For a National Hockey League head coach, his club’s initial training camp roster probably looks a lot like a block of marble appears to a sculptor. There is a general idea, but lines and defensive parings are formed, and players emerge to contend for a spot in the lineup. As the camp goes on players are shed like layers of rock, assigned back to the minors or junior teams, and the team begins to take shape.
Today, the Minnesota Wild opening night lineup took a little more shape as the team reduced its training camp roster to 27. Minnesota assigned D Jonathon Blum, D Justin Falk, F Tyler Graovac, F Michael Keranen, F Zack Phillips, D Gustav Olofsson and F Joel Rechlicz to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League (AHL) and placed Curt Gogol and Brett Sutter on waivers with the intent to assign them to Iowa.
However, unlike a sculpture is set in stone—an NHL lineup is in constant flux. Just because a player isn’t with the big club in game one doesn’t mean that they won’t end up a part of the monument that is the NHL regular season.
“The message is there’s nothing permanent,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “That messages also goes to the guys who are here.”
In today’s practice, things looked a little different for the guys that are still here. Matt Cooke skated on the wing with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek. Charlie Coyle centered Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, with Stephane Veilleux rotating in at wing. Stu Bickel was moved from the blue line to the fourth line wing. He took turns with Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak and Cody Almond. Haula had been centering the third line, but, as a part of the growing process, was shuffled around today.
“We have to remember with Haulsy, and it’s important that he remembers it too, he hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet,” Yeo said. “So we can’t be too quick to throw the world at him, and we can’t be too quick to get down on him. He’s still a young player who is developing.”
The Wild hasn’t announced its lineup for tomorrow’s rematch against the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center, but Yeo said that it will be very close, if not, the team that we’ll see on Opening Night on Thursday, Oct. 8 when the Wild hosts Central Division rival, the Colorado Avalanche.
One thing we do know about Saturday’s game: Darcy Kuemper will get the game in goal. It has been a back-and-forth duel between Kuemper and Niklas Backstom. Backstrom was strong in goal last night against the Blues, making 33 saves with a mostly green lineup in front of him. Yeo said he’s not made a decision about the team’s game one starter, so it could come down to Keumper’s performance on Saturday. The Wild’s bench boss likes what he’s seen out of the 24-year-old.
“What I’ve seen in the games is a very confident player. You come into the season, we’re hoping that’s going to be there based on what he went through last year,” Yeo said. “I definitely see him even more so with the confidence level, and I hate to use the word again, but, swagger, that’s the way he’s playing the game right now and he’s backing it up. He’s got the work ethic in practice. It’s a one thing to have a false sense of confidence, but he’s earning it and he deserves it.”
Saving Private Prosser
Yesterday, the Wild claimed defenseman Nate Prosser off waivers from St. Louis, who, coincidentally, the club played last night.
“It was a bizarre day yesterday,” Prosser said. “I was out at pregame skate, doing my thing. They pulled me off the ice at 10:50 and said you’ve been claimed, and we don’t know which team it is yet. We’ll come back in 15 and tell you and then they said Minnesota, and man it’s just kind of a funny business the way that all went down. That’s kind of the nature of the game right there, coming full circle.”
“Once they pulled me off the ice, I was literally like shaking, there was a lot of uncertainty. I don’t know which team claimed me and I could go anywhere really in the country. I immediately texted my wife and she got all nervous too. But as soon as we found out it was Minnesota, all happiness and we still got our house here. We’re just thrilled to know that I’ll be coming back home and putting this jersey back on in front of our family and friends here.”
The Elk River native has spent his entire professional career in the Wild organization, so the Wild knows what he can bring to the lineup. Prosser, who actually could’ve played for Minnesota, watched the game and returned on the team’s charter.
“I think it was Bruno said like the movie Saving Private Ryan: We’re Saving Private Prosser. We’re going behind enemy lines, we’re trying to bring him out of there, and we smuggled him out and brought him on the flight home with us,” Yeo joked.
Prosser hadn’t moved his family down to St. Louis yet, so they were obviously pleased to hear the news.
“My family is excited to have me back,” Prosser said. “It was pretty cool waking up and having my girls run into the room and see me back at home, so it was fun.”
If you’ve ever been to Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub, you know it’s a treasure trove of hockey artifacts. Fans will have a chance to check out even more hockey memorabilia, as the Minnesota Hockey Collector’s Expo will be on display beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 5. The Lighthouse spoke to the Wild’s radio analyst, who has spent a lifetime around the game, and even he’s impressed by some of the items.
Speaking of hockey memorabilia, fans still have a chance to bid on unique Wild items in an online auction. The auction runs through the weekend until Sunday, Oct. 5 at 10 p.m., and benefits the Minnesota Wild foundation.
Used Equipment Drive Distribution
Tomorrow the equipment from the sixth annual Used Hockey Equipment Drive will be distributed for free to hockey associations and individuals at Xcel Energy Center from 9 a.m. to noon.