The Minnesota Wild will host its annual Development Camp from July 12 through July 17 at Xcel Energy Center. The six days will see an expected 44 prospects come together in Minnesota for on- and off-ice activities, including two scrimmages, each open to the public.
These players, some of whom will return to their respective amateur teams, and others who will play in the Wild's organization this upcoming season, come from all different backgrounds, and carry with them different stories.
Here are a few to keep an eye on when the puck drops on Development Camp, beginning Tuesday:
After signing with the Wild following the conclusion of his sophomore season at Boston College, Tuch made it very clear his goal is to make the Wild — the Minnesota club, not the Iowa affiliate — out of training camp.
Though General Manager Chuck Fletcher said it would be a lot to expect Tuch, who turned 20 in May, to make an NHL roster some four months later, he also said the ultimate expectations for Tuch are very high and, the rookie forward's name has come up when Fletcher has talked about fleshing out the Wild's 2016-17 roster.
Tuch, a 6-foot-4, 220 pound right-hand shot, is a goal-scorer (32 in 77 collegiate games) with the size and skill the Wild covets. Though Tuch was in Minnesota during the Wild's first round Western Conference series against the Dallas Stars in May, consider this the first step of his audition for the big club.
The numbers are what they are: The Wild is returning, as this is being written, nine forwards who played in at least 70 games for Minnesota last season. That doesn't include Eric Staal and Chris Stewart. Add in that the Wild re-signed Tyler Graovac and Zac Dalpe, and there isn't a ton of room on the depth chart up front. So Tuch, who has all the size and skill to succeed at the NHL level, will certainly have to earn that ice time in the early stages of his career.
Fletcher said the plan with Eriksson Ek, the Wild's 2015 first round draft pick, is to bring him into training camp, what would be his first with an NHL team, and see where he's at.
Like Tuch, Fletcher said it would be unfair to expect Eriksson Ek (19), to make an NHL roster at such an early point in his development, " … but when you have players that are that competitive and that smart sometimes they can surprise you."
Eriksson Ek is coming off a strong season that saw him record 15 points in the Swedish Elite League (for comparison, Eriksson Ek had 0.37 points per game in his 19-year-old season in the SHL. Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar had 0.43 points per game in his 19-year-old season in the same league).
Eriksson Ek scored 12 points in 20 games for Sweden's under-20 team. He also had a strong World Junior tournament, with two points in six games, and 25 shots on goal, the most on his team despite missing a game.
So there's so genuine intrigue to see where Eriksson Ek's game is at, and, in a Development Camp pretty flush with talent, it will be a good litmus test for the 6-foot-2 forward to see where he stands.
Another thing to keep in mind here: With the World Cup of Hockey taking place the same time as NHL training camps, players will get more attention, and more time in camp than other years. Right now, the Wild is sending six players, all forwards, to Toronto for the international tournament. That will, in theory, open some space and attention for younger forwards.
In Vay and Kahkonen, the Wild has two goaltenders coming off strong international performances against quality competition.
Vay, a free agent signing, didn’t start the 2016 IIHF World Championship as Hungary's starting goaltender, but grabbed the lead and ran with it. He came in midway through a 7-1 loss against Canada, and followed up that relief appearance with a 32-save performance against the United States and 48 saves against Finland.
Like Vay, Kahkonen's international success came when he was able to parlay a mid-game change into more playing time.
In the quarterfinal round of the World Junior Championship, Kahkonen made a number of key saves against Canada after he came on in the second period to help lead a Finnish comeback. He then started the semifinal against Sweden, and the gold medal game against Russia, helping Finland capture gold.
Vay is two year's Kahkonen's senior, and will be competing for ice time in Iowa. With Alex Stalock in the fold, Kahkonen could be his backup, but Steve Michalek, who played 14 games for Iowa last season, and was an emergency call-up for Minnesota, is also fighting for that ice time.
This will be Vay's first activity with the Wild after signing in May and, after playing in various European leagues up to this point, the first North American exposure for the 22-year-old.
Of all the players with college hockey ties — current and former — no conference will have its fingerprints on the Wild's Development Camp more than the Big Ten.
That includes 2016 first round selection Luke Kunin, who will be joined by University of Wisconsin teammate Matthew Freytag (they'll also be on the same Development Camp team).
They'll be joined by, in camp and on Team Green, Badger rivals but Wild organizational teammates Justin Kloos (camp invite), and Nick Seeler (2011 draft pick), both of the University of Minnesota.
Rounding out the conference for Team Green is defenseman Nicholas Boka (University of Michigan; 2015 draft pick). The lone Big Tenner on Team White is defenseman Jack Sadek (University of Minnesota; 2015 draft pick).
Though Kunin is one of the younger players expected to attend Development Camp (he's one of 11 prospects born in 1997; three expected to attend were born in 1998), he's been lauded for his leadership skills, so the type of role he assumes in his first official Wild activity will be interesting to watch.
Though the majority of these players aren't heading to Iowa come the fall, some are, and some will get their first experience working with new Iowa Wild head coach Derek Lalonde.
A winner at every hockey stop he's made in his coaching career, Lalonde was announced as Iowa's new head coach in mid-June. After holding a head coaching gig in the East Coast Hockey League the past two seasons, Lalonde will continue to climb the proverbial ladder, up to Iowa, beginning this year.
There will be plenty of players in attendance though who figure to be on Iowa's roster, including an influx of new forwards that should help in a big way offensively. That includes Pavel Jenys, Sam Anas, Mario Lucia, and Alex Petan.
For the full Wild Development Camp roster and camp information, click here.
Luke Kunin image via David Stluka/UW Athletic Communications