ST. PAUL, Minn. – One point Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo made clear in the preseason was his opening night roster wasn’t going to be a permanent, set-in-stone final look at how the team will shape up this season.
Minnesota has several players on entry-level contracts and have the ability to mix-and-match during the season based on the types of matchups Yeo desires each game.
“It might be one way at the end of camp and it might be another two weeks into the season,” Yeo said earlier in training camp. “That’s what these guys are playing for right now. There’s guys that are vying for jobs. For some of them it might be on opening night. For some of them it might be two weeks down the road. But there’s guys that we believe have the potential to play in the NHL and it’s up to them to earn that opportunity now.”
More depth than the Wild have maybe had in their existence led to competition and flexibility, and eventually true, difficult decisions for Yeo and the organization in setting the initial roster.
The roster might not change dramatically from day to day. But there are no guarantees for the players preparing for the Los Angeles Kings at home on Thursday night. Here’s a look at who made Minnesota’s roster for Thursday’s season-opener:
On the roster: Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle, Justin Fontaine, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mike Rupp (injured) Possible lines: Parise-Koivu-Pominville; Heatley-Coyle-Fontaine; Cooke-Brodziak-Mitchell; Granlund-Konopka-Niederreiter Waiting in Iowa: Brett Bulmer (injured), Jake Dowell, Erik Haula, Carson McMillan, Zack Phillips, Chad Rau, David Steckel, Stephane Veilleux, Jason Zucker
Player to watch: Coyle might have been the best player on the ice for Minnesota in the preseason. He had three goals and one assist and looked prime to turn into big-time player for the Wild. He’s big and has improved his speed, and he can play a two-way game in his move back to center. He’ll get his chance at a breakthrough season playing with the veteran Heatley on the second line and a third linemate that could change often with either Fontaine (who mostly played with Coyle and Heatley in the preseason), Niederreiter, Granlund or any of the potential call-ups from Iowa of the American Hockey League.
Breakdown: The lines likely will change at times, maybe as much or more than Yeo has changed lines as Minnesota’s coach. The first line, however, likely won’t be altered much at all. Parise, Koivu and Pominville give the Wild a legitimate scoring first line that is also responsible defensively. Pominville never got the chance to fully integrate in with his new teammates after being acquired at the trade deadline last year and then suffering a concussion. But he’s had a full training camp together with Parise and Koivu, and Minnesota is hoping for big things from its top line.
The Wild also believe they have a strong checking line to match up with opposing scoring lines in Cooke, Brodziak and Mitchell. Niederreiter or Granlund could also team with Cooke and Brodziak, with Mitchell moving to the fourth line. Konopka is the team’s enforcer, protecting the other skilled players, and is still strong on faceoffs. Rupp won’t be ready for the start after offseason surgery. Regardless, Yeo feels he has depth and flexibility throughout his lines.
On the roster: Keith Ballard, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Ryan Suter Possible pairings: Suter-Brodin, Ballard-Dumba, Scandella-Spurgeon Waiting in Iowa: Jonathan Blum, Tyler Cuma (injured), Steven Kampfer, Jon Landry
Player to watch: Dumba; The 19-year-old has nine games to show Yeo that he deserves to stay. He was with the team at the start of last season, but didn’t play in a game. This time around, Dumba will at least get a look to determine whether the Wild send him back to his junior team. Dumba has the type of game that fans will notice, with the willingness to deliver hits and a big shot from the blue line.
Breakdown: Suter and Brodin are one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL after Brodin splashed onto the scene last year as a 19-year-old. Suter was in the running for the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s best defensemen, and Brodin was a Calder Trophy candidate, given to the top rookie, all season long. The two are solid defensively and can add a bit to the offense, particularly by reading the play and making passes out of the defensive zone to start a rush.
Scandella has a chance to establish himself as an every-game NHL defenseman after standing out in the postseason last year. Scandella and Spurgeon have played well together, showing good chemisty. Ballard is looking to get his career back on track after a few down seasons in Vancouver. He could have Dumba by his side early in the year, giving a veteran presence on the ice with the young Dumba. The depth is improved as well with Prosser and Stoner, who would likely be the next defensemen in if Dumba isn’t ready.
On the roster: Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding Waiting in Iowa: Johan Gustafsson, Darcy Kuemper
Breakdown: Backstrom returns after signing a team-friendly contract in the offseason and Harding is back after playing most of the playoffs. There is always going to be a bit of a concern as Harding is dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. But he’s shown up this season in good health and condition and is ready to play as big of a role as Yeo needs. Backstrom will likely get the majority of the starts, but Yeo won’t be afraid to use Harding, who will see a good amount of time as a backup. Yeo will be able to ride the hot hand and give rest as needed, or he could nearly split the time between the two.
Kuemper saw his first NHL action last year and is close by in Iowa if injuries arise. Gustafsson is in his first professional season in North America, coming over from Sweden. He and Kuemper will likely split time in Iowa in a similar timeshare as Backstrom and Harding, with Kuemper drawing the majority of the starts for the Iowa Wild.