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Wild Continues To Ramp Up; Kuemper To See First Action

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild
The day after the Wild opened the preseason in Winnipeg, the team reconvened at Xcel Energy Center. Anyone who played in last night’s contest, a 2-1 loss to the Jets, had the day off, while the remaining, mostly veteran, players took the ice for today’s practice.

With limited amount of practice time leading into the team’s first and second preseason games (up next is the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday), Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo continues to include game-like situations in the sessions. At today’s practice, the team went through a number of five-on-five situational drills in each zone.

“We’ve tried to incorporate a lot of in-game situations with scrimmages and the bumping and the grinding and the things you have to get used to,” Yeo said.

Even in the preseason, there is a definite uptick in pace, from the shinny summer hockey to guys fighting tooth and nail for roster spots.

“You could even see it on the bench last night, once you drop the puck it’s another pace,” Yeo said. “Once you get into that game action, it’s guys that deserve to be there and guys that are ready to play at that level.

“It forces you to execute quicker, it forces you to think quicker.”

Currently, Yeo said that the staff has a few decisions to make before Thursday, but have narrowed it down to a list of 14 forwards and seven defensemen. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out if the bench boss will begin to sprinkle in veterans or go with another young lineup like he did last night in The Peg.

Yeo did confirm that he expects goaltender Darcy Kuemper to play two periods on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Tomorrow, Yeo plans on splitting practice with one group concentrating on special teams. Kuemper will be with the other practice so he can get more reps before playing in The Burgh.

“He’s gotten better everyday in camp, and that’s what I’m looking for,” Yeo said. “We’re not in too much of a hurry to make any judgments. I want to see all the guys get into some game action.”

Yesterday, Niklas Backstrom had a strong showing, in his first game action since Jan. 30 against the Colorado Avalanche, stopping all 11 shots he faced in a period and a half. Backstrom will not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Ilya Bryzgalov, who played the second half of yesterday’s contest, is penciled in to get a period against the Pens.

Injury Updates

Forward Kyle Brodziak (back) skated before the team this morning. Yeo anticipates he’ll rejoin the club for practice tomorrow.

Yeo also said that Justin Fontaine didn’t skate in Winnipeg yesterday because of a groin tweak. He said that the forward is at about 90 percent, but there was no reason to risk playing him in the first preseason game. He plans on having Fontaine in practice tomorrow.

First for the Lighthouse

The Lighthouse and forward Mikael Granlund experienced a first together today after practice. The House, doing the Finnish website a solid, conducted an interview with Granlund. However, we asked the questions in English (our Finnish is a little rusty) and the center answered in his native tongue. We’re not exactly sure what his answers were to the various questions, but are pretty sure at one point he said, with stars in his eyes, “View From the Lighthouse is the best team blog in the entire NHL and where I get all my Wild news,” or something like that.

Haula and Niederreiter Deliver Season Tickets

Forwards Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter made a special delivery to a few lucky Wild Season Ticket Holders. They both dropped off the STH’s new digital cards and a few other goodies. WildTV followed Niederreiter and you can see a few of the photos from Haula’s trip on Twitter, @mnwild.

Two Agree to Terms

This afternoon, Minnesota agreed to terms with Alex Gudbranson and Hunter Warner to three-year, entry-level deals. Gudbranson, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound defenseman, skate for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL last season, accumulating 15 points (7-8=15) and 76 penalty minutes. Warner, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound blueliner from Eden Prairie, racked up 12 points (2-10=12) and 125 PIMs with Waterloo and Fargo of the USHL.

Wild Reduces Roster

The Wild assigned five players to their respective junior teams: G Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL), C Reid Duke (Lethbridge, WHL), D Tanner Faith (Kootenay, WHL), C Pavel Jenys (Sudbury, OHL) and C Chase Lang (Calgary, WHL). The club’s training camp roster now is at 52.

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