty of options.

Eric Staal and Matt Cullen will be two of the other three centers, with Staal heading a top-six group and Cullen a bottom-six. 

Zach Parise seems like a logical fit on one side of Staal, but the final component of that line remains to be seen. Among the contenders are Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, who each saw time next to Parise and Staal last season, and Foligno, a rugged winger who scored a career-high 13 goals last season. Another newcomer, Tyler Ennis, could also work into the mix.

Joel Eriksson Ek likely has the inside track at the third-line center position, and Boudreau is intrigued by the possibility of a Foligno-Eriksson Ek-Coyle line. All three are at least 6-foot-2, but this doesn't have the look of a typical big, lumbering line. All three can skate (Eriksson Ek is one of the fastest players on the club) and score to go with that size.

Cullen will likely center a fourth line that could start the season with Ennis and Chris Stewart, a group that would match up well with any bottom-six line in the NHL. Ennis has played in just 74 games total the past two seasons, so easing him into the season could be a viable plan.

Boudreau will also have the ability to slot any of these three up in the lineup depending on circumstance, especially Cullen, who is invaluable in the faceoff circle. The 40-year old centerman will see the ice plenty, especially late in close games.

3. Who's backing up Dubnyk?

For most of last season, Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk was among the best in the NHL. Down the stretch, however, Boudreau was forced to play him almost every night, including on both ends of back-to-back games. 

While the competitor in Dubnyk will never complain about ice time, the fact is, nearing the end of a long season, rest can be a weapon. Since coming to the Wild in the middle of the 2014-15 season, Dubnyk has started 168 out of a possible 204 games. Last season, Dubnyk started 63 contests and played in 65. 

In an ideal world, Boudreau would be able to give his backup somewhere between 20 and 25 starts over the course of a season: back-to-backs, long stretches with games every other day and in the case of general ineffectiveness, which happens to any goaltender.

So who will that backup be?

With Darcy Kuemper now in Los Angeles, the battle in training camp will be between Alex Stalock and free-agent addition Niklas Svedberg, who comes to Minnesota after playing the past two seasons in the KHL.

Stalock played in 50 games with Iowa last season before joining Minnesota for a pair of outings. Stalock allowed three goals in those two games, combining for a 1-1-0 record while stopping 51 shots.

A native of South St. Paul and a former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog, Stalock has 64 games of NHL experience, including 48 starts, and enters camp as the frontrunner.

Svedberg shoudn't be overlooked, however. Signed on July 1, Svedberg posted quality numbers during his last stretch in the NHL in 2014-15, when he had a 2.33 goals against and .918 save percentage in 18 games with the Boston Bruins. He also won his only start the year before, making 33 saves in his NHL debut against Nashville.

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