On cue with the eve of the Wild’s preseason opener, temperatures dipped last night in the Minnesota. It was as if the opening NHL contest brought with it hockey weather. Tonight, the Wild opens the preseason at Xcel Energy Center against the split-squad Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m.
The Wild lineup will boast a mix of veterans and young players auditioning for roster spots once the regular season rolls around.
Up front, one of the players to watch tonight will be Charlie Coyle. In his rookie year last season, Coyle skated alongside Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise on the top line. This year, he’s started training camp at center, a position he has played in the past. The second-year forward said that he’s comfortable in the middle, but tonight will test his comfort-level at NHL speeds.
After practice, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that he’d like Coyle to step up and be a consistent scoring threat this year, which would relieve some of the burden laid on the top line—currently Koivu, Parise and Jason Pominville. Coyle will center two Wild offseason acquisitions in Nino Niederreiter and Matt Cooke. Niederreiter, who is also challenging for a roster spot, is another player the Wild staff will keep a close eye on during these exhibition games.
Cooke has turned into the type of player that the young players look to as an example of how to crack an NHL lineup. The 35-year-old has become a versatile, reliable two-way player who can move up and down the lineup depending on need. Yeo said that he’s looking for this type of versatility from the younger players tonight and during camp.
On the blue line, Keith Ballard will be making his home state debut after signing with Minnesota over the summer. WildTV talked to Ballard about tonight’s game as an audition and the defenseman said that he’s eager to show that he is a valuable asset on the blue line. That video will be on WildTV later today.
Ballard’s playing partner is Mathew Dumba. The 19-year-old is the most intriguing player in camp; because of an NHL rule, the former-first rounder cannot play with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild, so he’d have to make the big club out of camp or return to junior hockey. This is the place that Dumba wants to be and has been impressive in the scrimmages and practices. This marks the first time fans will get to see the prospect in game action in a Wild sweater, but you can bet it won’t be the last.
New NHL nets will also debut tonight. The nets are shallower, allowing for more room behind the goal, but retaining the same post/crossbar dimensions of 4-foot by 6-foot.
Starting in the new sleek cage is veteran Niklas Backstrom. Backing him up is Darcy Kuemper. Another change fans might notice is the resized goalie pads. Previously a goalie's leg pads could not go higher on his leg than 55 percent of the distance between the center of his knee and his pelvis. This season, the number will be 45 percent.
A rule that will get a test run during preseason is hybrid icing. Linesmen will call icing if they deem that the defending player can reach the puck before the attacker when the race reaches the faceoff dot.
Fans can follow tonight’s action on Twitter @mnwildLIVE or listen to 100.3 FM The Fan or, like the Lighthouse likes, do both. The game will also stream online on Wild.com.
The third season of Becoming Wild, presented by Toyota, premiered last night. The cameras followed Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo to his home in Ontario, dubbed Yeo Island. Don't be bummed if you missed it, Wild.com has the replay on the show's homepage.