Hello, everybody. The hockey season really is coming at us like an angry Matt Dumba on open ice, isn't it?
And with that asphalt-burn-like smoothness, I'm here to bring you up to speed with the defensemen on the Minnesota Wild's training camp roster. If you're looking for more info about the training camp, we got you pretty much covered. Like yesterday. Joe did an amazing job with the forwards, so go check it out. The post is behind that link. If you're looking for the full training camp roster, I got that baby behind this link right here.
Now, I know what you might think. Considering the poor-ish talent level on the Wild's bottom pairing (I'm really trying to be super nice here), isn't that all we need to worry about? I mean, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon have shown that they're pretty much locks for top-4 spots. Then there's Keith Ballar who, despite his problems in Vancouver, is still considered as a dependable NHL veteran.
So yeah, what's there to think about? Throw Dumba in there with "the best of the rest", and you got a third pairing and we can all go home. Right? Not quite.
First of all, training camp is a fantastic place to evaluate a team's prospect pool. How good are these kids, really? A decent way to find out is to put them on the ice with NHL competition and let them go against each other. There are dozens of young players that absolutely destroy their competition when playing at the Traverse City tournament, or even after they make their way to the minors after the training camp.
Sure, it's "just the training camp". But if you're not stepping up your game here, why would we expect you to do so when there are points in the line and you're playing in front of a sold-out building? This is the reason why I'm not against guys fighting in camps. They're treating the scrimmages like they're the game number 1 of a new season.
Now, let's go through the pile of talent the Wild have skating on the ice during this camp. Unlike Joe, I'm starting from the bottom of the list.
The invitees in amongst the defensemen are Cody Corbett (originally from Lakeland, MN) and Corbin Baldwin. Both of these guys are long shots to even appear in the discussion about possible roster spots, but you never know.
Baldwin has, as far as I'm being told, a contract with the Iowa Wild for the 2013-14 season. The 6'5", 215-pound defenseman played his junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs, where he racked up 6 goals and 33 points to go along with a respectable 128 penalty minutes during his best season with the team. A big guy with a decent shot, but the career projection for Baldwin is, unfortunately, filled with NHL hopes but AHL reality. Still, a defenseman this big will provide a good challenge for the smaller forwards to battle along the boards. And as harsh as it may sound, that's what Baldwin is here to do. He's a sparring partner.
As for Corbett, he's a different kind of an animal. But this one has familiar stripes as well. As a puck-moving, smooth-skating defenseman who has played the last two seasons with WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, Corbett has a slightly more optimistic upside than Baldwin. Still, you can't help but think that while the Wild will hope to see glimpses of NHL-level ability with the puck, Corbett isn't much more than another pair of decent hands at the back. Helps to run certain drills and makes the scrimmages feel a bit more like games when you have a wide variety of talent on the ice. Even if the level of talent isn't always top-tier.
Now, who do we got on the "definitely not NHL, but it's till good to have you guys around" -list. Well, let me tell you.
Kyle Medvec brings the size and looks, Colton Jobke is just a mean competitor, Jon Landry delivers the experience, Tyler Cuma is back for at least another year and Brian Connelly continues to have a last name that I like. I really don't want to sound rude here, but none of these guys are even in the discussion when it comes down to chasing those last roster and/or press box spots. In all honesty, even if he has NHL experience, Nate Prosser is also in this category. Sorry Nate, I just want to see the Wild in a situation where you're not even in the running for that 7th spot among the defensemen. Nothing personal here.
Then there's 18-year-old Dylan Labbé. The Wild's 4th round pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft. This is a great chance for the Wild coaching staff to see where the kid is at in terms of his development, and to just tell Labbé what they want him to develop in his game over the next season with QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes (holy cr*p what a name to type). There's zero rush for Labbé to develop. This is just a check-up.
Now, the part that actually means something RIGHT NOW. Who's with who and what's to expect from them? The top-6 defensemen for YOUR 2013-2014 Minnesota Wild. I feel like I need to say this out loud first; These are my opinions. I try to be as objective as possible, but they're still just opinions. Even if I might sometimes make them sound like facts. That's just because I'm right about these things most of the time.
Brodin and Suter seem to be a lock for the next thousand years, so I'm not even going to think about that pairing. Only thing I'm going to say; Suter will have another monster year. He's got one of the best defensemen in the world on his side when it comes to making his partner look ridiculously good at all times. Brodin is always open, he makes the simple passes really quickly to get behind the forecheck, and if necessary, the kid can skate his way out of a mortgage.
This is where it gets a bit more interesting. Do you play Clayton Stoner at all? Who do you pair Spurgeon with? Can Steven Kampfer finally develop into a consistent NHL player? Has Ballard got his act together? Is Dumba ready? Do you really write Jonathon Blum's name with an "o" in there?
This is how I would tackle the situation. I wrote about this a while back, and here we go again.
I agree with Mike Russo with the fact that Scandella SHOULD make the team. But I'm not putting him in the opening day roster, and here's why; From what I've seen of Blum, and I've seen quite a lot of the guy while he was with the Predators, he's just a more complete package than Scandella. Might not be as flashy as Scandella has the potential to be, but Blum is just a better defenseman at this stage. But he has his flaws, and that's why I'm keeping Scandella with the team as well. Make them battle for that sixth spot on the roster. They're both capable of getting the job done on the 3rd pair, so now it's just a matter of who does it better.
"But here's the thing...". I'm counting on Dumba here. A lot. I know what the kid can do, and he got better and more consistent as the season went on last year. If he can keep composed during the whole training camp, the talent will shine through and he's a lock for a roster spot. If Dumba just isn't the player I'm expecting him to be right now, Scandella will make the team with ease, as will Blum. That gives Stoner a free pass, and he can breathe a bit easier. I mean, the press box in Minnesota is a bit nicer than the one in Iowa, right?
Not that Stoner would ever get sent there. The man has been a loyal player for the organization, and it just doesn't sound right when guys like that get sent down to the minors. He will probably get traded, though, if Dumba makes the team. Kampfer is the safety net under the original safety net. He's not making the team from camp, but is in my eyes a reliable enough option to fill in for injuries.
So, how's that opening day roster look from the back? If you ask me, it looks something like this:
Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin
Keith Ballard - Jared Spurgeon
Jonathon Blum - Mathew Dumba
In my eyes, that group has everything. Solid D-zone play, great puck skills, physicality and explosiveness. Ballard and Spurgeon especially are a fantastic defensive pairing if you ask me.
Don't agree? Did I miss someone? Fire away on the comments section. Thanks for reading.