ST. PAUL — Minnesota Wild prospects hit the ice for a practice session at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday in preparation for the 2016 Traverse City Prospect Tournament, which begins Friday in Traverse City, Mich.
Among the 25 players on the Wild’s roster for the tournament are seven who took part in it last season. Returnees include forwards Christoph Bertschy, Chase Lang and Pavel Jenys, defensemen Gustav Olofsson, Gustav Bouramman and Hunter Warner and goaltender Steve Michalek.
Michalek, who played in two games last year, said he’s been looking forward to the opportunity to play in the tournament again after a rough introduction to pro hockey last September.
“It throws you into the fire against some of the top competition you’ll see,” Michalek said. “It’s good to get those games under your belt right away. You definitely learn from last year that you have to be ready to hit the ground running right away. Hopefully everyone is prepared and ready to go.
“There’s not a whole lot of structure. You have to be dialed in right from the time the puck drops.”
Michalek’s experience in the prospect tournament in 2015 helped him build his game for the regular season. After playing in 37 games for Harvard University the year before, Michalek was one of two goalies for the Wild in Traverse City last summer. With no experience beyond the NCAA between them, each struggled, allowing a total of 23 goals in four games.
It was a wake-up call for Michalek, who quickly learned the speed of the game at the professional level was far beyond what he experienced in college. The pace in Traverse City helped him adjust as he entered the pro ranks and he went on to post a .924 save percentage in 24 games with Quad City of the ECHL. His stellar play earned him a promotion to Iowa of the American Hockey League, where he had a .910 save percentage and seemed to get better as the season wore on.
“Last year definitely didn’t go as well as I would have hoped or the team would have hoped,” Michalek said. “But I know the guys coming back, it fires us up to come back and do better and to show that we are ready to be better professionals this year.”
The tournament will also be a proving ground for players like Alex Tuch, who are entering their first year of pro hockey.
Tuch was one of the best players at Development Camp in July and said he is looking forward to going against many of the top players from other organizations.
“It’ll be really good competition, high intensity,” Tuch said. “I’m looking for showcase myself this weekend and really show Minnesota that I am ready to make that step.”
If camp in July was the first step in Tuch’s attempt at earning a roster spot with the big club when training camp starts next week, the tournament in Traverse City is the next opportunity. With as many as two or three spots with the NHL club up for grabs, a good weekend in Michigan could help Tuch or Joel Eriksson Ek make one final push for a job in Minnesota.
“The entire new coaching staff is here, management too,” Tuch said. “It’ll be a really good way to showcase myself to the Minnesota Wild and show them that I am one of the best, if not the best, prospect in the tournament.”
The prospects will be coached by the Iowa Wild coaching staff with members of Minnesota’s staff, including head coach Bruce Boudreau, in attendance.
Iowa coach Derek Lalonde, entering his first season with the organization, said he’s excited to build on what he was able to work on with prospects during camp in July. With just one practice before the tournament starts on Friday afternoon, Lalonde knows things won’t be perfect.
“I told the guys this morning, ‘You’re gonna make mistakes.’ But we’re gonna try to play fast and be fast,” Lalonde said. “I also reminded them, ‘This is summer hockey, this is exhibition, but get that out of your mind. This is very important for our organization.’ A lot goes into it, from our management and our scouts in selecting this team and we’re going to treat it as such.”
The Wild will open the tournament on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CST against the Dallas Stars. Games against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (6 p.m.) and New York Rangers on Monday (2 p.m.) will follow before the championship, third-place, fifth-place and seventh-place games on Tuesday.
The Wild is one of eight NHL teams participating in the tournament, and it will compete in the Ted Lindsay Division alongside the Stars, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers. The Gordie Howe Division will be comprised of the Red Wings, the St. Louis Blues, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks.
FOX Sports Go will be offering live streams of certain Traverse City games beginning with Friday's matchup between the Wild and the Stars.
FOX Sports Go has partnered with 12 NHL teams, including the Red Wings and Wild, to offer in-market live streams of NHL games and events. FOX Sports Go is available as an app on iOS and Android, Android TV, Fire tablets and phones, select Windows devices and at FOXSportsGo.com.
To view the Wild's full Traverse City roster, please click here.