Good afternoon Wilderness!!! Today the Wild hit the ice for their first practice of the 2013-14 season. Ahh, how good it feels to say that. It is finally here and we here at Hockey Wilderness could not be more happy to ramp up our coverage for the season. Expect game threads, daily features, as well as player interviews and stories from us throughout the season. For those wanting to get a glimpse of the 2013-14 edition of the Minnesota Wild, remember that on Saturday, September, 14th at 9:30 there will be practice open and free to the public. Another good reminder, Wild single-game tickets go on sale this Saturday at 9 AM at the Xcel Energy Box Office and at noon at your Ticketmaster outlets. On Sunday, September, 15th there will be a white versus green inter-squad scrimmage at 11 AM that is also free. Bring the family, the kids, or just you out to the X for early hockey viewing pleasure and you might even see one of us writers roaming the halls.
Today's focus will be the forwards on this year's training camp roster. If you want to view a full camp roster you can find it here. There are a total of 28 wingers and centers reporting to camp this year, and once again we will be graced with the likes of Minnesota Wild staples like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, and Dany Heatley. There are also a number of prospects vying for roster spots like Raphael Bussieres, who had a decent Traverse City tourney showing, Erik Haula, whom Chuck Fletcher had mentioned early on this offseason that he may be a candidate for the second or third line center position, and Justin Fontaine, whom head coach Mike Yeo is excited to see in training camp after being buried in Houston because of the big-name prospects and the lock-out shortened season. Chuck Fletcher also brought in one NHLer on a pro tryout in David Steckel (all other invitees are from ECHL, OHL, or WHL).
Zach Parise looks to continue winning the hearts of Wild fans with his hard work ethic and knack for being around the net. Parise led the Wild last season with 18 goals and looks to only improve on that this season. Playing top-line minutes, working heavy minutes on the power play where he scored seven of his 18 goals, and having a full training camp to learn and be comfortable with systems can only spell success in 2013-14 for Zach. He also led the team in shots-on-goal with 182 shots - outshooting Mikko Koivu second on the team with 127 SOG's.
Jason Pominville is not only looking to receive a contract extension with Minnesota, but he is also playing for a chance to be on Team USA for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The former Buffalo Sabres captain needs to find a home on a line and early projections place him of the top line with Parise and Koivu, although Yeo has publicly stated that he hasn't placed anything in pen on his depth charts. In 10 games with the Wild, he scored 9 points (4 G, 5 A) and bounced around between the second line and the first line as Mike Yeo was trying to figure out the best place for him. Pominville was sidelined for the final game of the season and three games of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals versus Chicago with a concussion. He claims that he is 100 percent healed and ready to go for this season.
Dany Heatley was criticized for his tortoise-like speed on the ice. He was god awfully slow. One thing the the F-ing All Star is good at is potting goals. He scored 11 goals on his way to 21 points last season. He scored three of them on the power play, two of which came in game one against Colorado last season. He played only 36 games in the 2013 campaign because of a shoulder injury caused by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (pickles) of the San Jose Sharks in the waning seconds of a 4-2 loss in San Jose. He may be the Wild's power play specialist this season because he is such a proficient scorer and knows the "soft areas" of a penalty kill to exploit. He is not a strong skater and in his older age has definitely lost more than a step, but he is the F@%#ing All-Star.
Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker are all but locks to be on the opening night roster according to what Mike Yeo said in a recent Q & A with Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. If you'd like to read the Q & A, you can read it here. Coyle looks to be the front runner for the second line center spot. He will be challenged for the spot by Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula. Both Finland natives, Granlund and Haula are in different spots in their development. This will be Granlund's second year of North American pro hockey and it showed last season. After being highly touted before the Fourth of July fireworks that landed Parise and Ryan Suter, he dominated in Houston but struggled mightily in the NHL. He will be given every opportunity to win a spot on the roster this preseason. As for Haula, he was signed by the Wild to an entry-level contract after his junior year at the University of Minnesota. In the 2012-13 season with the Golden Gophers he set a career high with 51 points and led the team in assists with 30. Haula has been playing North American hockey for some time now and will need to adjust to the pro game. He also stood out at this summer's prospect camp and appeared on the score sheet at the Traverse City Prospect tournament for the Wild.
By all accounts Justin Fontaine was more than worthy of a call up last season with solid play in Houston last year. He appeared in 73 games for the Aeros and netted 16 goals and 39 helpers. He was only a -3 on the season which indicates that the kid is a solid two-way winger. Fontaine also is a right-handed shot that the Wild covet. He will get a great look in training camp.
Raphael Bussieres had a good Traverse City tournament last week. The 2012 2nd round pick of the Wild (46th overall) scored two goals in the four game round-robin. He is 6'1" and 195 pounds. Bussieres scored 44 points (21 G, 23 A) for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL last season. The 19 year old has a nice future ahead of him but is a longshot to make the team.
David Steckel is the lone NHLer to have signed a pro tryout with the Wild this season. He is 31 years old, 6'6" and 215 pounds. Last season he split time between Toronto and Anaheim, playing just 34 games. He scored 1 goal and had 6 assists last season. According to Russo,
he ranked sixth in the NHL (58 percent), in 2010-11 he led the NHL by winning 62.3 percent of his draws, he ranked second in 2009-10 (59.2 percent), fifth in 2008-09 (57.9 percent) and seventh in 2007-08 (56.3 percent).
While considered a long shot to make the team, could he challenge Zenon Konopka for the fourth line?
Mike Rupp is still not cleared to play and seems to still be dealing with a knee injury that had been hindering him since last season. Matt Cooke was signed as a free agent this offseason much to the dismay of many Wild fans. He should, however, bolster the Wild penalty kill. Kyle Brodziak will need a comeback kind of year. Zack Phillips should start in Iowa this season as he continues to learn the defensive side of being a forward. Brett Bulmer battled injuries all last season and is looking to get his season off on the right track.
Nino Niederreiter came to the Wild in the draft day swap for Cal Clutterbuck. He was coveted by the Wild brass in the 2010 Entry Draft but instead was picked 5th overall by the New York Islanders. The Wild settled for some kid named Mikael Granlund. Niederreiter is hoping the change of scenery and that the alleged mishandling of him by Garth Snow is indeed behind him. Primed for a bounce back season, El Nino spent a large part of his offseason training with Captain Mikko Koivu in Turku, Finland.
So there you have it. We here at Hockey Wilderness can't wait for hockey season to start. Big things are expected from the Wild this year. Coupled with a new division and new rivals, this should be an exciting year. Hope to see everyone on Saturday of Sunday for the practice/scrimmage.