Anemic offense, lackluster individual statistics, and injuries highlighted the Wild prospects' 7th place finish in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City. The Wild dropped their first three games against the Stars, Hurricanes, and Rangers before an Alex Tuch score in the waning seconds of the last-place game against the Blackhawks sealed their lone victory of the tournament and awarded them 7th place. Some of the roster hopefuls will return immediately to Wild training camp, which opened today, while invitees wait to see if they earned a contract.
The most visible player for the Wild throughout the tournament was former first-round pick Alex Tuch. Tuch had 2 goals and 3 points in the tournament and was a driving force for possession on the Wild's top line. Tuch also generated the 4th most shots of all of the prospects in the tournament. He didn't end up being the best prospect in the tournament, but it was hard to stand out in the shadow of Jimmy Vesey, who led the tournament with 5 goals, 7 points and 20 shots. However, Tuch was listed as part of the top 11 prospects in the tournament by NHL.com. He even got into his first career fight while defending the honor of linemate Sam Anas, who took a high hit to the head.
Goaltending was also a positive for the tournament as the Wild surrendered just 10 goals over 4 games. Adam Vay and Steven Michalek alternated throughout the tournament and both looked sharp. Most of the goals scored could be pinned on defensive miscues in transition and the Wild being hemmed in their zone for long periods of time for portions of each game.
Part of the defensive struggles for the Wild came from losing top-paring defenseman Gustav Olofsson to a knee injury in the tournament's opening game, leaving the Wild defensive corps short-handed for the rest of the games. Olofsson had already scored a goal and looked to be the Wild's best player before the injury. Upon inspection, Olofsson appears to have a slight MCL strain and is not expected to miss much time, if any. The Wild also lost Sam Anas in the second game to concussion protocol after taking a hit to the head, to which Alex Tuch responded with the first fight of his career to stick up for his fallen teammate. Anas ended up departing for home on a personal matter, but will continue to be monitored as he heads to Minnesota for training camp.
Given a good opportunity to make their case for joining the NHL club, several other members of the team had quiet performances. Joel Eriksson-Ek centered the top line, but failed to score. Mario Lucia was temporarily promoted to the top line when Anas departed, but did not manage to score. Christoph Bertschy scored the tying goal against the Blackhawks as he was promoted to the top line in favor of Lucia and looked comfortable playing alongside Tuch and Eriksson-Ek. While Tuch appears to have taken a step towards earning a roster spot, other hopefuls in Eriksson-Ek, Anas, and Lucia left some opportunity on the table. Roster invitee Alex Petan only managed an empty net goal, but had a solid tournament while displaying his speed and offensive talent. It will be interesting to see if he is offered a contract.
The next step for all will be to determine who heads to Minnesota for training camp and who lingers behind to join the Iowa club, which is set up for a major renovation with an influx of youth for the upcoming season. Though it will take some time to build chemistry with the new players, the entire organization is hoping for this year to become a big transition for Iowa, who has been a standings cellar-dweller for the past two seasons. And though the Traverse City tournament wasn't a compl;ete success for the Wild prospects, there is plenty to be positive about based on the potential of the incoming class of prospects.