UPDATED: Wild demote two, recall four

You know that something that I keep saying has to give?

Well, the Wild have sent down Casey Wellman and David McIntyre to the AHL, per Kent Youngblood via Twitter.

So, basically, something’s changing whether it’s someone coming in from the outside or someone coming up from Houston and, while someone coming up from the AHL might not necessarily be as noteworthy as someone coming in from elsewhere, a change is a change and the Wild are certainly a team in desperate need of just that right now.

After storming out of the gates, Wellman has looked lost the last few games and McIntyre, while he’s had good moments, has really looked like an AHLer playing against NHLers.

So, is this a precursor to a bigger move?

I’d like to think so but, truthfully, it’s hard to tell until something has happened. Keep it here and we’ll have updates for you as the situation warrants.

UPDATE: Per Kent Youngblood, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Chad Rau and Nate Prosser are all on their way up from Houston.

Why Matt Kassian needs to stay in the lineup

Last night, against the Oilers, Matt Kassian was on the ice for 2:12, in the penalty box for 20 minutes and ended up as the first star.

On the surface, that’s an absolutely ridiculous stat line to end up as a first star. But, in those 2 minutes and 12 seconds, though, Kassian had as much of an impact on the outcome of the game, if not more, than the majority of his teammates.

The score was 3-1 when Kassian opted to drop the gloves with Darcy Hordichuk. On the surface, for Kassian, it’s a horrible fight to take. You’re an NHL rookie, your team has a 3-1 lead (with the two goal lead, generally, being thought of as the worst lead in hockey) and you’re facing off against a veteran NHL enforcer in Hordichuk. To boot, at this point, the Wild were dominating the Oilers. They had scored three straight goals and were rolling.

Kassian, though, saw the opportunity to turn the screws on the Oilers a little more and he took it to the tune of a dominating victory over Hordichuk.

Any momentum Edmonton might have gained from the fight was, for all intents and purposes, gone.

Now, to the Oilers’ credit, they responded quite well and were able to stem the Wild’s momentum a bit, scoring just a few minutes later, but it certainly wasn’t from anything Kassian did.

At the start of the third period, the situation was the same and, again Kassian dropped the gloves and exerted his dominance over Hordichuk once more.

Again, nothing came from the momentum gained, but it again took a situation that would have given the Oilers a lot of wind in their sails and pushed the advantage back to the Wild.

What’s more, the line of Kassian, Warren Peters and Brad Staubitz may not have done much on paper, but their presence undoubtedly kept Edmonton’s dirtier players (we’re looking at you, Theo Peckham and Ben Eager) at bay, which leads me to wonder – should this line be a staple for the Wild going forward? More to the point, should Matt Kassian become a staple for the Wild going forward?

No one’s ever going to mistake Kassian for a scorer. His career high in points is 18 in his final season in the WHL. But Kassian gives the Wild an added level of protection for their stars.

On top of that, having a line like Kassian, Peters and Staubitz gives the Wild the option to send out a line that can just flat out hit – something that they don’t necessarily have, otherwise, and also something that can change the momentum of a game in a heartbeat.

It’s for that reason that, at least until the Wild are fully healthy, Kassian needs to stay in the line up. He brings an intensity and an edge that others (even Staubitz) on the Wild roster simply don’t have.

So, a note to Mike Yeo. Keep playing Matt Kassian his two minutes per night. You’ll be pleased at the results.

Wild break skid; down Oilers

Now that is how you end a losing streak.

For those of you who missed the game, find a way to watch it, because words just can’t describe 1) how good of a game it actually was, regardless of the outcome and 2) just how good the Wild looked for the majority of the game.

Did the Wild look a bit sloppy at points? Yes. Especially during the Oilers push to tie the game in the last ten minutes of the third period – they looked extremely sloppy, during this time. But that shouldn’t diminish from the fact that the Wild ended their losing streak, put together their second straight good game and, this time, actually put pucks past the other team’s goalie.

Basically, I don’t know that this is a sign that the Wild are back on track, but it’s certainly a good start. The next part is backing this game up with another good game and another win against the Coyotes.

Some thoughts:

-          Jarod Palmer followed up a rough first period with a brilliant second, scoring his first career NHL goal and getting some good looks to boot. It was nice to see Palmer score in the second, mostly because of how rough his first shift of the game was. He got absolutely schooled by Taylor Hall on the back check for Edmonton’s first goal (he rode him in, but didn’t tie him up) and barely saw the ice for the rest of the period.

-          Marek Zidlicky finally looked useful for the first time this season. He was a plus-3, he was dynamic and he made good decisions with the puck, not to mention his three assists.

-          How about Matt Kassian? The Wild brought him in so as to not get pushed around, and he ended up pushing the Oilers around. 2:12 in ice time and 20 penalty minutes. If that’s what he’s going to bring every night, he’s someone I’d like to see on the Wild’s bench more often.

-          How about Backstrom? Not only was he spectacular in net, making some huge saves, but he was pretty feisty too. First, he showed his pimp hand to Ryan Jones, then ended the game with a cross check to the back of Ryan Smyth’s head. He would have made Dwayne Roloson proud.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild return to dominance over the Oilers? With the exception of a few minutes in the third, the Wild controlled play and kept the Oilers pinned in their own zone. Plus, they won, so there’s that too.

Can the Wild keep up the momentum from their “moral victory?” They definitely did. They came out on fire and, despite the early goal, continued playing the way that they did against the Preds. Only, this time, they won.

Will Dany Heatley finally show up? Yes and no. He got a goal (though it just trickled over the line), and now has three in his last four games. We’re still waiting on his breakout game, but consistency is a good start.

Three Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Man, did he have to be good. He made a handful of huge saves and he was pretty darn feisty while doing it.

2)      Marek Zidlicky – Three assists and he was the type of player that the Wild need him to be.

3)      Jarod Palmer – His first NHL goal and a pretty solid performance, all around.

Honorable Mention: Matt Kassian. Just for having ten times more penalty minutes than he did ice time.

What does waiving Nystrom mean for the Wild?

So, Eric Nystrom has been waived and Russo has mentioned that Brett Bulmer was skating on the left wing with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck (man that’s going to be one annoying line to play against) in practice.

So, basically, waiving Nystrom could lead to a very different looking bottom two lines for the Minnesota Wild.

First, let’s take a look at the forward lines as they stand with Nystrom out of the picture:

Heatley/Koivu/Setoguchi
Bouchard/Cullen/Latendresse
Bulmer/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Gillies/Powe/Johnson/Kassian

Injured/Suspended: Almond, Staubitz

Now, looking at that roster, you’ve got to assume that the odd man out would be either Kassian or Staubitz. Yeo has been singing Gillies’ praises this camp and, obviously, the Wild didn’t pick Johnson up off of waivers just to waive him again. Bulmer didn’t make the team to be a healthy scratch or just play a handful of minutes per night, so he’s going to get his look before a decision is made as to whether or not he makes the team.

So, basically, the battle here appears as if it’s going to be for the team’s enforcer spot. To be honest, I like both Kassian and Staubitz as fighters, but I think that Kassian has a little bit more value as an every day player than Staubitz does. He’s amassed an impressive amount of penalty minutes in the AHL, but he seems like he’s a better skater and a more disciplined player than his NHL counterpart.

The more disciplined part, I think, is what the Wild is keeping him around to look at.

Staubitz is suspended for the first three games of the season and he’s going to significantly alter his game to keep from future suspensions. If that’s the case, Kassian might be better suited for the NHL. He’s certainly proven himself as a pugilist, in any case.

But, enforcer battle aside, waiving Nystrom gives the Wild flexibility.

We all know that the Wild aren’t going to make the playoffs on the strength of their fourth line. If the Wild is going to be successful this season, it’s going to be because their top-nine forwards are playing at the top of their games – not because their fourth line is setting the world on fire.

This doesn’t drastically change the Wild’s team, nor does it change their odds to make or miss the playoffs. It doesn’t even mean that Nystrom might not be back at some point during the season.

What this does, though, is gives the Wild the option to pick someone up off of waivers and slot them in immediately, or make a bigger move to improve their team or even, God forbid, another trade.

Am I sad to see Nystrom go? Absolutely. He was a great guy to have in the locker room that just had a rough go of it. But this is the right move for the Wild to make at this point. They know what they had in Nystrom. They don’t, however, know what they’ve got with Bulmer, Johnson or Gillies, and they need to find out, because while the fourth line won’t win the Stanley Cup for them, it very well could pick them up some important points during the season.

Hopefully Nystrom impresses enough in Houston to earn himself another shot inMinnesota, or gets picked up by another NHL team off of waivers, but for right now, Houston is the way he’s heading.

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

Spurgeon leads Wild to 4-3 win over Oilers

Spurgeon jockeys for position with Ryan Jones in front of the net

I don’t want to get your hopes up and say that this is an indication of how Jared Spurgeon’s season is going to be, but Tuesday’s game against Edmonton was certainly an encouraging sign.

Spurgeon put book ends on a game that saw the Wild let a three-goal lead slip through their fingers and potted the winning goal with just under two minutes to go in the game to give Minnesota their first exhibition win over an NHL team since the 2009-10 season.

Sure, it’s an exhibition game and it doesn’t mean much, but boy does it feel good.

I listened to the game on the radio, so I can’t speak to a ton of the game, but here’s what I noticed by listening:

Kassian and Hordichuk go toe-to-toe (or skate-to-skate)

  • The Latendresse/Cullen/Bouchard line was on point tonight. Some good scoring chances and a combined four points and plus-five on the night. Easily the Wild’s best line all night long, including an absolutely beautiful snipe by Pierre-Marc Bouchard (which I can say because I saw it on NHL On the Fly). Butch just picked his corner and went for it and Khabibulin never had a chance.
  • Harding was very good in his first game back. He played about 30 minutes, give or take, and stopped 14 of 15 shots. Even Mike Yeo thought so, calling Harding’s return and play “Unbelievable.” (Thanks to Russo for that quote from the big guy). The encouraging news? After a shaky start to the game, Hackett was just as good. He gave up two goals in his first six minutes in the game, but really settled down and helped keep the score even for the rest of the way.
  • The Wild are obviously still getting used to Yeo’s system, as evidenced by the second period. The first and third periods, the shots were 7-7 and 9-7 respectively, but the second period the shots were 17-5 in favor of Edmonton. Credit also has to go to Yeo for getting the team settled down after a horrible second period and getting them refocused. Again, an encouraging sign.
  • Matt Kassian, who I’m making no bones about my hopes that he makes the squad this season, came out with a brilliant display of pugilism. He absolutely hammered Darcy Hordichuk after Hordichuk took a run at Nate Prosser, then dropped Hordichuk with three big punches.
  • Jordan Hendry took a step back, in my opinion, but not a huge one. He played good hockey for two periods but had an abysmal second. I feel like he’ll get a couple more chances, but he’s got to play a steady game to make the squad.

As far as my questions go, let’s take a look, shall we?

David McIntyre braces for the face-off against Anton Lander

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him? Yes and no, respectively. Harding was rock solid in this one.

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend? I wouldn’t necessarily call them dominant, but they were very, very good all night long. Exactly what the team wants from its second line.

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)? Palmer had a goal, Bulmer annoyed everyone on the other team and Hackett rebounded from a rocky start to have a pretty good game. McIntyre wasn’t really noticeable, at least on the radio, but for a youngster that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. All-in-all, I thought the Wild’s youngsters had a pretty decent game.

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout? Yes and no. He had two pretty good periods, like I mentioned, but really had a rough second period. For a defenseman with over 100 games of NHL experience, that’s not the type of game that’s going to win you a contract. He’ll get some more opportunities, but he needs to rebound from this to make the squad in my opinion.

Can Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon grab a hold of that lightning in a bottle that saw them both have impressive seasons in their own rights last season? Yes. Both definitely did this. Stoner played his game. He was physical, he was in great position all night long and he blocked shots. Everything that would be asked of him. For Spurgeon, he was the team’s best d-man all night long and he looked dynamic on both sides of the puck.

That’s all for right now, but I may be back later today. It’s my daughter’s birthday, so we’re going to go do whatever it is that she wants to do. The Wild are back in action on Thursday against the Blues, so I’ll update you with their roster as soon as I have it.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Holy crap, the pre-season starts tomorrow (Line Combos)

Well, we all knew it was coming but this one really snuck up on me after my weekend of family (and wedding) fun. We have line combinations for the Wild’s first pre-season game on Tuesday.

Per Russo:

The roster Tuesday:

Fowards:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Brett Bulmer-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Matt Kassian-David McIntyre-Jarod Palmer

Defensemen

Jordan Hendry-Mike Lundin

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Nate Prosser

Extra, it appears: Tyler Cuma

Goalies:

Josh Harding, making his first start since his exhibition debut a year ago, and Matt Hackett will split the cage.

No big surprises here yet, but you do get a good idea of what Coach Mike Yeo is thinking for some line/d-pairing combinations.

Jordan Hendry earned a spot on Tuesday's roster

First of all, as Russo says, it was supposed to be Nick Schultz paired with Mike Lundin (top d-pairing, anyone?), but instead Jordan Hendry impressed so much on Saturday’s and Sunday’s scrimmages that he earned the spot.

Well, that’s definitely some encouraging news.

So, basically, the Wild are going with two of their NHL forward lines followed by two lines of players vying to make the squad and two NHL d-pairings followed by three players trying to make the squad.

That’s right, I said two NHL d-pairings.

I’ve maintained all along that the Wild would probably look to an NHL veteran to fill their seventh d-man spot, and Jordan Hendry will be that guy. Bank on it.

He doesn’t take ice time away from any prospects (unless the prospects just plain stink) and he’s a guy that is established enough in the NHL and plays a safe enough defensive game to push players like Clayton Stoner. The fact that he came out and impressed during this weekend’s scrimmages just proves it.

He might not get the lion’s share of ice time this season, but Hendry will be on the squad in some capacity.

Kassian might be a dark horse to make the squad.

Of the group playing on Tuesday, the two that I think will get a good, long look this camp will be Matt Kassian and Jed Ortmeyer.

While still a prospect, Kassian’s game doesn’t really have much growing to do. He’s a fighter, plain and simple. That’s his role and that’s where he excels. We’ve got a new coach with a similar, yet different philosophy than Richards. Brad Staubitz might not be who he wants to roll with in the enforcer role all the time, which opens the door for Kassian.

In Ortmeyer, you’ve got a proven NHL veteran. He’s a consummate pro and can fill that 13th or 14th forward spot with ease, slotting in whenever and wherever he’s needed. In essence, he’s like the utility man on a baseball team. Unsung, but always there when you need someone.

We’ll have a brief preview of the game up tonight or tomorrow, as well as our player profile of Darroll Powe.