In its nearly two decades of existence, the Traverse City Prospects Tournament has become the premier event of its kind in the NHL.
The 2017 edition, which begins Friday, will take place through the weekend and into early next week, and will be the 19th time the tournament has been played. Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Michigan, features a pair of ice sheets, Davids Rink and West Rink, where games and practices will be held each day.
During its time, 500 skaters and 52 goaltenders have graduated from the prospects tournament and gone on to skate in at least one NHL game.
Hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, eight teams, including the Wild, take part in the round-robin tournament. Once again, the Central Division will be well-represented: in addition to the Wild, the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues will field teams in this year's tournament.
The defending champion Carolina Hurricanes will also be there, as will the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers.
"The Detroit Red Wings and the people of Traverse City do a great job of organizing it," said Wild Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Brent Flahr. "It's a great area for these guys to be around for a few days. You show up, it's turn-key, everything is taken care of. Basically, you just show up and play."
Video: Brent Flahr Previews 2017 Prospect Tournament
The tournament is divided into two four-team divisions, named after Red Wings greats Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Minnesota is with Columbus, Dallas and St. Louis in the Lindsay Division.
The Wild kicks off Friday with a game against the Blues before taking on the Blue Jackets Saturday. Following an off day Sunday, Minnesota finishes round-robin play on Monday against the Stars.
Championship Tuesday begins with games at 3:30 p.m., when the fourth-place team from the Lindsay Division plays the fourth team from the Howe Division on Davids Rink. Thirty minutes later, the third-place teams from each division begin play at West Rink in the game for fifth place.
At 7 p.m., the second-place teams in each division battle in the tournament's third-place game at Davids Rink before the championship match starts at 7:30 p.m. at West Rink. The teams play for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup, named in honor of CapGeek.com founder Matthew Wuest, who passed away from cancer in 2015. In addition to founding and operating CapGeek, Wuest also operated a website dedicated to news on Red Wings prospects.
The Wild won the seventh place game last year, its only victory at the tournament, but expects to be much more competitive this time around.
"Our top couple lines are probably as deep as they have been the last couple of years and we have a number of tryouts that we're going to give opportunities to," Flahr said. "You never know what you're going to get. Teams are going to see where they're at, the first couple games are always a little sloppy and a little hectic, but it's good to watch.
"But we have a group of players there that, if they play well, we should have a chance to be in the last couple of games there on Tuesday."
Of the 25 players on Minnesota's roster heading to Traverse City, 11 are draft picks of the Wild, including first-round selections Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin.
Ivan Lodnia, Mason Shaw and Jacob Golden, all selected by Minnesota in the most recent NHL Draft, will also participate.
Forwards for the Wild include Eriksson Ek, Kunin, Lodnia, Shaw, Dante Salituro, Domenic Commisso, Giorgio Estephan, Adam Gilmour, Joel Teasdale, Gerald Mayhew, Matt Bradley, Pavel Jenys, Dmitry Sokolov and Justin Kloos.
On the blue line, Carson Soucy headlines a group that also includes Golden, Gustav Bouramman, Kevin Davis, Brennan Menell, Braydyn Chizen, Hunter Warner and Artem Minilin.
Adam Vay and Dereck Baribeau will be Minnesota's goaltenders.
The Wild will be coached by Iowa's staff, led by head coach Derek Lalonde and assistants David Cunniff and Brett McLean.
Flahr said he expects an easier transition this time around, as Lalonde prepares to enter his second season as coach in Des Moines. Last year's tournament was his first experience with Minnesota's prospects outside of development camp.
"His familiarity with a number of these guys will help," Flahr said. "Last year, he was pretty much running four lines, and we do that in this tournament for the most part. But in certain situations, he now has a comfort level with these guys, whether it's a defensive zone faceoff or a power play."