After hearing from Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov just how much practice time he had logged over the summer, it's easily understandable why Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had to get the ball rolling on a deal with young netminder Darcy Kuemper.
With Josh Harding out months and Niklas Backstrom the only healthy legitimate NHL goalie in camp, Minnesota needed another goaltender quickly, and Fletcher probably wasn't so ready to hand over the fate of the team to a goalie who had last skated when the club's previous season had been put into retirement by Chicago's Patrick Kane in Game Six of the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals. Still, Bryz's camp had been pestering Fletcher all summer, even going so far as offering to take a pay cut in return, but Fletcher was hesitant to pull the trigger. Finally, the trigger was pulled and the enigmatic Russian brought his signature contagious smile with him to the State of Hockey.
Bryz started out camp showing obvious signs of rust. Fortunately for almost all involved, the seasoned vet has found his game much faster than the youngster Kuemper, pitching a first half shutout in yesterday's scrimmage while stoning Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise on grade-A scoring chances.
Tonight, Bryzgalov, who is signed to a PTO for the duration of training camp, will get his first taste of real game action heading into the season as the Wild take on the Jets in the 'Peg. He'll split time with former franchise No. 1 netminder Backstrom. Bryz has repeatedly stated that he's come into camp focused exclusively on helping his former team get through it. However, there's no denying he'd prefer to cap it all off with a contract.
If he continues to play well, it's very likely Bryz will land an NHL gig somewhere this season - it just may not be in the State of Hockey. Even still, it's nice knowing Bryzgalov considers his short stay with Minnesota last season as one of the highlights of his hockey career.
As far as tonight goes, we'll settle for this.
Bring it on, Winnipeg.