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CANAL PARK…. The Minnesota Wild opened their annual training camp last Friday and even with a plethora of “if’s” regarding this roster IMHO, optimism seemed to abound. You could say that the beginning of camp every year is just like that, and you would be right, but what about this edition of the Wild? Are they prepared to get into the Stanley Cup tournament this season and make some noise? That just might be a tall order, but I digress. On Friday the 7th the annual Traverse City NHL Prospects tourney began and the Wild were one of eight participants along with the hosting DET, and with CHI, NYR, DAL, STL, CBJ and CAR. The Wild put up their best record here since winning the event back in 2010 going 3-1 and taking the 3rd place game. They won their opener versus the Red Wings 4-2, then dropped a game to the Rangers 4-2, came back to beat the Stars 5-4 in OT, and then took the 3rd place contest 3-2 over Chicago.
The consensus of the team brass as well as many in attendance was that no club outworked the Wild’s rookies and prospects, that Jordan Greenway was the best player there overall (in the entire tourney), and that they accomplished the 3rd place finish with no 1st round picks on the ice, only one 2nd rounder, and a handful of camp invitees was deemed “remarkable”. What you can take away from this is that even though the Wild’s draft positioning has been challenged in the recent past to say the least, someone in the stands for the club obviously has an eye for talent. And Greenway wasn’t the only player there that opened some eyes. Recent draftee Alexander Khovanov looked exceptionally good at the event but will be destined to go back to the Quebec Major Juniors, and 2016 pick Dmitry Sokolov also showed well, but still has many questions regarding his skating ability and conditioning. This guy already has a pro’s release on his shot and could be an NHL sleeper.
On the downside he flunked out on Wild Head coach Bruce Boudreau’s camp opening skating test last Friday. For those not in the know, it’s once down and back the length of the ice, then a second time and then to the center ice line. Three times in a row with a 2-minute rest in between your test and you must do the 1st one in less then 37 seconds, then in less then 40 seconds and the final one in less then 41 seconds. Apparently, “Sokkie” failed in 2 of the legs. That is supposed to result in 2 more tries, but Double B had mercy on the kid and only made him perform one extra. The thing is though that this kid was a beast in the OHL, a scoring machine. Perhaps he can get on top of his cardio, but as of right now he is destined to play down at the ‘A’ in Iowa or in the ECHL. I had to wonder what the kid was doing over his summer if he couldn’t come in and ace this test. The vets on the club all did. I mean, the only running I do now is for coffee and Danish, but I believe that back in the day I could have done this and passed. Boudreau was hoping that the kid got the message because every scout that knows him say he has hands like few others.
Former Wild player and current director of Player Development Brad Bombadir was also very pleased with the two goalie prospects at the tourney, Kappo Kahkonen and Dereck Baribeau. Kahkonen was actually a 2014 pick and is 22 now. He looked good and figures to begin the season at Iowa. Baribeau had some nice play at Traverse City as well and will be headed back to the Quebec Major Juniors. Size-wise, Baribeau is in the mold of current Wild number one Devan Dubnyk. At 6-6, 198 lbs., his playing style is in the mold of a lot of the goalies of his stature. He covers a lot of net and has solid positioning and reflexes. Bombadir likes both currently.
The team will take a quick jaunt to The Peg for a tilt with the Jets this eve, (Mon) and then take on STL in Des Moines on Wednesday. At least in these two games it is unlikely that many of the older vets will see any ice time. The team will have their pre-season home opener on Thursday against the Stars, and then play Colorado in St. Paul on Saturday evening. Next week I will expound on what will be the likely season opening roster, and then try to get a handle on how the team will do in what could be the most challenging Central Division regular season in some time. It is shaping up to be downright tough. I believe that NASH and WINN will battle for the division crown, and I give STL an outside shot at it. With their veteran experience and savvy the Wild will have a good club, but with Dallas improving and Colorado on the way back up, there are no guarantees on anything other then that the ice will be cold, and the battles will be tough. After that? Yumpin’ Yiminee!!
MINNESOTA TWIN and St. Paul native Joe Mauer will contemplate retirement at the end of this season. With his contract expiring, and with uncertainty on what the team might offer, if anything, and with a history of injuries to consider, and another baby (#3) on the way, just the fact that Mauer is talking about it is an indication of which way this might go. I saw a poll last week considering if Mauer did retire would he be thought of as one of the top five Twins of all-time? I was going to give it some thought and then immediately said to myself, yes, no further thought process required…
I SAW THE ESPN SUNDAY NIGHT MLB broadcast between the LA Dodgers and STL Cardinals (5-0 STL win) featuring Matt Vasgergian, Jessica Mendoza, and former MLB Yankee star Alex Rodriguez. Vasgergian and Mendoza are capable broadcasters, but I am having a hard time listening to Rodriguez and I’m certain I’m predestined to have ill will toward him going back to his steroid controversy when he was a player. He knows his “stuff” alright, but he recently shoved his entire existence back into our faces when he dared to contemplate whether he would get into the BBHOF at some point. “I want to get in, I hope to get in, I pray to get in” said A-Rod to writer Marvin R. Shanken from Cigar Aficionado. Well, I’m still wrestling with whether any steroid cheaters have a place in the hallowed hall and the match isn’t over yet. Right now, my answer is no…. PEACE