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ST. PAUL… This past Saturday eve the Minnesota Wild put about 2/3rds of an NHL roster on the ice and bested the Colorado Avalanche by a final of 7-0 in a preseason tilt at the Xcel Energy Center. Before you get too excited over that the Av’s only iced about 1/3rd of an NHL roster. The outcome was fairly predictable and if the Wild had lost this one, well, the stuff would have hit the fan. On this Monday night the boys are down in the Big ‘D’ doing battle with the Dallas Stars. With about 8 minutes left in this contest the Stars are out front by a 4-3 score. By my count the Wild are playing about 7 major league forwards tonight and 3 major league ‘D’. The Stars are going with a roster of about 8 and 3, and out of those players, I’d give the Stars the edge in talent and experience. Devan Dubnyk is in goal for Minnesota and former Wild backup Anton Khudobin between the pipes for the Stars.
“Kuh-doby” was a 7th Round pick by the Wild, 206th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. In my opinion he showed flashes of becoming a fairly solid regular number one in the National League, but I feel that the club did not have the patience to stick with him when the teams normally stout defensive play was going through some inconsistencies and he was traded to the Boston Bruins.
He eventually played for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Anaheim Ducks before he ended up back in Boston. On July 1 he signed a free agent deal with the Stars for two years to serve as backup to Ben Bishop. I like him as a player and feel that, like a lot of guys thrust into the backup role, he would put up better numbers with more frequent playing time. But a lot of coaches in the show are reluctant to go with a “tandem” in goal preferring to go with a number one and two, giving the number one 60 games or more. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The Stars have gone on to wrap up a 5-3 win over the Wild with Captain Jamie Benn notching 2 goals and Blake Comeau getting the insurance score at the 13:22 marker of the final frame. Duby made 32 saves on 37 SOG and Kuh-doby had 27 on 30. Going into tilts like this as the preseason winds down the team objective for the night may have nothing to do with the scoreboard. The coaches might be trying to put certain players into specific game situations to see what they can do or how they will react. They may run certain things against the opponent to gauge their reaction, checking for tendencies to exploit once things get real. Considering this I would have to say that Duby didn’t exactly have a sterling night in goal, but I must temper that knowing the best ‘D’ men on this club were back home, not on the ice.
The team cut down the roster by 17 players before the Saturday game versus the Av’s. Of the cuts/reassignments there weren’t any surprises. So, still vying for a spot on the big roster are Luke Kunin, former Bulldogs Carson Soucy and JT Brown, Matt Bartkowski, Kyle Rau, Matt Hendricks, Justin Kloos, Ryan Murphy, Sam Anas, Eric Fehr, Mike Liambis and Andrew Hammond. D-man Gustav Oloffson is injured but still “in camp” and injured but technically still on the roster are Josh Thrower and Alex Khovanov. Khovanov will eventually go back to Juniors while Thrower will end up back in the ECHL. These players, in addition to the holdovers from last years team are the ones battling it out for what I believe are the final 3 forward spots and final 2 ‘D’ spots. From my perspective the forwards who are already locked on to the big roster are; Staal, Parise, Koivu, Granlund, Neidereitter, Coyle, Greenway, Foligno, Eriksson-Ek and Zucker.
I feel there are 6 ‘D’ men who are locked right now; Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, Dumba, Pateryn and Seeler. It is my feeling that Head Coach Bruce Boudreau will carry 13 forwards and 8 defensemen, plus the two goaltenders for the clubs 23 man. There are also only two preseason games left in which those on the fence can make their move. The team plays the Jets in St. Paul Wednesday eve, and at Denver versus the Av’s on Friday night. By that time Boudreau just might have a clear picture of who is staying or going. Also, you must consider who has one-way contracts, and who doesn’t. Greenway, Eriksson Ek, Seeler and Prosser have two ways. So, moving players up or down can get tricky when you consider who might be exposed to waivers. It is a roulette game at times, complete with the need for Pepto Bismol.
In just performing some simple deduction here Prosser was a minus 3 this eve. That may have sealed his pass to Iowa. Soucy posted a minus 2. Forward Matt Read scored tonight and has been getting a lot of time to show his game. Bartkowski has been getting ice time and Boudreau likes his skating. Murphy has seemed steadier then his past has shown. But I must take a stand here and this is it, for the opening night 13 forwards; Koivu, Staal, Parise, Granlund, Coyle, Greenway, Neidereitter, Zucker, Eriksson Ek, Foligno, Read, Fehr and Hendricks. The 8 D-men will be; Suter, Spurgeon, Dumba, Brodin, Seeler Pateryn, Murphy and Bartkowski. Of course, Dubnyk and former Bulldog Alex Stalock will be the two goalies on the big roster.
For whatever it’s worth the team is now 1-4 in the preseason and stands in last place in the Western Conference Central Division. Does this translate to anything? I don’t think it does. But this team is loaded with a lot of “if’s” and that makes me more uncomfortable then the preseason showing thus far. Do Coyle and Nino stay healthy this year and finally deliver on long awaited potential? Does Staal retain his scoring touch? Does Parise stay healthy and deliver a typical Zach performance? Does Suter come all the way back from a really bad injury? Does the team’s backend continue to produce offense? Does Duby continue to offer consistent goaltending? Can Stalock and/or Hammond deliver more from the number two spot? Does Greenway breakout as a rookie? Do Granny and Zucker elevate offensively?
The team’s veteran group and level of experience lead me to believe that this is another 100-point team. A lot of analysts are saying the Wild will take a step back this year and that there could be two fresh faces in the West as playoff teams, meaning that someone who made it last year won’t make it this year. Who is that going to be? Stick around… PEACE