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Winnik Aims to Prove Worth at Camp Tryout

Veteran NHL forward hopes to earn roster spot, contract

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- A veteran of 10 seasons and more than 700 games, Daniel Winnik knows little is guaranteed in the NHL.

Despite a quality season in which he scored a career-high 12 goals in 72 games for the Washington Capitals in 2016-17, Winnik was unable to nab a contract as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason. As training camp approached, Winnik was forced to the route of a professional tryout in an effort to earn an 11th season in the League.

"Honestly, I don't think it's any different than any other camp I've been in," Winnik said. "Even when I've had contracts, I think the goal for other guys is always trying to take my job. I think, unfortunately for myself, I think GMs are looking for young guys to take my job. I've been used to having to work and battle for my spot on the team. 

"This year is a little different where I have to work to get a contract and maybe take someone else's job."

With Zach Parise missing the first three days of training camp, the domino effect has opened the door for Winnik to skate on a line with Matt Cullen and Chris Stewart. 

That's likely the spot he'd find himself in to open the season should he make the roster out of camp. While some players would be disappointed relegated to fourth-line duties, the 32-year old Winnik releshes the opportunity and takes pride in knowing his role.

"I think that's why I've stayed in the league to this point," Winnik said. "I know I don't have a contract, so I'm not technically still in the League, but I'm at a camp and I've been in the League 10 years. I think the hard part is finding something you're good at and maintaining it." 

Video: Malone and Winnik on PTOs

It helps having a familiarity with Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached Winnik in Anaheim for two seasons. Winnik scored six goals and had 19 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season before scoring a career-best 30 points in 2013-14.

"I think Winnik is a heck of a player," Boudreau said. "I firmly believe we got the best free agent tryout guy out there. He's going to push guys to play better." 

Cullen has had his share of battles with Winnik over the years, including the past two, when Cullen has skated for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He said he's happy to finally get a chance to play on the same team, and perhaps even the same line if camp continues to go well.

"I've always thought he was a good player," Cullen said. "Smart player. Skates well. He's been in a lot of big games. He understands the way he needs to play, especially a fourth-line role."

In addition to his play on the fourth line, Winnik is expected to be a leader for the Wild on special teams, beginning on Monday, when the Wild plays its first preseason game in Winnipeg. Winnik skated Sunday with the group that's expected to comprise much of the roster headed to Manitoba.

Ultimately, Winnik said, teams know he brings consistency. He hopes he gets to show it this season with Minnesota, but if not, he'll attempt to showcase it in hopes of another opportunity somewhere else.

"If you look at my career, I've put up similar points every single year," Winnik said. "I'm real quick on forechecks, I'm good in the corners, and I chip in offensively.

"I thought I had a really good year last year. I had a career high in goals. I think a lot of it probably has to do with postseason failures as a team. Hopefully something works in this camp and I catch on with the Wild." 

Competition in the crease

As far as Boudreau is concerned, the competition to back up starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk is alive.

The contenders are incumbent Alex Stalock, who played two games for Minnesota last season, and newcomer Niklas Svedberg, signed on July 1 after spending three seasons in the NHL.

Svedberg will get the first opportunity to play in a game, as he's expected to get the start on Monday in Winnipeg. Initially, he was supposed to get the entire game, but may now see just two periods, with Steven Michalek expected to play one frame against the Jets.

"Nobody has been given the job," Boudreau said. "Svedberg is going to get a chance, Stalock is going to get a chance. And then one of them is going to get another complete game after that, and it's probably going to be who's playing better."

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