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Preview: Wild face Blackhawks with roster spots up for grabs

The actual season is almost here, but first, Chicago.

NHL: OCT 02 Wild at Blackhawks Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the regular season approaching, many young Minnesota Wild players are looking for opportunities to earn their spot in the opening night lineup and they have only a couple chances to do so. First, it’s tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Following the first loss of the year to nemesis and the cause of last year’s first round exit, the St. Louis Blues, the Wild will look to bounce back at home in hopes of building some momentum heading into the regular season. Disregarding the team’s aspirations, it is do or die time for some bubble players in the Wild’s line up.

The final lineup has largely been set, with head coach Dean Evason giving clues throughout training camp and what line combinations he has stayed consistent with during preseason. But there are a few players that have hung around and have survived every roster cut so far. Nic Petan, Mason Shaw, and Steven Fogarty are three forwards that will be playing tonight and are all fighting for the full-time 13th forward spot and the opportunity to be on the ice in case of injury. On the blue line, Dakota Mermis and Andrej Sustr are still here as well, and are fighting for that extra roster spot, as the seventh defenseman, but we assume that will be only until Jon Merrill comes back from injury.

They will all get the chance tonight to try and do it one last time. Evason mentioned earlier last week that he will want to play the season-opening lineup in the final preseason game, so this penultimate match is the last opportunity these folks will have.

The Wild released the roster for tonight, but not the lineup, so we are largely doing some educated guesses. The only confirmation that has been reported is that Marco Rossi will be centering the top line with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello.

Projected Wild lineup

Kirill Kaprizov — Marco Rossi — Mats Zuccarello
Tyson Jost — Joel Eriksson Ek — Nic Petan
Matt Boldy — Mason Shaw — Frederick Gaudreau
Connor Dewar — Steven Fogarty — Brandon Duhaime

Jonas Brodin — Jared Spurgeon
Alex Goligoski — Calen Addison
Dakota Mermis — Andrej Sustr

Marc-Andre Fleury
Filip Gustavsson

We suspect this will be a big test for Rossi, with Ryan Hartman earning a day off. He won’t start the season up there, but if he plays well and Hartman slips just a little bit in the next few weeks, the pressure will be on. Another veteran getting a day off is Marcus Foligno, and we’re guessing Eriksson Ek will be in the middle of two wingers that have impressed enough during the exhibition games.

On the blue line, we get two pairs that will start the season, and the bottom pair being two dudes just trying to not be on a bus to Des Moines. And with Gustavsson getting the full game against the Blues, Fleury most likely will get the hour of action against his former team, again.

On the other side of the ice, the Blackhawks have not released any lineup or roster, so we have no clue who will be in St. Paul tonight. They have experimented with their forward lineup as much as any other team during training camp, so there is nothing really stable for the team. A big question mark.

Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.

[UPDATE]

The official lineup has been released.

Burning Questions

Will Rossi be able to win physically against larger NHL centers?

There is no question Marco Rossi possesses an enormous amount of skill and will be in the lineup to open up the season, but against Chicago tonight, there will be some sizeable competition down the middle. How will he compare?

Which roster hopeful will come out looking the best?

As we mentioned, it’s really up to Petan, Shaw, and Fogarty to battle it out for the final spot on this roster. So who will finish the game on top out of this three? Even if they all finish without points, we should pay close attention to who might be used on the special teams and in significant situations.

Does Kaprizov need a warm-up?

The Wild’s star player has appeared in just one of the five preseason games so far, but will be seeing the ice in the final two. He walked away from the first exhibition game with a single point, but will we get a glimpse of more action tonight, or will Kirill go on autopilot and ramp up the production when the games actually matter?

See you tonight.