ST. PAUL, Minn. — Charlie Coyle was glued to Twitter to track the latest in the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter free-agent sweepstakes. Marco Scandella found out the news by watching TSN, the big sports station in Canada, where Scandella is from.
For four days at the beginning of July, the Parise and Suter rumors were tracked by everyone in the game and the fans who follow it. Coyle and Scandella’s situations were a bit different. The two up-and-coming Minnesota Wild prospects had a keen eye on the proceedings and were as thrilled as any fan when Minnesota landed both Parise and Suter, the two biggest free-agent signings in team history.
“It was unbelievable when I found out,” Coyle said. “It was so exciting, I think for everyone. It’s just great for the whole organization. No one knew if we there was any chance to get both, and all of a sudden they get both. It’s awesome for everyone. I think the organization is headed in the right direction, and I think everybody’s happy about that.”
Excitement for the Wild, among fans and players, might be at its highest point since the team advanced to the Western Conference finals in 2003. Parise and Suter replica jerseys are flying off the racks at the Minnesota team stores. The Wild have sold more than 2,000 new season tickets.
But the anticipation isn’t reserved solely for Parise and Suter. A heralded group of prospects adds to the intrigue, along with a solid base already in place led by captain Mikko Koivu. Those prospects, knowing the potential in the future for the organization, are as excited as anyone.
“You can see with a lot of powerhouses around the league, Detroit, Pittsburgh, they’ve got their core guys,” forward prospect Brett Bulmer said. “They’re trying to build a great core here and adding those two to what they already have is going to be huge. For us young players, that’s really exciting to know they want to win around here, and we just want to be a part of it.”
Bulmer and the others look around the locker rooms at the Xcel Energy Center this week and see the future. In town for the annual development camp, Bulmer is joined by the likes of other top prospects such as Coyle, Scandella, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Zack Phillips, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Matt Hackett and others.
Those players see the potential in their teammates and are eager to embrace a future they hope includes them.
“It’s really exciting with the guys like Brett Bulmer and Granlund and Phillips, and Marco sitting beside me,” said Dumba, Minnesota’s first-round pick last month. “It’s pretty cool seeing the caliber of talent that’s in this dressing room and that I will be up against in the future.”
Starting in 2010, when the Wild drafted Granlund in the first round and added Bulmer, Larsson and Zucker in the second round, the young talent has infused its own excitement. There are quality forwards, defensemen and goaltenders ready to make their mark on Minnesota’s NHL roster, even if the wait became longer because of Parise and Suter.
“It’s huge,” Bulmer said of the team’s advanced prospects. “Even in my draft year, there’s like four of us that are pretty elite players in the first couple of rounds and adding Coyle and Dumba now, Brodin, Phillips, those guys. It’s really exciting. We’ve got a great group of prospects on top of the already guys that are older than us and the core they have here, so all of us young guys want to be a part of that.”
The Wild have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and haven’t been past the first round since the 2003 run to the conference finals. All of the struggles seem in the distant past because of the activity this summer, which included Granlund, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in all of hockey by The Hockey News, signing his first NHL contract.
Those Minnesota fans who have been buying up jerseys and season tickets also are aware of the talent waiting in the wings for the Wild. How else could it be explained that 6,500 fans came to the Xcel Energy Center during a summer weeknight to see the prospects compete in a scrimmage open to the public as part of the development camp. The crowd more than doubled last year’s total for a scrimmage.
There were no appearances by Parise and Suter, but enough fans packed the Gate 1 Lobby at the arena that the staff had to open the doors 50 minutes before the scheduled scrimmage, 20 minutes earlier than planned. Sections that were roped off had to be opened to accommodate the crowd.
“I think they were here before I was. There were fans in the lobby,” said Zucker, who scored the first goal in the scrimmage on a breakaway pass from Granlund, later adding: “It’s easy to play with these guys. You can see the talent come out in a game situation like that.”
Seeing their fellow prospects on the ice adds to the players’ enthusiasm. With Parise and Suter locked up for 13 years, Koivu signed for another six seasons and a group of prospects unrivaled in the NHL, the excitement for the Wild could be just beginning.
“We want to build something here,” Scandella said. “We’re not just going to be good for a couple of years. We’re trying to build a base. And I think with the prospects we have and with the signings and the players that we have on our team, we’ve got some really key players, some guys that know their roles, work hard and we’re just trying to change the atmosphere here.”