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Wild heads to prospects tournament with plenty of interesting storylines

New faces, and a new assistant coach, among things to key this weekend in Traverse City

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Wild will try to build on last season's third place finish at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this weekend in Traverse City, Michigan.

Minnesota is one of eight teams participating in the 21st annual event which takes place at Centre Ice Arena. Along with the Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and the host Detroit Red Wings will have teams participating in the tournament. 

The Wild will play in the Ted Lindsay Division with the Blue Jackets, Stars and Rangers, competing in round-robin play Friday, Saturday and Monday before a cross-divisional final game on Tuesday. The top two teams in each division will play in Tuesday's championship game for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup.

Fans interested in watching the games online can stream the tournament on the FOX Sports Go app

Several Wild players have played in the tournament and gone on to skate with the NHL club, including Jordan Greenway, who played in Traverse City last September. Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek participated two years ago.

Here's a few things to follow (from a Wild perspective) in Traverse City this week:

Sturm's jump on training camp

Of all the players competing for the Wild in Traverse City, the one with the best shot of cracking the opening night lineup in the NHL is rookie forward Nico Sturm.

Sturm, signed as an undrafted college free agent late last season, skated in two NHL games with Minnesota to close out the season then signed a one-year, two-way contract this summer. Making the Minnesota roster out of training camp could be a lofty goal for Sturm, who will have to impress management and coaches while outperforming several other veterans, including centerman Victor Rask.

But Sturm has a believer in Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who raved about his skill and leadership during the team's development camp in June. If Sturm can go to Traverse City and have a strong tournament there, that could help his cause as he enters his first NHL training camp next week. 

A new assistant coach behind the bench

The Iowa Wild coaching staff, led by head coach Tim Army, will guide the prospects in Traverse City. Joining Army will be returning assistant Brett McLean and newcomer Alex Tanguay.

Tanguay is certainly a familiar name in these parts; the longtime former Colorado Avalanche forward was a Wild killer for years, playing in 1,088 NHL games over a career that spanned more than a decade.

Tanguay retired following the 2015-16 season and spent last season on NHL Network before reaching out to Army this summer about getting into coaching. Tanguay takes the place of former Iowa associate head coach David Cunniff, who moved on to an assistant post with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack.

While Tanguay is expected to coach Iowa's forwards and run its penalty kill this season, he'll be able to get his feet wet with many of the players he'll coach this season in Traverse City.

New draft picks on the ice

While development camp provided Minnesota's newest draft class of talent an opportunity to put on a Wild sweater for the first time, Traverse City will afford them the chance to play against other teams.

Among the Wild's draft class of 2019 that is expected to make the trip: Goaltender Hunter Jones and forwards Adam Beckman and Matvey Guskov.

All three players will likely be back with their junior teams in a week or two, but this weekend's tournament will give the organization a brief look at some of its newest talent.

Iowa's new-look lineup

The Wild's AHL affiliate will have plenty of familiar faces when it returns to the ice following its first-ever Calder Cup playoff berth last spring. 

But change is inevitable.

While a number of veterans will return to the mix this season, several of the Wild's recent draft picks are expected to make a push for expanded roles in Iowa for the upcoming campaign, among them, forwards Brandon Duhaime, Connor Dewar, Ivan Lodnia and Dmitry Sokolov. 

Sokolov scored 16 goals in 60 games with Iowa last season, his first in the AHL. But that came with inconsistent playing time and a role typically in Iowa's middle or bottom six. A former 50-goal scorer in the OHL, Sokolov has high-end ability and an opportunity to carve out a bigger role with more ice time in Des Moines this season. That push starts this weekend.

Duhaime, Dewar and Lodnia are all pushing for their first full-time gigs with Iowa but have the potential to impactful rookies in the AHL this season. All three players joined Iowa as Black Aces during the playoffs last spring, and the belief is, all three will be contributors come October.

Traverse City will also provide Iowa coaches with a first look at defenseman Fedor Gordeev. The towering 6-foot-7, 224-pounder was acquired via trade from Toronto at the end of May and possesses plenty of raw ability to go with his massive frame.

Goalies get a look

Army said he'd like to get a look at all three goaltenders, but said his goal is to have whomever starts the game also finish it. 

Mat Robson will start Minnesota's tournament opener against Dallas, and where the Wild goes from there isn't certain. In a perfect world, Robson, Dereck Baribeau and Jones each perform well and Army has a tough decision to make for a potential championship game on Tuesday. 

But the only sure thing for now is Robson on Friday. After that, Army said he and his staff reserves the right to re-evaluate that path moving forward

Robson, a former University of Minnesota star, signed with Minnesota after the Golden Gophers' season ended last spring. He's expected to compete with Kaapo Kahkonen for ice time in Iowa this season. 

Both Baribeau and Jones are expected to return to their junior clubs in Canada.

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