ST. PAUL, Minn. — Coach Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild had their plan for training camp and the preseason to sort through a roster filled with many intriguing young players.
Minnesota wanted preseason action early for its youth, but the end of training camp and the exhibition schedule was going to be used to get ready for a season filled with hope off last year’s playoff appearance. The Wild had a week of training camp left and two more preseason games, but decided to cut their roster Tuesday to nearly the regular-season limit.
“Some of our vets have only played one game right now,” Yeo said. “You can expect them to play in these last two games. This has been the plan that we would use the early games to try to help us make some very difficult decisions. We might still have to answer a couple of questions, but for the most part this is going to be about getting our team ready; getting our players ready, getting our group ready, to make sure that when we drop the puck on opening night that we’re ready to go.”
Yeo and the team’s staff still have a few decisions, but are much closer to the final roster after sending out 19 players on Thursday. Minnesota assigned forwards Raphael Bussieres, Josh Caron, Kris Foucault, Tyler Graovac, Erik Haula and Zack Phillips; defensemen Corbin Baldwin, Colton Jobke and Kyle Medvec; and goaltenders Johan Gustafsson and Darcy Kuemper to its new team in the American Hockey League, the Iowa Wild.
Minnesota also placed forwards Carson McMillan, Chad Rau and Stephane Veilleux, and defensemen Jonathon Blum, Brian Connelly, Steven Kampfer and Jon Landry on waivers Tuesday. If they clear waivers, they will be reassigned to Iowa, as well. Kurtis Gabriel, a third-round pick in June, was sent back to his junior team, Owen Sound, of the Ontario Hockey League.
“All those guys are in the same boat,” Yeo said. “The young kids, the prospects, they need to play. So, let’s get them on their way and get them started.”
Maybe the most surprising name to be included in the first round of cuts was Haula, the former University of Minnesota forward, who had shown well during training camp.
“I thought he had a really good camp,” Yeo said. “I liked him in his games. He’s a guy who plays well without the puck. He’s in good position, reads the play well. His skating, he’s got NHL speed and I thought that he was able to contribute, not necessarily putting the numbers up, but he was a factor creating scoring chances. On the offensive side of things, I thought he had an effect on every game.
“But the bottom line is, he’s not going to be in our lineup for the next two exhibition games. We were expecting for him to not be in our lineup on opening night, so it doesn’t make any sense to keep a young kid like that around and have him sitting around not playing. So, let’s get him continuing on with his development.”
The Wild still have 28 players on their roster and need to get down to 23 before opening the season on Oct. 3 at home against the Los Angeles Kings. Minnesota has two more preseason games, with the final home preseason game on Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues.
Of the remaining 28 players, three are unable to play because of injury. Forward Mike Rupp is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, and forward Brett Bulmer and defenseman Tyler Cuma are out with undisclosed injuries.
Yeo said Rupp likely won’t be ready to be in the lineup for the start of the season.
“I would say opening night right now is going to be a stretch,” Yeo said. “He’s feeling better. I’m not going to rule it out, but he’s got to get some quality practice time in. He’s got a lot of catching up to do, let’s put it this way.”
Minnesota has 17 forwards on the roster, including rookie Justin Fontaine and veteran center David Steckel, in camp on a tryout. Fontaine led the Wild’s AHL team last year, Houston, in scoring with 56 points (23 goals, 33 assists).
“He’s impressed us with the way that he’s played,” Yeo said. “He’s played well on both sides of the puck. But looking at him, for him to earn a spot in our lineup, he’s going to have to be a guy who’s contributing offensively. He is going to have to be a guy who’s creating, making plays. He’s impressed us with his ability to make plays coming off the wall out of the defensive zone and that’s led to some good rush chances. He’s impressed us with our entries into the offensive zone off the rush. He’s made some good plays there. So we’re looking for him to see if he can continue doing that.”
Rookie Mathew Dumba is one of nine defensemen remaining on the roster.
“We got a little bit of time here with (Dumba); we don’t have to rush to any decisions,” Yeo said. “He’s shown us at times that he can be arguably one of the best players on the ice, and there’s other times where he can look young. So it’s a matter of, for him, continuing to develop and show that he can improve through the course of this time that he’s here.”
Granlund returns, Koivu out: Center Mikael Granlund returned to practice Tuesday after being held out the past few days because of an upper-body injury. Yeo said he’s hopeful Granlund will be able to play in Wednesday’s home preseason game.
Center Mikko Koivu missed practice Tuesday to be with his fiancé, who had gone into labor.