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Yeo, Wild Working To Find Right Combinations

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Training camp can serve as something of a chemistry lab. Players can be tried in different roles and on different lines or pairings to figure out what clicks before the regular season begins.

While the Minnesota Wild is returning many of the same faces from last season, coach Mike Yeo has been experimenting with a few new iterations when it comes to his lineup.

"We've got some options, and I have to think there will be a few different things we try during camp," Yeo said when camp opened on Friday.

Center Mikko Koivu has been taking shifts with Nino Niederreiter on his right, and Jason Zucker on his left. Over the past two seasons, the three forwards have been on the ice together at even-strength for a combined 1:11.

"For a center, it doesn’t really make a difference," Koivu said. "For them, as a winger, it's a little bit of an adjustment. The way you play the defensive zone, and the way you're entering the o-zone."

Yeo said Niederreiter's release makes him a threat when coming into the offensive zone. Niederreiter is a left-handed shot, and can accept passes on his forehand from the left-handed Koivu.

"He's got a real hard release, and if we were to switch things around then [Zucker] does too," Yeo said. "But with that obviously Mikko is a left-hand shot so a lot of pucks go to that right side."

However Koivu's line is configured, the two wingers will be sandwiching one of the best defensive forwards in hockey.

"You try to work on all over, the whole game, but for sure I take a lot of pride in the defensive part of the game," Koivu said. "It starts with the battles, and things like that, and that is one of the strengths, and I'm trying to get better at it."

While it's not a new concept, Charlie Coyle has been playing center in camp with Thomas Vanek on his left and Justin Fontaine on his right.

"We've had some chemistry right off the bat," Coyle said. "I played with those guys a number of times last year, so that was the easy part, coming in, and knowing their tendencies already."

Coyle was very active during Sunday's scrimmage, scoring a goal and also working very hard when he didn't have the puck.

"You're always in the middle of things playing center, so there's a lot of responsibility down low, helping out your defensemen, and just being aware," Coyle said. "Paying attention to detail, and just make sure you're not staying back too much. You want to be good defensively, but you want to pitch in offensively and be up in the rush, too."

The line won't play in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, but should get a good amount of ice time on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets.

"It's still a work in progress for the whole line," Yeo said. "They've had some good moments, and they've had some moments where the chemistry was lacking a little bit, but that's part of the process here. I kind of wanted those guys to really have to be the leaders for that group up front that Winnipeg game."

Defenseman Ryan Suter continues to take shifts on the left side with Jared Spurgeon to his right. During Sunday's scrimmage, there were a number of times when Spurgeon activated up ice from his defensive position and created offensive chances.

Jonas Brodin has been used on the left side during camp. He's mostly played with Matt Dumba, but will be paired with a new partner on Monday in the preseason opener, with candidates including Christian Folin and Nate Prosser.

"With Brodin, we're seeing what an advantage it can be for him in the offensive zone playing his left side," Yeo said. "He's much more active, and just as far as receiving pucks and being a threat, and creating plays."

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