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Wild Defensive Depth On Display In Training Camp

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild opened training camp on Friday with a day Head Coach Mike Yeo said was in part about re-establishing the Wild's identity.

At one point during the first of three sessions, Yeo momentarily stopped practice, calling the players to center ice to stress the role that speed plays in the Wild's game plan.

"There are a couple of parts to it," Yeo said. "One, if you're going to be fast, you need to be skating fast. The other part of it is you can't be fast if you're not executing, and that's what it comes down to."

Yeo also said as far as first days go, having a camp roster with so many familiar faces comes with benefits.

"It's nice when you've been with a group and you've got a lot of the same guys returning," he said. "They know what to expect, and they're ready for it."

Defensemen Ryan Suter said the first day is about continuing to get in shape, and that he was glad to be back on the ice.

"That first practice is always difficult — a lot of up-and-down, there weren't a lot of guys [in the divided practice] — but we managed, and I think we're better now," he said.

There were lines and defensive pairings used in each of the three groups, with some similarities to last season, and some changes.

"There's a very good chance that things will switch around," Yeo said. " We've got some options, and I have to think there will be a few different things we try during camp."

Here are some of the lines and defensive pairings from Friday's practice:

Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Ryan CarterErik HaulaRuslan Fedotenko

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba

Marco ScandellaChristian Folin

Mike ReillyNate Prosser

Deep Defense

When 'Team A' took the ice on Monday to officially open camp, it featured the likes of Suter and Jared Spurgeon. When its practice halted, and 'Team B' came out to play a scrimmage, they were joined by Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin.

Those two defensive pairings took frequent shifts against each other during the 55-minute scrimmage, and it showcased how deep the Wild is defensively.

"The guys that were here when I came have grown so much over the past few years," Suter said. "I don't argue with people, but I tell people: Our d-corps, I'd put up against anyone in the League."

It wasn't just Suter who was confident in Minnesota's blue line.

"He's right; that's a crew back there," Devan Dubnyk said. "Right top-to-bottom, they showed it last year, and it was a pleasure playing with them."

In the same respect, Dumba said the collective skill level, mixed with a high work ethic from the top players pushes everyone to be better.

"You have to battle," Dumba said. "I was in that situation where you have to battle to stay in the lineup. It's one of the best in the League for sure. To just go along with what [Suter] said, you talk to other guys in the League and they acknowledge that as well. We might not get talked about the most, but I think we kind of like it that way."

Suter said he thinks he could start the season with Spurgeon on his right, a wrinkle that may help Suter in all three zones.

"It gives us both flexibility; it gives me more flexibility playing with a right-handed shot," Suter said. "It will allow me to be more offensive."

Just like the forward lines, Yeo said different pairings will be tried out over the course of camp.

"We've seen the way that our [defense] works too, it's pretty fluid," he said. "But I would really like to give [Suter] the opportunity to try a right-shot with him. That could open some things up through ... the offensive zone — getting some pucks coming across to him, having somebody that would be on their forehand."

Going 3-on-3

After the two, 25-minute running halves of the scrimmage on Monday were completed, the Wild played five running-minutes of full-ice 3-on-3, much like what will happen during at least three preseason games.

"A lot of goals," Yeo said (there were three goals scored in the five-minutes of running-time). "That's pretty much what I've seen so far and what we expect."

The session began with Granlund and Parise with Dumba for Team B, and Mikko and Zucker with Suter for Team A.

Yeo said the Wild won't be using three forwards in overtime because of the skill set of its defensemen.

"We can very effectively use two defensemen and a forward," he said.

Yeo also got into specific keys for the 3-on-3, including puck possession, zone spacing, and skill and speed.

"Hockey sense is going to be very important," Yeo said. "Your shot selection, how you're able to penetrate, how you're able to create without giving up those odd-man rushes against."

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