Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ St. Louis

I decided to forego the roster update last night because there was a birthday in the Benzel household, with my daughter turning 3 years old yesterday, so we’ll just combine the game thread and the roster into one today.

Anyway, it sounds like we’re going to get a good look at a lot of the youngsters that are vying for a roster spot on opening day, tonight so here it is, per Russo:

Coach Mike Yeo today opted to keep most of the familiar faces in Minnesota. Instead, here are the lines and defensive pairings against the Blues (note, Niklas Backstrom and Matt Hackett will play in net)

FORWARDS

Kris Foucault-Zack Phillips-Brett Bulmer
Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer
Colton Gilles-Eric Nystrom-Brad Staubitz
Jarod Palmer-Taylor Peters-Carson McMillan

DEFENSE

Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry
Tyler Cuma-Chay Genoway

Jeff Penner and David McIntyre will be brought along as extras.

Zack Phillips will be one of the youngsters with a chance to impress tonight

So, basically what we have here is a chance for a lot of the youngsters to step up and impress. Forwards Cody Almond and Casey Wellman and defenseman Mike Lundin are all on the shelf right now with injuries, so there are some spots that could be won and some second looks that could be given after tonight’s game.

Also, we’ll get a look at the line of Gillies/Nystrom/Staubitz, which could very well be the team’s fourth line by the time the season starts.

To me, the most intriguing lines/defensive pairings are that of Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer and Cuma/Genoway. Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are three of the Wild’s more impressive offensive talents in their system, so don’t be surprised if they get a lot of ice time and a lot of power play time tonight. As for Cuma and Genoway, Cuma might be one of the dark horses to make the squad this season while this will be our first look at Genoway this pre-season, so it will be interesting to see how the pairing fares.

Per Blues.com, this is the line up the Wild’s youngsters will be facing tonight:

TONIGHT’S LINEUP*
1 – Brian Elliott
10 – Andy McDonald
15 – Jamie Langenbrunner
18 – Jonathan Cheechoo
20 – Alexander Steen
22 – Kevin Shattenkirk
28 – Carlo Colaiacovo
32 – Chris Porter
36 – Matt D’Agostini
37 – Derek Nesbitt
39 – Philip McRae
41 – Jaroslav Halak
42 – David Backes
44 – Jason Arnott
46 – Roman Polak
54 – Anthony Nigro
55 – Danny Syvret
56 – Brett Ponich
58 – David Shields
59 – Anthony Peluso
63 – Mark Cundari
70 – Ryan Tesink
74 – T.J. Oshie
76 – Brett Sonne
84 – Tyler Shattock

Niklas Backstrom makes his first start of the pre-season tonight

Just look at all of those regulars.

So, basically, Wild fans. Don’t jump off the ledge if the Wild or goaltender Niklas Backstrom have a less than stellar showing tonight.

This also means that the Wild’s youth and fringe players will have a perfect chance to show that they have what it takes to be able to compete at an NHL level, because there will be a lot of NHLer’s looking at them from the other bench.

So, some discussion questions for you:

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster?

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?

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing?

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards?

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?

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game?

The puck drops at 7 pm tonight and is not televised. You can listen to the game here or on your radio at KFAN 100.3 FM.

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

Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ Edmonton

Well, there’s going to be a bit of a change to the gameday threads this season — namely, they’re going to be a lot shorter and a lot more for your discussion than anything else. I’ll be popping in now and again to chat with y’all but, for the most part, you can just discuss.

But, before I get to the gameday part, some pandering. Check out my first power rankings of the season at Hockey Primetime, right here.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, on to the game.

There are actually a fair amount of questions for tonight’s game that I think bear discussion:

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him?

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend?

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)?

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout?

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?

Feel free to discuss them here or on our Facebook page. I’ve got my fantasy draft tonight, so I’ll be back later tonight or tomorrow to take a look at these questions as well as have my first Fantasy column for you all. Enjoy tonight’s game!

Player Profile: Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Born – 6/22/1985
Position –
C
Ht –
5’11”
Wt –
212
Shoots –
Left

Powe brings another heavy hitter to the Wild

The Skinny
The Wild traded for Powe this off season and, instantly, Twitter became inundated with comments about how great of an addition he was – not because of his goal scoring acumen or his unbelievable offensive talent, but because of his character, his work ethic and what he brings to the rink every night.

In other words, Powe is a great addition for all of the right reasons. By all accounts, he’s a great guy and a player that will make Minnesota more difficult to play against. He’s not going to be a 20-plus goal scorer – in fact, he’s never broken 30 points in his career, pro or otherwise.

Last season, Powe was 21st in the NHL with 196 hits. Add that to Cal Clutterbuck’s 336 and the 169 that both Eric Nystrom and Greg Zanon had and, well, you get the picture of the team that Chuck Fletcher is trying to assemble. One that’s exceedingly difficult and annoying to play against, and not because they shut down the neutral zone.

You can tell from his size that Powe is going to be another little bowling ball, just like Clutterbuck. Pair the two on the same line and you’re going to have one potent forecheck that’s going to cause a lot of mistakes just simply because of the physical play that they bring.

What we don’t know, yet, is how he’s going to fit in. His offensive game has improved every season that he’s been in the league but, then again, so did the Flyers offense. He’s going to be leaving an offensive juggernaut where he played about 12 minutes per night to a team that is just growing into its newfound offense, where he might play a bit more or a bit less than that, depending on the situation.

Is it an ideal situation for him?

Probably not, but he’s going to do what he does best. He’s going to show up to the rink every day and he’s going to play hard. What that brings him, we’ll just have to wait and see, but I think it’s going to be fun to watch.

Offense isn't Powe's priority, and it doesn't need to be

This Season
If the line combination for the Wild’s first pre-season game is any indication, it looks like Powe is going to be on the team’s third line with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. That means he’s going to be playing with two players that have some offensive up side. Does that mean we’ll see an up tick in his production? Probably, but not by a marked amount. He’s improved every season he’s been in the league, and playing with two players that are going to look to find the back of the net as well as shutting down the opposing lines might help his production.

He’ll be used on the penalty kill and he’ll be used at even strength, but I would wager that he’ll get little to no power play time unless the game is out of hand one way or the other.

So, what’s that mean? Well, don’t expect the world offensively from him, but expect him to play his role well.

Prediction
As I mentioned, he’s improved every season he’s been in the league and he’s going to be playing with a couple players with some offensive upside, so seeing him improve on last season’s stats wouldn’t be out of the question. Again, though, he’s never been what anyone would call an offensive power house, so keep your expectations tempered.

My prediction for Darroll Powe this season is:

GP 71, 10 G, 10 A, 20 PTS

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.

Player Profile: Eric Nystrom

Eric Nystrom

Eric Nystrom

Born – 2/14/1983
Position –
LW
Ht –
6’1”
Wt –
193
Shoots –
Left

Expect Nystrom's offensive output to be limited, once again.

The Skinny
Let’s be fair here. Eric Nystrom is not known for, nor was he signed by the Wild for his offensive acumen. He’s a checker, plain and simple.

But man, was he snakebit last season or what?

Hitting pipes on wide open nets, fanning on the puck, sticks breaking, misfires – pretty much everything that is probably in Dany Heatley’s worst nightmare.

Well, that nightmare became Nystrom who just missed tying his career low in goals, which was three when he playing in just 44 games for Calgary in the 2007-08 season.

To say that it was a bit of a disappointment might be a little bit of an overstatement but, at the same time, it’s pretty safe to say that more was expected of him, and I don’t believe that those expectations should change this season just because he had a rough go of it last year.

Quite honestly, if the bounces would have gone Nystrom’s way, he could have (or should have, depending on which way you look at it) had 10 goals easily, maybe even 15. He’s got the ability. He’s got the tools. He gets to where he needs to be to put up points, he just hasn’t done it yet.

Now, Nystrom’s likely going to be on the third or fourth line, which means that he’s not going to be expected to put up big numbers. Heck, a 25-30 point season by him would be a huge win in my opinion. But he is going to be expected to be part of the Wild’s shutdown offensive line. He’s going to be expected to be an agitator and a penalty killer and, when needed, maybe even a fighter.

He’s also a great guy to have in the locker room.

I know its cliché, but having players like Nystrom around your squad just make the team better. He’s a leader and he’s also good for a laugh now and again.

So, what I’m trying to say is that Nystrom is an important part of this team – as important as any of the big offensive producers. He’s one of those heart and soul guys that just throws himself around until something happens, and that’s definitely the type of guy you want on your team at any level.

Nystrom's importance to the team is definitely not quantifiable in numbers.

This Season
Nystrom will likely see significant time on the penalty kill this season, and at even strength will probably be either on the third or fourth line. Based on the line combinations for the first pre-season game (which I’ll get to in a little bit), I’m guessing you’ll see Nystrom start on the fourth line this season with some rotating players like Colton Gillies, Cody Almond and Brad Staubitz.

Now, that sort of situation doesn’t necessarily mean for big scoring numbers and, as I said earlier, that’s okay. If it’s Gillies and Almond, I’d expect to see a bit more offense out of the line than Staubitz, but still, theirs won’t be one concerned with putting the puck in the net all the time.

For better or worse, that’s the situation Nystrom will be in. Should Darroll Powe stumble out of the gates or Nystrom get hot, you might see him moved up the depth chart, but for right now that’s how it stands.

Prediction
Let me be clear about this – Nystrom has the offensive ability. He put up points in college. His last season at the University of Michigan saw him tally 32 points in 38 games. That isn’t, however, the role that he is being asked to say and because of that his offensive production will likely reflect that.

My prediction for Eric Nystrom this season is:

82 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 PTS

Player Profile: Kyle Brodziak

Kyle Brodziak

Kyle Brodziak

Born – 5/25/1984
Position –
C
Ht –
6’2”
Wt –
209
Shoots –
Right

Brodziak has shown flashes of offensive ability with Minnesota

The Skinny
Brodziak had a career season last season for the second straight year with the franchise, tallying a career high 16 goals en route to a 37 point season, and he could be poised for another strong season this year too.

The biggest hurdle that Brodziak has in his way, however, is not having his chemistry partner, Martin Havlat, with him. Brodziak and Havlat had instant chemistry with one another and Brodziak’s gritty game complemented Havlat’s considerably not gritty game well.

Will he be able to be successful without his dynamic winger next to him?

I think he will, for a couple of reasons.

First, Brodziak will likely be playing alongside Cal Clutterbuck, and possibly a youngster like Colton Gillies or a player like Eric Nystrom – all players who have some offensive upside; maybe more than they have gotten to display in the past. Clutterbuck has shown that he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer, while both Gillies and Nystrom have exhibited goal scoring ability, regardless of how snakebit they may have been at certain points in time.

Second, Brodziak is likely going to be slotted in on the second power play, unless Mike Yeo has different ideas.

We know that the first will probably involve some iteration of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard or Matt Cullen running the point. That takes four of the Wild’s top-six and puts them on one line. Whichever of Bouchard or Cullen isn’t on the top power play will likely be running the point on the second unit, which would leave two forward slots open.

Power play time is going to be key to Brodziak's production this season

Brodziak will probably be one of those forwards.

Extra power play time means that he’ll have every opportunity to produce for the Wild and all Brodziak has done anytime he has been given an opportunity to impress, is impress.

This Season
Brodziak is going to be in competition for the second-line center job, but he might be best suited for the third-line role unless his chemistry with Guillaume Latendresse shines through.

Odds are, though, is that Brodziak will at least start the season in a checking-line role.

That might not necessarily be good for his production, but it’s definitely the role he’s best suited for at this juncture. There’s no one else on the team that plays that particular role better than Brodziak does and it’s the role his skill set is best suited for.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the one to fill the role on the second power play and that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get the opportunity to produce like he has in the past.

Prediction
Brodziak is seen as a third-line, role player by many buy he has a definite up side that can come out in the right circumstances. Will those circumstances come about this season, though? I think they could, if he can find chemistry with his line mates, but I’m skeptical as to whether or not he will be able to if he’s playing on the third line. I do think, however, that the power play time he’ll see will be invaluable to his production and I think that he’ll push Cullen for that second line role at some point.

My prediction for Kyle Brodziak this season is:

81 GP, 18 G, 20 A, 28 PTS

Player Profile: Matt Cullen

Matt Cullen

Matt Cullen

Born – 11/2/1976
Position –
C
Ht –
6’1”
Wt –
200
Shoots –
Left

Cullen struggled in his first season in Minnesota

The Skinny
Last season, Cullen started out scoring nine points in his first six games before scoring just 30 in his next 72 to finish out the season. Needless to say, his inconsistency left Wild fans a bit befuddled at times. Some games, he would be one of the most dynamic players on the ice, while others he would be completely invisible. Not necessarily what you want from a player who was supposed to be your number two center, as Cullen’s point total was the lowest it had been since the 2003-04 season when he played just 56 games with the Florida Panthers.

To Cullen’s credit, however, despite spending significant time running the point on the team’s power play, he was rarely slotted in on the second line. That privilege got given to Kyle Brodziak more often than not due to his chemistry with Martin Havlat.

Cullen saw the ice in every single situation and became one of the more dynamic penalty killers in the league, scoring four short handed goals but more importantly, his experience shown through at times on a team that was drastically lacking in leadership.

If the Wild are to be successful, however, they need Cullen to have a rebound season this year.

Starting camp, Cullen is going to be the Wild’s second-line center and will be slotted between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse – two highly skilled offensive players. If he’s going to rebound offensively, this is the right situation for him to do it in.

My concern, however, is the consistency issue.

With Bouchard and Latendresse, there runs the risk that he might get overshadowed in the offensive zone. If that’s the case, and I really worry that it might be, we might see another inconsistent season from the Virginia, Minnesota native.

There’s the possibility, though, that he might slot in nicely between Latendresse and Bouchard. Indeed, his two-way presence might be a welcome addition to the line and he certainly has the athleticism to keep up.

Will he? Well, that’s what we have to find out.

Cullen is looking for a rebound season

This Season
As I said earlier, Cullen is going to be slotted in as the team’s number two guy down the middle, and that could be his sink or swim moment with the squad.

There were a lot of veiled comments this season from all around saying that the Wild needed to stop spending $3.5 million on third-liners, most of which seemed to have Cullen in mind when they were made. This season gives Cullen the opportunity to prove people wrong.

He’s going to have every opportunity to do this, playing between two of the Wild’s offensive powerhouses in Bouchard and Latendresse, which can only be good for his production.

Prediction
Cullen’s inconsistency vexed him last season, but I see him having a bit of a rebound this season. I don’t think he’s going to go crazy and have a career season, but I do think that he’ll benefit from playing alongside two dynamic offensive players.

My prediction for Matt Cullen this season is:

80 GP, 21 G, 24 A, 45 PTS

Matt Cullen

Born – 11/2/1976

Position – C

Ht – 6’1”

Wt – 200

Shoots – Left

The Skinny

Last season, Cullen started out scoring nine points in his first six games before scoring just 30 in his next 72 to finish out the season. Needless to say, his inconsistency left Wild fans a bit befuddled at times. Some games, he would be one of the most dynamic players on the ice, while others he would be completely invisible. Not necessarily what you want from a player who was supposed to be your number two center, as Cullen’s point total was the lowest it had been since the 2003-04 season when he played just 56 games with the Florida Panthers.

To Cullen’s credit, however, despite spending significant time running the point on the team’s power play, he was rarely slotted in on the second line. That privilege got given to Kyle Brodziak more often than not due to his chemistry with Martin Havlat.

Cullen saw the ice in every single situation and became one of the more dynamic penalty killers in the league, scoring four short handed goals but more importantly, his experience shown through at times on a team that was drastically lacking in leadership.

If the Wild are to be successful, however, they need Cullen to have a rebound season this year.

Starting camp, Cullen is going to be the Wild’s second-line center and will be slotted between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse – two highly skilled offensive players. If he’s going to rebound offensively, this is the right situation for him to do it in.

My concern, however, is the consistency issue.

With Bouchard and Latendresse, there runs the risk that he might get overshadowed in the offensive zone. If that’s the case, and I really worry that it might be, we might see another inconsistent season from the Virginia, Minnesota native.

There’s the possibility, though, that he might slot in nicely between Latendresse and Bouchard. Indeed, his two-way presence might be a welcome addition to the line and he certainly has the athleticism to keep up.

Will he? Well, that’s what we have to find out.

This Season

As I said earlier, Cullen is going to be slotted in as the team’s number two guy down the middle, and that could be his sink or swim moment with the squad.

There were a lot of veiled comments this season from all around saying that the Wild needed to stop spending $3.5 million on third-liners, most of which seemed to have Cullen in mind when they were made. This season gives Cullen the opportunity to prove people wrong.

He’s going to have every opportunity to do this, pla

Matt Cullen

Born – 11/2/1976

Position – C

Ht – 6’1”

Wt – 200

Shoots – Left

The Skinny

Last season, Cullen started out scoring nine points in his first six games before scoring just 30 in his next 72 to finish out the season. Needless to say, his inconsistency left Wild fans a bit befuddled at times. Some games, he would be one of the most dynamic players on the ice, while others he would be completely invisible. Not necessarily what you want from a player who was supposed to be your number two center, as Cullen’s point total was the lowest it had been since the 2003-04 season when he played just 56 games with the Florida Panthers.

To Cullen’s credit, however, despite spending significant time running the point on the team’s power play, he was rarely slotted in on the second line. That privilege got given to Kyle Brodziak more often than not due to his chemistry with Martin Havlat.

Cullen saw the ice in every single situation and became one of the more dynamic penalty killers in the league, scoring four short handed goals but more importantly, his experience shown through at times on a team that was drastically lacking in leadership.

If the Wild are to be successful, however, they need Cullen to have a rebound season this year.

Starting camp, Cullen is going to be the Wild’s second-line center and will be slotted between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse – two highly skilled offensive players. If he’s going to rebound offensively, this is the right situation for him to do it in.

My concern, however, is the consistency issue.

With Bouchard and Latendresse, there runs the risk that he might get overshadowed in the offensive zone. If that’s the case, and I really worry that it might be, we might see another inconsistent season from the Virginia, Minnesota native.

There’s the possibility, though, that he might slot in nicely between Latendresse and Bouchard. Indeed, his two-way presence might be a welcome addition to the line and he certainly has the athleticism to keep up.

Will he? Well, that’s what we have to find out.

This Season

As I said earlier, Cullen is going to be slotted in as the team’s number two guy down the middle, and that could be his sink or swim moment with the squad.

There were a lot of veiled comments this season from all around saying that the Wild needed to stop spending $3.5 million on third-liners, most of which seemed to have Cullen in mind when they were made. This season gives Cullen the opportunity to prove people wrong.

He’s going to have every opportunity to do this, playing between two of the Wild’s offensive powerhouses in Bouchard and Latendresse, which can only be good for his production.

Prediction

Cullen’s inconsistency vexed him last season, but I see him having a bit of a rebound this season. I don’t think he’s going to go crazy and have a career season, but I do think that he’ll benefit from playing alongside two dynamic offensive players.

My prediction for Matt Cullen this season is:

80 GP, 21 G, 24 A, 45 PTS

ying between two of the Wild’s offensive powerhouses in Bouchard and Latendresse, which can only be good for his production.

Prediction

Cullen’s inconsistency vexed him last season, but I see him having a bit of a rebound this season. I don’t think he’s going to go crazy and have a career season, but I do think that he’ll benefit from playing alongside two dynamic offensive players.

My prediction for Matt Cullen this season is:

80 GP, 21 G, 24 A, 45 PTS

Prospect Profile: Zack Phillips

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Zack Phillips

Zack Phillips

Born – 10/28/1992
Position –
C
Ht –
6’1”
Wt –
181
Shoots –
Right

Phillips has all the tools to put up points in the NHL

The Skinny
Phillips is the player that the Wild used the draft pick acquired in the Brent Burns trade on, so the spotlight is already on him to some extent because of the circumstance surrounding him coming to the Wild, but the buzz surrounding him is already good.

Phillips’ pedigree is 100 percent offense, as he’s put up points at every level he’s played, but that isn’t to say that’s his mentality. Despite his offensive pedigree, he isn’t a liability in his own zone either, using his great vision and hockey sense to keep the plays coming and to help break up plays.

While not overly physical, Phillips isn’t one to shy away from contact and can use his frame to his advantage, both physically and by blocking shots. Despite this fact, he isn’t going to be the largest guy on the ice and sometimes tends to play like that as well, and will need to become more consistent in the physical aspects of the game in order to reach his full potential in the NHL.

The biggest concerns surrounding Phillips are his skating and his faceoff ability. He’s not the fleetest of foot and, at times, this is very apparent. His hockey sense can typically allow him to stay out of bad situations, but his feet can get him in trouble from time-to-time. As a center, he’ll be leaned upon to win face offs at times, and this is an area of his game that could stand to improve if he is to be a successful player in the NHL.

Phillips could be a dark horse to make the Wild this season

This Season
Right now, Phillips is playing in the Traverse City tournament with the Wild’s prospects and it looks like he would be set to either play in the AHL with Houston or head back to St. John’s for one more season.

From the looks of the Wild’s roster, however, I would say that Phillips could have an outside shot at impressing enough that he earns a job with the big squad.

The Wild are sorely lacking a second line center, and Phillips could fill that role if he’s ready. It’s a long shot and could be a bit of a gamble, but if Yeo and Fletcher agree that he’s ready, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him wearing Iron Range Red on opening night.

Potential
Hockey’s Future has Phillips listed as a potential second-line forward, and I could see him improving upon that. He has all the tools to be a solid NHL player if he can improve his skating and, in my opinion, we could even have the chance to see him with the Wild this season if all goes right.

He’s young and he’s skilled, which means that he’ll be given every opportunity to succeed with the Wild, whether it’s this year or in a year or two.

Player Profile: Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi

Born – 1/1/1987
Position –
RW
Ht –
6’0”
Wt –
200
Shoots –
Right

The Skinny
The magnifying glass is going to be on Setoguchi this season, as the three-time 20 goal scorer is finally going to move from a secondary scoring role into the spotlight and will get every opportunity to show the form that saw him blossom into a 30-goal scorer and a 60-point player in just his second season in the NHL.

This should be a familiar sight for Wild fans this season

In his second season in the NHL, Setoguchi saw the ice a little over 16 minutes per night and fired 246 shots on net. In this, his fifth season in the NHL, Setoguchi is going to see a lot more than 16 minutes per night.

He’s going to have every opportunity to play on the team’s first line and that means he’ll have every opportunity to play – a lot.

I would expect Setoguchi to get at least 18-19 minutes per game and would be shocked if his shot total isn’t back up to the mid-200 range again. That means he’s going to get more scoring opportunities, and more prime scoring opportunities for one of the Wild’s newest scorers.

If Setoguchi can stay healthy, his presence on the right wing not only will open things up for the wing opposite him (which should be Dany Heatley), but also for Mikko Koivu, who will be centering the Wild’s first line again this season.

The big question, though, is will Setoguchi quail at the pressure of being one of the go-to guys? He’s going to be in a situation that he’s never experienced in his career. He’s going to be one of the go-to guys to put offense on the board. Will he stand up to the pressure?

My personal opinion is, yes, he can.

If you want proof, look at his playoff performance this last season. His ice time was up and he became one of the key goal scorers for the Sharks in their run to the Western Conference Finals. Indeed, he was tied for the team lead in goals in the post season.

If there’s anything that is pressure filled, it’s the playoffs in San Jose and Setoguchi handled that pressure marvelously.

This Season
As I mentioned, Setoguchi will be on the team’s first line to start training camp and, likely, to start the season.

Setoguchi will get every chance to prove himself

That’s great news for Setoguchi, who was always stuck behind players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.

He’s going to get an opportunity to spread his wings this season and that could be a scary prospect for the opposition. If he finds any sort of chemistry with his linemates, watch out because this could easily be Setoguchi’s breakout season.

But, let’s bring this back to earth for a minute.

Setoguchi is good. He’s very good, in fact, but he’s also in his first season on a new team with new linemates in a new role. To expect huge numbers out of him is setting him up for failure.

Is he capable of reaching some pretty gaudy numbers this season if the stars align? Sure. Will he? While I’d like to think so, I’d err on the side of caution when handicapping his season.

Look, he’s going to be good and I hope as much as anyone that his season is a big one, but I think that expectations need to be tempered a little bit in this case.

Prediction
The Hockey News has Setoguchi predicted to be around the 50 point mark, and I think that’s fair for a couple reasons. First is the one I outlined above. New team, new situation and, to be honest, not a whole lot of scoring depth means he’s going to see teams’ top defensemen every night. The second is that he’s not going to be the top option on his line. At times, he might not even be the second option on his line. When the Wild have the ability to run a 1A and 1B line situation (which is what, I believe, the hope is for when Mikael Granlund comes over next season), I think then you’ll see Setoguchi’s numbers inflate a little more, but for now I think the Hockey News has it right.

My prediction for Devin Setoguchi this season is:

77 GP, 25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS

Next Page »