The beginning of the NHL season is for selling hope. And Wild fans are pretty familiar with the need to sell hope, seeing as there hasn't been much reason for any until July 4, 2012. So when we sell you hope, we talk up the prospects. Think the Twins and Aaron Hicks this year. Or, hell, Mikael Granlund and co. last year. It's because they're capable of taking a big step forward in their play from what you expected, and that represents a bigger gain in the team's success than, say, if your fourth line center does a bit more than you'd expect.
So, while almost all of the pixels have gone to previewing the Granlunds, the Charlie Coyles, the Mathew Dumbas, etc, today we're going to look at eight veterans on the Wild who have roster spots to gain or lose during training camp.
Jonathon Blum is a defenseman the Wild acquired from Free Agency this offseason, and is the only guy on this list with any meaningful upside. But, as you know, his being a free agent was not because he's shown he can live up to that upside. However, if he can break through with a change of scenery, he has the potential to be a nice puck-mover who can provide offense to a team. Whether he can show flashes of that or not will determine whether he plays here or in Iowa, and his bad pass that resulted in a goal last night probably doesn't help NHL-aspirations.
Jake Dowell has mostly been regarded as useful for the Wild because of his ability to lure Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to Minnesota, but I don't really buy it. Yeah, he was a former Badger who played with Suter, but what use is that when he was just as likely to spend time in the AHL as the NHL last season? He's a fringe defensive/energy forward who can throw down sometimes. He may make the roster, but it'll be a fourth-line role, or a guy they don't mind seeing in the press box instead of a guy like Granlund.
Konopka is highly skilled at two things: Face-offs and punching people. Three things if you like his Twitter. Problem is, his face-off acumen doesn't come with many other offensive skills, which led to him not registering a point last season. Like Dowell, he can hold down a fourth-line job, and Yeo doesn't mind having an enforcer on the squad, but there are enough people at the Wild's disposal to make Konopka redundant, if they're so inclined. However, he's got an inside track to a roster spot.
Nate Prosser is an OK defenseman. And that's his problem: He's just OK. The Minnesota Wild have brought in a special talent in Mathew Dumba, and a guy they hope is much better at his exact skill-set in Jonathon Blum. If either of these guys impress, Prosser could easily find himself on the outside, looking in.
Mike Rupp is probably the most secure of these players in terms of having a roster spot. He's a giant guy whose arrival (coincidentally?) saw the Wild play better than they had almost immediately. Regardless of whether he was a part of that or not, size is a big need with this team, and he brings it. He can also take an enforcer's role if Konopka falls out of favor with the brass.
David Steckel was brought in for a pro tryout, and is another player who Konopka can theoretically be threatened by. He is huge (6'6", 215 lbs.), and takes face-offs well. Hmmm...
Clayton Stoner may have been the Wild fans' most popular whipping boy last season. Stoner seemed to have disaster following him on the ice last season. Either that, or he was just plain bad. The Wild kept playing Stoner because they feel that he brings a physical element that their other puck-mover types didn't bring. For this reason, I think Stoner makes the roster, even if not for much else, and even to be the 7th guy. However, the presence of Mathew Dumba, known for his ability to make highlight-reel hits, should make Stoner nervous, and would give him nightmares were Dumba 20-22 instead of 19.
Stephane Veilleux has been a good guy for the Wild to have. He's got a primarily defensive, "energy" game that, combined with his limited offensive skills, puts him in a logjam where he's stuck in the AHL. At the same time, he's a veteran of the NHL who brings it, which means A) he's available to play if you ever need him in a specific role on the NHL club, and B) he should be a great "mentor" type to your AHL kids. I expect him to be in the AHL, on standby in case they need a bottom-six callup.
None of these guys have all that much upside, if any, but in terms of who makes the team and who doesn't, they're every bit as important as the prospects trying to make the roster.