We're running out of carnival ride names to characterize the Wild's goaltending situation, muddled since early last season. Going back to 2013-14 when Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom both went down with injuries, a whirlwind of attrition has cast continued doubt as to who will be Minnesota's No. 1 player between the pipes. Josh Harding looked like he had a good shot until injuring his foot in an off-ice incident. Backstrom (right) is still rehabbing from surgery to repair a core muscle injury but looked good Monday in his first preseason action. After a lengthy contract dispute, Darcy Kuemper (left) is back in the fold. Ilya Bryzgalov is around, too, on a tryout contract. Somebody has to play goalie for the Wild this season, and the rest of the preseason will go a long way in determining the pecking order.
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With Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard all back from last year's Western Conference semifinal run, there appears to be only one -- perhaps two -- open defensemen slots on the opening-night roster. That depends whether coach Mike Yeo wishes to carry a seventh defenseman, something he's not wont to do with a young player who could be getting AHL minutes instead of healthy scratches. Justin Falk (pictured), Jonathon Blum and Mathew Dumba -- all of whom have played for the Wild at some point -- are in the mix, along with undrafted college free agent Christian Folin, former New York Ranger Stu Bickel and respected Swedish prospect Gustav Olofsson.
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The 'new' guy
Thomas Vanek is new to Minnesota in professional stature only. The former Sabres star, who played his college pucks for the Gophers and keeps a summer home in Stillwater, is finally in green, red and gold after a year of speculation he'd sign with the Wild in free agency. Longtime observation of the rest of the league has allowed him to adjust rather quickly, he said, but the rest of camp is about honing his familiarity with his teammates and figuring out where he fits in on Minnesota's scoring lines and power play -- all while making sure he's conditioned to stick with the younger guys. Vanek, after all, celebrated his 30th birthday in January.
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The big (health) picture
When we asked Mike Yeo for his thoughts on some of the injuries already plaguing teams around the NHL -- Derek Stepan, Pavel Datsyuk and Jordan Staal are all expected to miss significant time -- the Wild coach first tapped a fist against his head in playful superstition suggesting there's a block of wood behind the Armani Exchange glasses and Zephyr cap. But he then pointed out there's not much that can be done to avoid injury other than make sure players are going all out in preseason games, mitigating the chance they slow down and take a costly hit. He'll also strike a balance between readying his surefire NHL players while making sure not to overexert them ahead of an 82-game season and, the Wild hope, an even deeper playoff run than last year.
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The youthful core of Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Nino Neiderreiter, Jonas Brodin, Darcy Kuemper and Co. the Wild established last season is back and healthy this year. But training camp presents a chance for another youngster or two to also stick in the big leagues. Jason Zucker (pictured), a 24-year-old who's had NHL stints each of the past three seasons, has had a good camp so far. Centers Brett Sutter and Jordan Schroeder are also candidates to crack the roster, along with defensemen Mathew Dumba, Jonathon Blum and Christian Folin.