Gameday Thread: Preds smash into St. Paul

The Wild haven’t played a game since Saturday’s win over the St. Louis Blues, but one thing’s for sure. It was probably the most enjoyable three day break for the fans that they’ve had in quite some time.

Why?

Because the Wild were sitting atop the NHL for the entirety of it.

Now, we at Wild Nation aren’t counting our chickens before they’re hatched. There’s still 62 games to play. It doesn’t matter if the Wild are first in the NHL on November 23. It matters if the Wild are first in the NHL on April 7.

But it’s cool nonetheless.

Now, the Wild aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They’re not content with this accomplishment and they’re not going to rest on their laurels. In fact, Mike Yeo is saying all the right things, basically saying that the Wild aren’t satisfied with this (a paraphrase, of course). He’s saying what he’s supposed to, the players are saying what they’re supposed to. Everyone’s focused on moving forward.

That’s going to be important, because the Wild have a huge test coming up tonight in the Nashville Predators who, if you were wondering, are currently fifth in the West, just three points behind the Wild.

The Wild have won eight of their last ten, but they’ve also been playing against a bunch of teams that have been struggling. The two losses in their last ten were against the Kings and Sharks – two teams that have been playing quite well – so this is going to be a great test of where the Wild are at.

The good news is that they’re not only winning the games they’re supposed to be winning, but they’re also finding ways to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win, period.

That’s good news, because that confidence is going to come in handy, especially as long as their top scorers aren’t scoring.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here’s the line up for tonight’s tilt:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (Koivu finally showed up on offense on Saturday. Now it’s time for Heatley and Setoguchi to follow suit. If I know anything about the Wild’s Captain, he’s not going to be satisfied with his performance against the Blues, and he’ll drive his linemates to be better too.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (This line has really struggled without the presence of Latendresse or Setoguchi. Clutterbuck is a great player, but something just seems off when I watch these guys skate together.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said about these three. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re really coming into their own as a solid checking line.)
Gillies-Peters-Staubitz (The Wild basically need these three to play eight to ten minutes of mistake-free hockey. They’ve been doing that recently.)

Schultz/Prosser (Nate Prosser is blossoming into a stud, right in front of our eyes. That is all.)
Scandella/Stoner (Marco Scandella is returning to the line up after missing a couple games with a concussion. Given how cautious the Wild have been returning people from concussions of late, I wouldn’t expect any setbacks, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Justin Falk has been unbelievably impressive this season. With how he’s playing, as well as the rest of the young defensemen, it’s going to be really hard to justify taking anyone out of this line up when Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin get healthy.)

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? The Wild have had great success against teams not in the top eight, but have struggled a bit against the conference’s top eight. This is going to be a huge test for the team, but one that I think they can definitely pass if they play their game.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Dany Heatley is second on the team in points, but sports a sad looking 9.5% shooting percentage. Setoguchi’s is much better at 14.3% (it’s higher than his career average) but Koivu’s is at 6.5%. The Wild need these three to get into a groove, and the only way they’re going to do that is by shooting the puck.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? The Wild’s second line has really looked lost at times with Clutterbuck on it. With Latendresse out indefinitely, they need to start getting some chemistry between the three.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be televised on FSN. Enjoy!

Wild down Jackets 4-2 in home opener

It was exactly what everyone hoped it would be. The Wild came out and, despite being outshot, dominated most of the play en route to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets to stretch their home opener record to 10-0-1 (the one being a tie) and their streak in home openers to ten wins.

The Wild started this one quick with a beautiful breakout pass from Guillaume Latendresse to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who just feathered the puck up to Matt Cullen, who promptly buried it for the 1-0 lead, and they would never look back. A power-play goal by Marco Scandella (his first NHL goal) and a power-play marker by Dany Heatley (not his first NHL goal, but a sick goal nonetheless) would give the Wild a commanding three goal lead midway through the third.

Derek Dorsett would close the gap to two with a gritty, hard nosed goal in the crease, but Devin Setoguchi would give the Wild a three-goal advantage again with a blistering one-timer from the slot just under a minute later. Maksim Mayorov would close out the scoring in the latter part of the third period but, by that point, the game seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

So, the first game is in the books. How did the Wild look?

Well, it took a while, but they look like they “get it,” so to speak. The biggest thing was that they buy into the system that Mike Yeo has put in front of them and, for the most part, they look like they did. They forechecked hard, they possessed the puck (even when they weren’t getting a ton of offense out of it) and they kept the play in front of them. In fact, the only two goals came from when they let the play get in close to Backstrom. They even kept their foot on the gas for most of the game.

If I’m nitpicking, the one thing I will say is that the last half of the third period was the Wild’s second period in this one. The Jackets started looking tired and, instead of putting their foot down and trying to get one more, they seemed to be content with just sitting back and coasting to the win, and that’s part of where the Jackets’ second goal came from.

In any event, some thoughts:

  • Marco Scandella looked really good tonight. I mean, really good. As in, he could potentially make everyone forget about Brent Burns this season if he keeps playing like that. He made great decisions with the puck, he jumped into the play, he was aggressive, he was positionally sound and he played mistake-free hockey. He’s going to be a good one, folks.
  • Brett Bulmer had a rough first game, but he showed flashes. He made a couple key mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a 19-year-old rookie. He made a couple key plays, though, including one strong forecheck that led to a drawn penalty that then led to a power-play goal.
  • Have I mentioned that I absolutely love the Wild’s first line? They’re dynamic, they’re fast, they hit…They do everything they’re supposed to do. In fact, Koivu was so shocked by some of the set ups he got that he just didn’t know what to do. That will come in time, but these three are going to be good.
  • Backstrom looked absolutely outstanding. He looked like the Backstrom that Wild fans got accustomed to seeing, not the goaltender that they saw over the last couple years. He made some huge saves and he was right where he needed to be all the time.
  • I’m not sure exactly what happened, but from all the angles I saw it looked like Pierre-Marc Bouchard just flat out two-handed Matt Calvert in the mug. It might have rode up Calvert’s stick, but either way Butch has got to be more conscious of where his stick is. He’s responsible for his stick regardless of what Calvert does, and he’s got to take care of that. I sincerely hope he doesn’t get a call from the Shana-hammer, but I’m worried that he might.
So, before we get to our Three Stars, let’s take a look at our questions:
Will the Wild play a full 60? Not quite, but they did for the most part. They kind of fell asleep with about ten minutes to go in the game, but that’s kind of a moot point as the game was well in hand. That’s not to say that it’s not something that they need to work on, but they need to learn to keep their foot on the gas the whole game, not just part of it.
Can the first line (we need a name for them) keep their momentum? Um, two goals, four points? I’d say they did.
Will the defense rebound after a handful of subpar efforts to end the preseason? Definitely. They kept the Jackets’ offense to the outside and they really played well against a pretty good Jackets offense. The penalty kill, especially, looked very good tonight and that’s something they should be very proud of.
Brett Bulmer will get a lot of ice time tonight. Will he look out of place? He didn’t look out of place, but he didn’t look altogether comfortable either. He made a couple of nice plays and he made a couple mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a rookie who’s playing in his first game. If he keeps playing like this, though, I’d expect him to stick.
Three Stars
1) Dany Heatley – Heater was just as promised. He played a great offensive game and, more importantly, he shot the puck. His goal in the second was a thing of beauty and he showed some great playmaking skills too in setting up Devin Setoguchi’s blistering one-timer. I wouldn’t expect 164 points from him, but he didn’t look out of place in the least.
2) Niklas Backstrom – Backstrom looked fantastic in net for the Wild. He stopped 29 of 31 and he played the type of hockey that the Wild need him to play in order for the team to be successful. He had to make a couple spectacular saves but, for the most part, he was very unassuming in net which means he was playing his game very, very well.
3) Marco Scandella – The Wild’s young defenseman scored his first NHL goal and looked pretty darn good out there all night long. His power-play goal was a beaut and he didn’t look out matched — in fact, he reminded me a lot of Brent Burns in many regards. He made good decisions and he played good, mistake-free hockey.
That’s all for now. We’ll be back on Monday with our gameday thread for the Isles game which, reminder, starts at 11:30 in the am.

Wild trim roster to 28.

It's time for the Wild to get down to business

After Pittsburgh’s game, it was apparent why this was coming. The Wild needed to get down to their roster to gain some chemistry as soon as possible.

With the cuts made on Sunday, the Wild are now down to a roster of 28. That’s 24 healthy players and 4 injured players. (For those keeping score, the opening day roster has to be 23).

If you couldn't tell, this is Brett Bulmer doing what he's best at.

Among those kept were Marco Scandella (no real surprise after Yeo essentially said he thought he could play top-four minutes in the NHL), Justin Falk (who really has nothing left to gain from remaining in Houston), Nate Prosser (he’s had a great preseason, but I expect him to be one of the last players sent down), Casey Wellman (he hasn’t really played at all, but showed some good signs in Pittsburgh) and Brett Bulmer (wait, what?).

Basically, with Bulmer, the Wild want to see more of him. He’s a Cal Clutterbuck-esque forward. He gets under players’ skins, he hits, he’s fearless and he can skate like the wind. With the injuries (the forwards injured are Kassian and Almond, both of whom probably had the best shots at making the opening day roster), it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Bulmer makes the cut to play with the big squad on Oct. 8.

That’s going to have to be a judgment call by the management though.

For now, the Wild just want to see more of him.

So, basically, here’s our depth chart:

Forward (16):
Devin Setoguchi/Mikko Koivu/Dany Heatley
Guillaume Latendresse/Matt Cullen/Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Darroll Power/Kyle Brodziak/Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies/Eric Nystrom/Brad Staubitz

Extras: Casey Wellman, Brett Bulmer
Injured:
Matt Kassian, Cody Almond

Defense (10):
Greg Zanon/Marek Zidlicky
Nick Schultz/Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner/Jared Spurgeon

Extras: Justin Falk, Nate Prosser
Injured:
Mike Lundin, Drew Bagnall

Goalies (2):
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

Looking at it, it’s certainly not the best team out there, but it doesn’t look half-bad either. Spurgeon and Stoner have most certainly earned their roster spots this preseason, while Scandella has at least earned the opportunity to be an injury fill-in for Lundin.

Here’s the thing, though. Lundin is one of our top-four defensemen. So who becomes the odd man out when he returns?

To me, it’s Scandella, and for the same reason that Colton Gillies became the odd man out last season.

Scandella is still young, and the front office obviously wants him to get ice time. If he’s not able to get top-four minutes in Minnesota, I think it’s the best move for him to get top-two minutes down in Houston.

It’s a tough message to deliver to a kid who has impressed this preseason, but it is what it is. The Wild will likely keep eight defensemen, and he won’t benefit from sitting in the press box on a nightly basis when Lundin returns from injury.

Prosser has had a great camp

If the Wild keeps eight, I think the two extras that they keep are Falk (nothing left for him to learn in Houston) and Prosser (great camp). Both players really have done their thing down in Houston, and I think both have at least earned the chance to try to work their way into a regular role with the team during the season. Given how steady our regular defensemen have been this preseason, however, I think the Wild only keep seven, which I think makes Prosser the odd man out for right now.

As for the forward, I think you’ll see Wellman sent down and, unless Bulmer blows someone away and one of the bottom two lines has a catastrophic injury, Bulmer sent back to juniors.

Neither is going to benefit from being a healthy scratch on a nightly basis and, when Almond and Kassian get healthy, I think those are the two that you’re going to see round out the squad. The Wild love the toughness that Kassian brings and, really, it’s hard not to. The dude is a grade-A, bona fide fighter and he’s tough as nails. He’s great in the room and he’s a pretty decent skater as well, which means that he’s a player that both Yeo and Fletcher are going to like.

As for Almond, I think he’s gone as far as he can in Houston. Would I rather see the Wild bring in a fringe veteran so that he’s not just sitting in the press box? Sure. But he at least gives the Wild a viable option if injuries present themselves or if they don’t want to throw an enforcer in on the fourth line.

As far as who’s gone, let’s take a look quick.

Jordan Hendry was released from his tryout and told to search for a one-way contract elsewhere, but also told that if nothing better presents itself he has a two-way deal waiting for him in Minnesota, but he would be starting in Houston.

Kris Foucault, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Warren Peters, Chad Rau, Jeff Taffe, Jon DiSalvatore, Jed Ortmeyer, Jarod Palmer, Tyler Cuma, Chay Genoway, Jeff Penner, Dennis Endras, Matt Hackett and Darcy Keumper were all sent to Houston.

So that’s your Wild roster. That’s who has the bet shot of making the team on Opening Day this season. There’s three games remaining, so let’s see who can impress over the next three games and get their shot on opening night.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Pittsburgh

The Wild try to keep their momentum going in Pittsburgh today.

The preseason 3-0 Wild have likely landed in Pittsburgh and are resting up for their 2 pm tilt today against the Pens and I don’t know that there has ever been this much optimism about this team in the preseason. Harding played a full game last night, the first line was as advertised, Yeo is growing on the fans, Backstrom pitched two shutout periods in St. Louis.

It’s just plain encouraging.

This won’t be a long, drawn out one because the kids are eating breakfast, so I want to get it done quick, but here’s the Wild roster (or at least part of it) per Russo for tonight’s game:

Backs will likely get the full game in Pittsburgh

I’ve got a partial lineup:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Colton Gillies-Eric Nystrom-Jarod Palmer

Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Jon DiSalvatore-David McIntyre-XXXXX

The 12th forward will be Carson McMillan, Brad Staubitz or Brett Bulmer

The defensemen will be:

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry

Jeff Penner-XXXX

The sixth defenseman will be Kris Fredheim or Marco Scandella

The goalies will be Niklas Backstrom and Dennis Endras.

Wellman might get his first action of the preseason tonight

Casey Wellman was on the charter from Minneapolis, so if he’s ready to go, I’d guess he slots in at the 12th forward spot. If I had to guess, I’d say Scandella gets another chance to go also, especially with both Stoner and Spurgeon (the two whose job he’s competing to steal) playing.

Also, if what the Wild radio crew said last night is correct, look for Backs to play the whole game tonight.

Some questions to ponder:

Jarod Palmer is slotted in with Gillies and Nystrom. Could be a coincidence, but will he grab hold of the opportunity to prove he belongs?

If Wellman is healthy enough to go, which Wellman do we see? The difference maker he learned to be in Houston, or the nervous kid?

Backstrom had a great game against St. Louis. Can he keep it up against Pittsburgh?

Who comes out ahead in the defensive battle today? Will it be Stoner and Spurgeon, or will one of the players battling for a spot sneak in?

That’s all for me. The puck drops on the NHL Network at 2 pm today.

Heatley scores twice; Wild win in OT

Heatley and Koivu led the way on Friday

Wow. What a thriller and what a debut for the Wild’s shiny new first line.

Both Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley had three points (Koivu three assists and Heatley two goals and an assist) and Devin Setoguchi had two points (a goal and an assist) to lead the Wild to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in an affair that became highly spirited thanks to a checking from behind major and misconduct by Brad Staubitz.

Things boiled over at the end of regulation when Cal Clutterbuck leveled Fedor Tyutin with a clean check that led to retaliatory

This looks fair, no?

penalties by James Wisniewski and Cody Bass that gave the Wild a power play heading into overtime, where Heatley tipped home the game winner.

So, here are some of my thoughts on the game:

  • I wouldn’t be surprised to see a suspension heading Brad Staubitz’s way after that hit on Cody Bass. Bass was okay, but you just can’t do that and Staubitz should have known better.
  • How about that debut of the first line? If this is any indication, we could be looking at big years for all three. Heatley was a force all over the ice, and his hockey sense and Koivu’s meshed really well, which sounds odd but they worked very well with one another.
  • I liked what I saw from Phillips, Foucault and Bulmer too. All three worked their rear ends off, which helped contribute to the Wild’s first goal.
  • Scandella had a rough game, though he wasn’t downright bad. He made a few rookie mistakes out there, a couple of which led to turnovers. Overall, though, the defense was pretty solid once again save for a couple instances.
  • Harding looked good, if a bit tentative at times. It sounds strange, but in a game where he gave up three goals, there really wasn’t anything you could definitively say he could have done better.

Heatley was the star of the game

And what of my pre-game questions?

How will Yeo’s chemistry experiment go with the de facto first line of the team? Will Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu mesh well? A combined three goals and five assists say a resounding yes.

Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are all getting another look. Will they impress again? Again, the answer would be less despite not a whole lot of ice time. Phillips and Foucault each had a point and the line had four shots on goal. All-in-all, a good day at the office.

How much will Harding play? Will he get the full two periods tonight to see where his knee is at? Well, I was definitely off. He played the whole schabang and he looked pretty good doing so.

Scandella, Prosser and Chay Genoway are all getting another look. How will they fare? For the most part, they were good. I would say Prosser had the best game of the three, but all three were solid overall.

Can the Wild finally put everything together and outshoot their opponent now that they have their big firepower in the line up? Not yet. Maybe with a full line up?

Can the Wild contain the Jackets’ big line of Prospal/Nash/Carter? Two assists for Carter were all that got tallied, so I’d say they did the job.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with a brief gameday thread for the afternoon game from Pittsburgh.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Preseason Gameday Thread: vs. Columbus

Minnesota/Columbus has started to turn into a pretty fierce rivalry of late.

So we’ll combine the roster and the game day threads again today, since I’m pressed for time again, but here it is. Wild fans finally get to see the line they’ve been waiting to see tonight, against Columbus.

Per Wild.com:

Devin SetoguchiMikko KoivuDany Heatley
Darroll PoweKyle BrodziakCal Clutterbuck
Kris Foucault – Zack PhillipsBrett Bulmer
David McIntyreChad RauBrad Staubitz

Chay Genoway – Kris Fredheim
Greg ZanonMarek Zidlicky
Marco ScandellaNate Prosser

Josh Harding will start in goal with Darcy Kuemper serving as the backup.

So, we’ll see the first and third lines in action tonight (just like Russo promised), but we’re also going to get to see the Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer line again. It looks like they might have done enough to make Mike Yeo want a second look at them, which is very encouraging.

No real surprises otherwise. Eden Prairie native Chad Rau gets his first action of the preseason, as does Kris Fredheim and Darcy

Minnesota will look to keep their momentum going

Kuemper.

No inside information here, but it looks to me like Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser might be the front runners for the extra defensive spot as they get the nod again. It will be interesting to see how they respond, especially since they likely won’t be seeing the ice time they did last game with Zanon and Zidlicky in the line up.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the Jackets’ roster, again per Wild.com:

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Maksim Mayorov, Vinny Prospal, Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Russell, Cody Bass, Cam Atkinson, Nick Drazenovic, Oliver Gabriel, Antoine Vermette, Rick Nash, Adam Payerl

Defensemen: Radek Martinek, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell, James Wisniewski, Dalton Prout, Fedor Tyutin, Anton Blomqvist, Steve Delisle

Goaltenders: Curtis Sanford and Allen York

Some questions to ponder and discuss for tonight’s game:

How will Yeo’s chemistry experiment go with the de facto first line of the team? Will Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu mesh well?

Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are all getting another look. Will they impress again?

How much will Harding play? Will he get the full two periods tonight to see where his knee is at?

Scandella, Prosser and Chay Genoway are all getting another look. How will they fare?

Can the Wild finally put everything together and outshoot their opponent now that they have their big firepower in the line up?

Can the Wild contain the Jackets’ big line of Prospal/Nash/Carter?

Wild.com will have live in-game commentary and you can listen to the game here. The puck drops at 7pm from the Xcel Energy Center.

Baby Wild down St. Louis 1-0

Hackett makes a save on Jonathan Cheechoo

Well, I don’t want to say that was unexpected but…Okay…That was unexpected.

The Baby Wild came out last night and took on a St. Louis Blues team that was mostly comprised of their NHL regulars, and looked pretty darn good in the process.

Peters scored the lone goal for Minnesota

Niklas Backstrom and Matthew Hackett combined for the shutout, while Warren Peters got the lone goal, beating Jaroslav Halak witha nifty little backhand. Incidentally, Backstrom got an assist on the play too, making him not only their top goalie, but one of their top offensive players also.

So, some thoughts on the game:

  • I was impressed with the defensive responsibility of the team on Thursday. The Wild needed to have a performance like this in order to compete with a more experienced, more talented Blues squad and they did just that. For three periods, they did everything they were supposed to do and it showed in the results.
  • The Wild’s AHL veterans (Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters) both looked good again. Unless one of the youngsters really blows Mike Yeo away, I think that 13th forward position could go to one of those two.
  • Of the four defensemen that played last night that are vying for a roster spot, Scandella probably looked the best out of everyone. Prosser and Hendry looked good, but Falk was just terrible for most of the game.
  • Zack Phillips was good, but he was trying to do too much for most of the game. It’s a definite learning curve, and he needs to learn that he won’t be able to dance around the ice in the NHL like he does in the Q. He showed signs of what could be in store, though. He could be a dandy.
  • Both Backstrom and Hackett were tremendous against the Blues. Backstrom made a handful of spectacular saves, as did Hackett who withstood a 14-1 barrage in the third.

But what of my questions? Well, let’s take a look.

Nate Prosser checks Alex Steen

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster? Well, given that they won and shut out a team full of regulars, I’d say they fared pretty darn good.

Will Niklas Backstrom look like the Backstrom who was a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the Backstrom who has struggled at times the past two seasons? It’s a limited sample size, but he definitely looked good. We’ll see how he fares the rest of the pre-season, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign.

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing? Well, the answer to this question, obviously, was Warren Peters.

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards? Yes, and yes. This defensive unit was great for the duration of the game. They helped prevent any major scoring chances and gave the goaltenders the opportunity to see the puck.

Will Zack Phillips (my dark horse roster pick), Kris Foucault, Brett Bulmer or Jarod Palmer emerge as surprise front runners to make the roster on opening day? No. The youngsters didn’t have bad games, but none of them blew anyone away. All showed that they’ve got the tools to be good down the road, but right now none looked quite ready to be a full-time NHLer.

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game? Yes. He wasn’t the team’s best defenseman, but he had a very good game save for a mistake here and there.

Check back later today for our gameday thread. Otherwise, enjoy the weather today…It’s only going to get colder!

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Wild Invite D Jordan Hendry to Camp

The Wild very well might not be done this off season, but this move will have to wait until after training camp.

In an effort to shore up their blue line depth and possibly add a young, veteran, seventh defenseman, the Wild have invited former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, Jordan Hendry, to training camp on a tryout contract.

Hendry has played 129 games over parts of the last four seasons and tallied four goals and 13 points over that span. His season was

Hendry will provide a solid option on the blue line.

cut short last season, however, after suffering an ACL tear to his knee following a check by Shane Doan.

Let’s be clear here, this isn’t a game-changing move. Hendry isn’t going to come in and bump Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, NickSchultz or Mike Lundin out of the top-four. He probably won’t even bump Clayton Stoner out of the fifth defensive spot.

What he’ll do, though, is push the team’s young d-men challenging for the sixth and seventh defensive spots (Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella) and see how they react under pressure for the job.

I’ve been saying that the Wild needed to pick up a defenseman with some experience to fill that seventh d-man spot and, I think Hendry does just that. He’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s played in well over 100 games in his career and there’s no doubt that he’s got an inside track towards winning a spot on the roster.

Were it not for his injury last season, I think Hendry might have been signed outright by the team. As it stands, though, the Wild are under no obligation to sign Hendry so they get a risk-free chance to evaluate how he has recovered from his injury.

If he’s recovered, I see Hendry being signed. The Wild need to allow their younger defensemen to develop and that’s not going to happen with either of them sitting in the press box for 40-50 games this season. The Wild need that veteran to be that seventh defenseman and Hendry is someone who is both experienced at that role and experienced in the NHL.

The Monday Mailbag: 8/8/11

Before we get into mailbag time, it’s time for a few more links from around the interwebs.

HPT Bold Prediction #21: Playoffs on the Island
HPT Bold Prediction #22: Barry Trotz will be fired
Hockey’s Future: Minnesota High School 2011 draft review

That’s all for now, so let’s get 8o your questions!

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you see any of the Wild’s top prospects making the squad this season?

Stan
Grand Forks

Not this year Wild fans

Well, I’m assuming by top prospects you mean players like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle and, if that’s the case, I don’t think so.

Obviously players like Casey Wellman, Cody Almond and Colton Gillies will be vying for a spot at forward and Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella at defense, but if you’re talking about the team’s top prospects, well, here’s what I think:

1) Mikael Granlund – He’s already said the plan was for him to spend one more year in Finland to take care of his obligations.

2) Charlie Coyle – Probably not. Chuck Fletcher said that he’s planning on keeping him in college. That being said, anything can happen in camp and Coyle probably has the best shot to make the roster of any of the team’s top prospects.

3) Matthew Hackett – Not unless Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom get injured.

4) Jonas Brodin – He needs a lot more seasoning and there are a lot of defensemen that are more polished ahead of him, so no.

5) Zack Phillips – He could be the dark horse of the group. He can put up points and has the potential to surprise in camp.

So, Stan, there you have it. Those are the five prospects I would consider at the top of the list of our “big guns” that we’ve gotten in the past few drafts, but I don’t seen any of them cracking the roster yet. Some need more seasoning, some have players in front of them on the depth chart, but all are at least one year (if not more) out.

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you think that the Wild will keep Josh Harding around past this season?

Jocelyn
Mankato

Jocelyn, I think this is a terrific question that the organization is probably thinking about right now (and, if they’re not, they should be).

With the exception of a rough spot a few seasons ago, all Harding has done is won games for the Wild. He’s a terrific goaltender

The Wild would do well to keep Harding around past this year

that I think could be in the cards for Minnesota.

The problem is that he’s had injury problems (not that he’s injury prone, he just has gotten hurt in a number of different fashions) and has never really been given the helm for any extended period of time.

The Wild signed Harding to a one-year deal and, to me; this looks like it’s a tryout for Harding, so to speak.

I would imagine that the Wild will probably try to get Harding somewhere between 25-30 starts this season and, if Harding is successful, will likely try to lock up their talented back up for at least three seasons following this season.

Now, here’s my thinking on this. Backstrom has one year left on his deal after this year. He has a no-trade clause (or, at least, a modified one) and a pretty large contract, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be moved unless the team absolutely bombs (and even then it’s highly unlikely).

Say Harding has a good season this year. The team’s third-string goalie is Matthew Hackett, who is still very young and still developing. I think that, after this season, the Wild could get Harding locked up for three years at a reasonable price with the promise that he’ll be the team’s starter after Backstrom’s contract is up.

After Backstrom’s contract expires, Harding slots into the starter role and Hackett into the back up role.

We’ll see how Harding does this season, but that’s how I could see this playing out.

* * * * *

I’ve got a couple kids that want to play with daddy before bed time, so that’s all for today, but keep sending in your questions and we’ll be back with more tomorrow!

The Monday Mailbag: 8/1/11

First of all, be sure to head on over to Hockey’s Future and check out my review of the Minnesota High School kids drafted this season.

Now that the house keeping’s over with, we had a pretty good response to our call for mailbag questions, so let’s get to it. For brevity’s sake, we’ll split it up and get to the ones we didn’t get to this week next week.

Remember, if you have any questions you want in the mailbag, send them in to blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com!

* * * * *

Blake,

What do you think of the Wild’s defense after losing Brent Burns? How big of a role do you think Marco Scandella will play this season?

Dale
Little Canada, MN

Well, Dale, that’s a difficult one. There’s no doubt that the Wild’s defense is filled with promise this season, but it looks like that they could once again have difficulties moving the puck. Here’s how I see their D this season:

Zidlicky/Zanon
Schultz/Lundin
Stoner/*Up For Grabs*

Vying for a Spot: Spurgeon, Scandella, Falk, Bagnall, Cuma, Prosser, Genoway, Penner

So, basically what you see here is that there is one spot in the top-six available for about eight players that could legitimately have a shot at the roster this season. The front runners for that sixth spot are likely to be between Spurgeon, Scandella, Falk, Cuma and Prosser.

Scandella will have every chance to make the roster

Now, of those five, Spurgeon and Scandella undoubtedly have the inside track because of their time spent with the team last season. Falk is close, but I don’t think he’s quite there yet. Prosser could sneak in and steal the job with a good camp, but that would take pretty poor camps from Scandella and Spurgeon. As far as Cuma, I hesitated putting him on the list because I think that he needs a full, injury-free season in the AHL before he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.

The seventh defensive spot gets a little more difficult. I would imagine that, between Spurgeon and Scandella, whichever player doesn’t make the team will be playing in the AHL this season to continue their development, and that makes a lot of sense.

So, that was a long-winded answer to the first question but, to the second question, I’d be surprised if Scandella starts the season in the AHL. The sixth spot seems like it’s going to be Spurgeon’s to lose. Now, that doesn’t mean that Scandella can’t win the job from him, but given Spurgeon’s play last season he’s definitely got the inside track.

As I mentioned, I don’t think it would be wise to keep Scandella on the team if he’s not in the top-six because he’s still young and, quite honestly, I think his development would be better served playing 20-plus minutes per night in the AHL as opposed to 10-15 per night every couple nights in the NHL.

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Blake,

Do you think the Wild will make the playoffs this season?

Linda
New Brighton, MN

Linda, you just hit the most-asked question this week. In short, yes, I think they will make the playoffs.

Their offense has greatly improved with the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi, their goaltending is, again, strong with Backstrom and Harding in net. The big question mark is their defense and, with both Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, I don’t think that the D will be as bad as everyone is afraid it will be.

That being said, there are a lot of variables to consider in this (which I won’t bore you with right now) but, yes. I do think that the Wild will make the playoffs this season. I see them finishing somewhere between 6-8 in the West and 2 or 3 in the Northwest.

* * * * *

Blake,

Is Niklas Backstrom an elite goalie in the league without Lemaire’s trap?

Rich
Duluth, MN

Short answer, Rich, yes. He is.

The main argument that I’ve seen against Backstrom is the exact point that you brought up. He can’t succeed in a system that’s not defense oriented which, in my mind, is a huge fallacy.

The biggest reason why Backstrom succeeded under Jacques Lemaire wasn’t necessarily the system (the trap is largely a neutral zone system), but it was because of the fundamentals that Lemaire preached to his defensemen.

Don't fool yourself. He's still really good.

Players didn’t get caught with their backs to the play under Lemaire. They didn’t leave their feet to block shots, they boxed players out and kept the puck to the outside – fundamentals.

The Wild did that at the beginning of last season, and Backstrom excelled.

Why? Because he’s largely a positional goaltender. Athletics are not his strong suit. He’s not a Tim Thomas-type goalie. He doesn’t flop around like a fish out of water to make saves. He’s at his best when he’s on his feet, cutting down angles.

I could go on, and on, but I’ll sum it up with this. The goalie position is one of the most contentious positions in sports. On one hand, yes, their job is to stop the puck. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The goalie can’t control the defense not doing their job. They can’t control forwards not back checking. All they can control is where the puck goes when it comes at them and, even then, they don’t have a heck of a lot of control then.

As far as Backstrom is concerned, if the defense is doing their job, he’s still a top-ten goalie in the NHL. If they’re not, I’d say he’s still at least top-12.

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