A while back, contributor Tim Karsjens wrote a blog on the Wild and their lack of identity. In it, he looks at the new management team and how there were not the right players for Todd Richards to play an uptempo system. Despite all the talk of being different from the Jacques Lemaire years of nameless players being plugged in and a defensive mindset, the actions taken by those in charge at the time (November 2010) read to be something out of the previous regime.
In September 2011, those actions speak differently.
Over the past few months, Craig Leipold, Chuck Fletcher and the entire Minnesota organization have gone out of their way to take the Wild off of a pedestal and make them accessible to their fanbase. Instead of being a hockey team that happens to play in Minnesota, fans are finally getting a look behind the curtain with the "Becoming Wild" series, open scrimmages and better use of new and traditional media.
On one hand, it's surprising that the team has taken this long to give fans a connection as the lack of identity on the ice also stretches off the ice. As great as the "State of Hockey" branding has been for the Wild and tying it with Minnesota hockey, it's been the same for ten seasons and gotten stale. Hockey fans know who the Wild are but in 2011 they have little connection to the team itself. The fact remains that this is a club that has missed the playoffs three straight seasons and is without a real face of the franchise.
(Sorry Mikko Koivu but when a good portion of the league forgets you exist or couldn't pick Minnesota's captain out of a lineup, you aren't a great face of the franchise.)
Even in the Twin Cities, the Wild have lingered behind the other pro and collegiate teams in exposure. Most casual fans know their players and can identify them but that's not the case with the Wild. Most of the players are unknown, rarely have been heard for media interviews and hardcore fans would have issues identifying half the team on the street. The closed-door policy may have worked in the past with an expansion team finding its footing but we're past those days.
For that reason, it's great to see the Wild organization open up and be more transparent with fans. The KFAN contract has given the team more coverage on the Minnesota sports leader in the last three months than they've had in the last two years. Instead of a bi-weekly interview with Andrew Brunette or misguided takes by non-hockey hosts, Wild hockey is on the forefront of the sports talk network. Part of it does have to do with the radio rights and promoting KFAN programming but when high school sports get more coverage on either of the two Twin Cities sports talk stations, it's a step in the right direction.
At the same time, the team is out on the forefront with "Becoming Wild." As a six-part series exploring the offseason moves Minnesota made (episode 6 airs tonight), both hardcore and casual fans are given a reason to invest in the team. Guys like Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi come off a lot better when they are given an opportunity to showcase themselves rather than being a name on a season preview. The same goes for small teases like open scrimmages to get fans in the door wanting to come back. Giving fans any connection to the players and team helps. Little kids can grow up wanting to be Devin Setoguchi or Cal Clutterbuck or Mikko Koivu while adults spend money on a retooling team with players their hearts hold an interest.
The Wild still have a way to go, which will be explored in part II, but the actions the organization have taken go a long way with perception and identity. For a team which has missed the postseason three years, are seen by many in the national media to finish in the bottom-five and have a total of one banner in their existence, there is a lot of excitement in the State of Hockey. Most teams which are in this position lose fans, cut prices and become a laughingstock much like the basketball team in Minneapolis. Instead of being like the Wolves, we're seeing a team take chances and give themselves and their players a positive identity as fans are given a look behind the curtain.
This time the old boss, Todd Richards, was able to view the prototypical Minnesota Wild second period disappearing act from the cozy confines of the Columbus bench; in a what is probably a bittersweet moment for Richards, he was able to enjoy the complete reversal of a strong opening period from Minnesota and watch his new team, Columbus, effectively take over the game with two quick goals in the opening minutes of the second stanza.
Must be something with Minnesota teams, not showing up for the entire length of the game.
And the new boss, Mike Yeo, has to contend with this problem now. This has occured a couple times now in the preseason, where a bantam C team dons the Wild sweaters and goes out for a period and displays a level of ineptitude that not only puts the outcome of the game in question; but the repeated occurrence also effects the season.
Doesn't matter if you got a guy whose scored 50 goals, and other guys who could, you can only come from behind to win only so much. Last year would be proof of that.
Well, not the "having a 50 goal scorer" part.
- Speaking of the top line, I think its pretty easy to look at the production from that line so far this preseason (and I believe they had 3 more points tonight) and say that all will be well; while I think there is certainly some promise to that line, its also imperative that things need to shake out sooner than later; that lines start to gel, roles are established. The sooner that everyone gets on the same page, the better. Considering how difficult it is to make up ground starting post All-Star break, Minnesota can ill afford to stumble out of the gate.
-Without a doubt this is a rather pedestrian group of defensemen (and there will always be surprises, but for now its a "meh" group) but considering that the forwards in front of them have different forms of ammunition at their disposal (offensive ability and jam, respectively) the defense doesn't have to be world beaters; they just have to do their job. Move the puck out of the zone by hook or by crook, and keep the puck out of the net.
Nick Schultz doesn't have to be Bobby Orr. Just be Nick Schultz. It will, however, be interesting to see who steps up on the nights where the top-6 are contained.
- Maybe its something that's flown under the radar, but you have to wonder about our goaltending. Niklas Backstrom hasn't been the same since his Vezina nomination (further credence to the "product of Lemaire's system" theory?) and has battled injuries the last few years. He was part of the reason Minnesota fell on its face during the stretch run; he'd go through periods of games where he was a wall, and other times just brutal. Josh Harding is still largely unproven, despite being a part of the organization for, what, 9-10 years? And he's coming off a major knee injury.
There is every reason to expect The Wild to be a bit slow to go out of the gate, considering some new personnel, system philosophy, and coaching staff. The onus is definitely on the D and the Goalies to keep the team's head above water until there is cohesion.
As it stood, the usual suspects remain, along with a few injured players, and Brett Bulmer.
photo courtesy of The Scouting Report
Mike Russo categorized it as a bit of a "surprise"; and to a certain extent it is. By and large the crop of junior-eligible prospects in the system were jettisoned last week, after being rewarded for their play in Traverse City. Kris Foucault and Zack Phillips, Bulmer's linemates in TC, were sent packing this weekend. The three were Minnesota's top line in the Prospect Tournament, and saw time in some exhibition games as well. The formula was pretty simple; Phillips was the playmaker, Foucault the shooter, and Bulmer was the space maker.
And physical presence.
That's not to say he's got jack squat on the offensive side of the coin; he's tough with the puck along the walls, he's got a great shot, and not only able to keep up with Foucault and Phillips, but also complement them in a scoring line capacity.
That being said, he is being given every chance to succeed by the Brass. He went to Houston on an Amateur Tryout after his season in Kelowna, and immediately was a part of The Aeros playoff run until a knee injury forced him out. He was supposed to be on a line with Mikael Granlund and Johan Larsson for the Prospect Development Camp Scrimmages, and I just mentioned his role in TC. It plays into this "hands on" development policy The Wild have going on with Bulmer, and the growing of his game. His game is still pretty raw, but its in Minnesota's best interest that they do what they can to accelerate the development curve.
For now it seems that the numbers game is in his favor because of the injuries in Camp to Cody Almond, Matt Kassian, and Casey Wellman, but the key to how long Bulmer stays in Minnesota could be the suspension to Brad Staubitz- Darren Dreger of TSN tweeted that he's done for the rest of the preseason plus some of the regular season. If that is true, and coming from Dreger it likely is, then that would open up a roster spot for a couple of games into the regular season, which conceivably could be an opportunity for Bulmer to stay with the big club and see NHL action. Remember, He can play up to nine games and be returned to Kelowna (where he impressed at Rockets Training Camp) without burning a year of his Entry Level Contract, and be returned up til 40 without starting his free agency clock.
But considering the route this regime took with Colton Gillies, essentially banishing him to Houston in order to grow after a year with Minnesota while he was still junior-eligible, one has to wonder why Minnesota would take that route with Bulmer, who is still raw and physically immature, even if he is gritty and willing to take the body on the ice.
In taking in Minnesota's home opener of the 2011-12 exhibition season Friday, it marked the beginning another renewal in the hope that The Wild will see postseason play come spring, and that this year will be better than the last...few.
A sparse crowd was treated to the debut of what should be the top line, a line that amassed 8 points in an Overtime victory. We were also treated to the thorny checking line which will drive the opposition nuts, crazy enough at times to chase one of our players after a finished check and illegally check them in the head. We were treated to the revivial of Josh Harding's career following a year lost to a blown out knee. And we were treated to an all "kid line" of Brett Bulmer-Zack Phillips-Kris Foucault, who were the top line at the recent Traverse City Prospect Tournament; this line accounted for the first goal of the game.
All in all, the wait for some tangible form of Minnesota hockey was too long; sure, anytime your team is done with their season in April (perennially it seems) it can seem like an eternity, but this offseason was marked with a sea change in the roster; the departures of the remnants of Doug Risebrough's tenure, a beloved whipping boy, and two all-stars; in came goal scoring resumes, kids to add to the toybox, and the gift of hope renewed; that while the vision and process of becoming a annual participant in the the postseason year after year has been set in stone and the wheels have begun to turn, but that this team looks like it has the chance to get there sooner than later.
Welcome Back hockey.
- Ok, the top line of Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi; a work in progress. Yes, they ended up with 8 points total, but there was a lot of forced passes. The chemistry will come, but there is something to be said for the amount of firepower if they're able to be that effective without really playing together.
- I would have thought, and I said this to Nate Wells at the game Friday, that Nate Prosser would be the leader in the clubhouse in terms of winning a spot on the blueline. He was probably the steadiest D out there that night. Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky? Not so much.
- Never realized how effective Dany Heatley is defensively. Stealing pucks, was on a PK unit with Mikko Koivu.
- In Traverse City I was lucky enough to talk with a Pro Scout for an NHL Team, who said that the end is nearing for Heatley; injuries have ravaged his mobility, and that at this point he is purely a shooter. "He needs a good center to play with", and when I told him that he was penciled in to play with Koivu, the scout replied that Heatley will be in good shape then.
- I don't think it wouldn't be the worse thing if Marco Scandella is sent back to Houston and gets as much ice time as he can handle. He had some rough moments, but he's got a ton of promise. Not completely sure about his role on the power play, but it sounds like he's got a big fan in the Head Coach.
- Finally, Chay Genoway is best served being in Houston, and it showed at times- but he earned some brownie points heading in to stick up for his teammate in the melee late in the 3rd period. He locked horns with Cody Bass, a big tough customer, although I don't think any punches were thrown.
In what has to be the last thing any Wild fan wants to see, Mikael Granlund left the ice at the end of his game today after putting himself in a careless position in the above hit. Before anyone jumps off a bridge with this news, thankfully it appears that he will be okay. Granlund's coach told reporters after the game that (translated into English) he didn't believe that the injury to HIFK's leading scorer (hence the gold helmet) was serious.
The ninth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft missed 21 games last season and the World Junior Championships last season with a concussion so there is some fear of another; if needed, it would be nice to see him take it easy and rest. However the video looks like Granlund hurts his hand more than his head.
As far as the game, Granlund played well before the injury and contributed two assists in a 6-0 win. He now has 1 goal and 6 assists in three SM-Liiga games
FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: It appears that Granlund isn't skating in practice and will be held out of tonight's game against KalPa.
MINNESOTA WILD HOCKEY IS BACK!*
After a long and grueling off-season, it's good to watch some hockey again; even if that hockey was against Edmonton and on a mediocre computer stream. While normally First Round Bust is anti-game recap for the Wild (honestly, if you read this blog you probably also read the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and a half-dozen other blogs which recap the game), this is a special occasion and needs to be celebrated. There will be more analysis later but for now here are the Wild highlights in a sloppy game which Minnesota won 4-3. That's one more exhibition victory than last season.
All videos are by Felix Lévesque.
Jarod Palmer scoring in the first period on the powerplay and giving Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard making it 3-0 off of a great play by linemates Matt Cullen and Gui Latendresse. Once again, that line played well.
Jared "Gerald" Spurgeon being more clutch than LeBron, scoring his second goal of the night, and putting the Wild ahead (yes they blew a 3-0 lead) with less than two minutes remaining.
Of course there are plenty of low-lights and Minnesota reminded fans just how bad they could play in a second period in which they were outshot 17 - 5, but regardless of the final score, hockey's back!
*in preseason form. These games will be forgotten come October 8th.
After missing Saturday's scoreless scrimmage, I was able to catch the second morning scrimmage today. In an attempt to be on the ball, I even took notes! Unfortunately, those notes ended up being ruined after a bike ride back through rain so this is all by memory. Apparently that's just karma as a grown man standing in the back writing down information on other grown men can be seen as creepy in some circumstances.
Mostly Accurate* Line Combinations:
Setoguchi - Koivu - Heatley
Nystrom - McMillan - Staubitz
Foucault - Wellman - Bulmer (first half only)
Schultz - Lundin
Scandella - Genoway
Stoner - Spurgeon
Latendresse - Cullen - Bouchard
Taffe - Brodziak - Clutterbuck
Palmer - McIntyre - Kassian
Falk - Zidlicky
Zanon - Prosser
Obviously with there being a 56 man training camp, the two teams rolled more than 3 or 4 lines; these are just lines which feature players destined for St. Paul. Sorry Kris Fredheim fans. Some lines were switched throughout the two halves (there were two sessions of 20 minutes) although the the top combinations (Seto-Koivu-Heatley and Latendresse-Cullen-Bouchard) stayed together.
The only goal in today's scrimmage, and the weekend, was by the player Wild fans are expecting to light the lamp, Dany Heatley. Heatley scored the only goal on a penalty shot (there were no power plays) and the first line did a good job moving the puck and forcing Kyle Brodziak to take a penalty.
However at other times it was apparent that despite some chemistry the first line is still a work in progress. While there was a difference between the top-six and everyone else, the pace and flow was sloppy. Other than a few occasions, neither team was able to control the zone for a period of time. Hopefully Saturday went a little better but the fact that the goalies weren't challenged is a little disturbing, inter-team scrimmage or not. It's not like our defense is great or anything.
Again, it's tough to take away too much or put much stock into an inter-team scrimmage - it's the preseason of preseason and First Round Bust is not ESPN in August - but one player who stood out to me was Matt Cullen. He played well centering Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and almost scored on a tip-in which ringed off the inside of the post. I don't know if he'll end up being the second line center as it will be interesting to see how Brodziak looks but there are encouraging signs for the Moorhead native. Or if we're using over-exaggerated preseason talk, "will Matt Cullen score 50 points?"
Other quick thoughts:
-Niklas Backstrom had the day off and looks to be brought back slowly as he's not playing Tuesday in Edmonton.
-There was a crowd of over 2000 in attendance but honestly it sounded like 200. Maybe the lack of goals or the fact that it was 10 AM and the X didn't serve coffee had something to do with it.
-I asked Nordy what he/she/it was but the mascot continued his wall of silence before later stealing some popcorn from a child. The search goes on...
-Casey Wellman was an enigma of sorts. At certain points he would be strongly leading a line which would look great in Houston (well if Brett Bulmer could be sent to Houston) and others he would make bad decisions and give the puck away in the defensive zone.
-Speaking of Bulmer, there is more that meets the eye than the scoresheet. He's not afraid to throw his weight around Clutterbuck-style and in fact looks as if he could be a Clutterbuck in the making.
-Mike Lundin is an interesting player to watch and focus on for an entire shift. He played well with his D partner which a good sign for a player signed to eat minutes.
-Speaking of ESPN, Scott Burnside was at the X.
-It's amazing how much the Heatley trade took the sails out of former Gopher Jeff Taffe being signed as the 14th forward. I almost forgot the Wild signed him.
That's all for today. For those who attended either day or watched online, what did you think about the scrimmages?
*Consider this a preemptive apology for any and all errors.
The dawn of every hockey season brings many things to the Minnesota hockey fan: excitement for the return of the game they love, new faces coming in to town to put on the red and green, and of course, the predictable snarky dismissal “season preview” from the blogosphere. Oddly enough, this particular column was NOT written by everyone’s favorite hockey blogger Ryan Lambert but by a Vancouver Canucks blogger named Harrison Mooney of Pass It to Bulis. Read the 2011 season preview and see if you find it as enjoyable as I do.
The legend of Brent Burns. Boy, string together a few good months of hockey with timely goals, and all of a sudden you’re a Norris candidate. Well, after you get traded to a fashionable team instead of flyover country.
Brent Burns is a guy who in the last three seasons missed 60 games and posted a -32. Yet he was a “stalwart on the back end”. I love to watch him as much as the next guy, but he was by no means a sure thing. Even last year, he scored 14 goals before the All Star break and 3 after. And anyone who actually watched him play knows that his second half of the season was as shaky as could be.
When he’s on, he’s fantastic to watch. His speed was unmatched on this team. He had a wicked wrist shot that always seemed to find the net. He has size to drool over. But at the age of 27, he has yet to put together one full season of consistently great hockey. His decision-making in the defensive end is shaky. He takes a lot of risky rushes and pinches.
Just because he is going to a stacked San Jose club doesn’t guarantee his success (look at Dany Heatley).
Guillaume WHO? Only a writer who hasn’t watched the Minnesota Wild over the last two years (read: practically any hockey writer outside the state) can make this omission.
By nearly any offensive statistic, Guillaume Latendresse is a BEAST for this team. Look at some numbers from 2009-10: leading the team with 25 goals, leading the team with 4 game winning goals, leading all forwards in plus-minus, and second among forwards with 110 hits while taking a meager 12 PIM. Except he did all this in only 55 games after his trade from Montreal.
Unfortunately, he seemed to have ate his new contract, came into camp last year terribly out of shape, and proceeded to injure his groin and hip so badly that he needed THREE surgeries to repair them. Safe to say that last year was a write-off.
And now, after being hounded by Wild trainers with regular weigh-ins, he’s back and in shape in a contract year. Even if he only matches the 25 goals that he put up with the team two years ago, wouldn’t that be worthy of a mention?
Heatley is better than Havlat. Not that I disagree, just that nobody will say or admit this currently. Nevermind that prior to the trade everyone would have made the same claim. A lot of analysis has been done on Dany Heatley vs Martin Havlat, and I personally thing that Heatley is a much better fit for this team since he is a shooter and goal scorer and the team has playmakers in Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Not to mention the attitude problems that Havlat displayed last year.
I just wanted to point out something positive before going right back into the negative.
The defense is the worst in the league. Okay I’ll give you that it doesn’t look good. But worst in the league? Maybe in goal scoring, but I prefer my defensemen to play DEFENSE. Scoring is just a bonus.
The biggest subtraction is obviously Brent Burns. But the author glosses right over the Mike Lundin acquisition. A fun fact is that Lundin was the #2 defenseman for Tampa Bay in 2009-10. Who was the defense coach? Rick Wilson. Who joined the Wild last year and greatly improved the team’s defensive play, including Brent Burns? The same Rick Wilson. Lundin right now is slated to be on the top defensive pairing with Nick Schultz, who has quietly been the go-to guy for the Wild since the lockout.
Beyond the top pairing, Marek Zidlicky will be back, reportedly in much better shape, and hopefully healthy for the first time in two years. This is a defenseman who routinely outscored Burns. Yes he has defensive issues, but that’s why he’s a second pairing powerplay specialist.
By no means am I saying that this squad will perform great. They have a couple sophomores and a dearth of star power. But I can’t see how the defense would be worse than last year, especially with a more defensive head coach. And speaking of…
The Wild will be the worst team in the league. Why would the Wild finish last, or close to it, for any logical reason? They had an awful head coach the last two years who didn’t believe in playing defense or manage ice time, and they still only finished 21st and 22nd. The subtraction of Brent Burns is enough to completely throw out the season? Might as well just give that Cup to San Jose!
Look, I’m not planning the Cup parade just yet. I’m not confident they will make the playoffs. But there is no reason to believe this team should be asking which number Nail Yakupov will want. The team has improved up front with the addition of Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Latendresse, Zidlicky, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, and Josh Harding were injured or had down years and are coming back with something to prove. Burns is gone, but Lundin comes in along with a more experienced Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon. And a new head coach who hopefully doesn’t exclaim “I don’t have any answers” EVERY SINGLE POSTGAME CONFERENCE.
Am I going to be wrong? Probably. But this is a team that made major offseason changes addressing their problems. Notice I’m not making any absurd statements like so many of these previews toss around. Then again, maybe if I was trolling for views I’d be able to write for a national hockey blog.
David McIntyre-Nathan Burns-Justin Fontaine
Alex Belzile-Joey Martin-Tyler Maxwell
Carter Sandlak-Taylor Peters-Mike Kramer
Chay Genoway-Kyle Medvec
Sam Lofquist-Colton Jobke
Dylan Busenius-Kris Fredheim
(lines shuffled after the first period)
- Scratches: Josh Caron (gotta be an injury or something,) Tyler Cuma, Brett Bulmer, and Zack Phillips. Definitely a lunch pail version of the squad, but understandable so the scouts and Brass can see what they have with the tryout guys.
- I tweeted this, but here was the First Period in a nutshell, by way of a scout in front of me; "I could count the number of good plays in this game on one or two fingers." I thought it was the Bob Evans that gave me gut rot during the 1st Intermission, but it was the play. Not very pretty.
- After giving up a 4 ON 1 early in the Second Period (what is more egregious is that Dallas didn't even get a shot on goal with it) Minnesota took over. They out worked the Stars up and down, and the first two goals came from with 6-7' of the net. Dylan Willick had a beauty of a goal late in the 2nd, which caused some visible frustration from some Dallas players, especially Jack Campbell.
- Remember in one of the Practice videos it showed Brad Bombardir working with Colton Jobke on his gap control? Jobke got beat twice along the edge today.
- It was Foucault's best game by far, even if he didn't see the score sheet. Consistent effort on every shift.
- Mike Kramer just works and works and works. Created a scoring chance for himself just from hustling and winning battles down behind the Dallas net.
- Kyle Medvec got into a "fight" with a handful of seconds left. It was technically a fight because the gloves come off, but it was a wrestling match down to the ice.
- Speaking of Medvec, he blew up a Dallas player who just crossed the Minnesota blueline with his head down. Big time hit, and that's how he needs to play. As Justin Falk learned, ain't no finesse 6'6" defensemen.
- Chay Genoway, I believe, tries to do too much with the puck. He played better than last night, but still tries to channel Bobby Orr at times.
- Tyler Graovac struggles with making plays at high speeds, like off the rush; but, he made some nice feeds from below the circles.
- Justin Fontaine actually showed me something today; he made some nice plays. Before today he was largely anonymous. I think he's got to add a grittier element to his game to be more effective as a player. Dylan Willick has shown me more than Fontaine did.
- I'm not an expert, or even a novice, when it comes to diagnosing a Goalie. Kuemper is just huge and fills the net, but there were a couple times where from my vantage point (in the same sightline as a point shot) it looked like he leaves room high and over his shoulder. That being said, he played great, and deserved a shutout; the lone Stars goal just kind of leaked through him.
Woo...5th place. But as it was pointed out earlier in the tournament, 5 of Minnesota's top prospects didn't participate. I better book my ticket for next year.
Remember to come CHAT WITH ME and some hooligans at 6pm, where I'll talk about The Prospect Tournament on the whole, individual prospects and players, and likely the Scarlett Johannson cell phone pics.
And whatever the conversation may bring up.
The lines were pretty much the same, except Dylan Willick and Joey Martin were in place of Tyler Maxwell and Alex Belzile. There was some shuffling, but I'll get to that.
- Things started off with a bang; Minnesota hit any and everything in a Columbus jersey to start it off, but that same physicality dissipated once Columbus slipped one under Matt Hackett (who deserved a better fate than he got tonight) a couple minutes in. Then the same sort of sloppy ineptitude that was apparent in Sunday's game showed up.
- Torchetti and his Staff changed up the defensive pairings to start the 2nd Period: Cuma-Fredheim, Medvec-Genoway, and Jobke-Lofquist, and this became a different team. In a weird sort of way, those new pairings made more sense than the old ones, and the team responded by controlling play in the 2nd.
- Genoway struggled. The game just seemed a little too fast for him.
- Phillips was better at cutting down on the cute stuff, but man, he's got some pretty ridiculous hands. He was able to dangle around a few defenders to create chances, but would get too cute doing the same thing high in the offensive zone, coughing up the puck. I can't really find much fault with his skating, but I think he needs more strength; he can be bumped off of pucks.
- I tweeted this, but Mike Kramer and Taylor Peters seeing time as the extra man when they pulled Hackett late tells you all you need to know about what sort of effort they gave tonight. Tireless workers, played within themselves filling a role.
- Brett Bulmer, it dawned on me- I think he could be what Brent Burns was as a forward. Burns was so athletically gifted, but just lacked that certain element that would have made him a prolific scoring power forward. I think Bulmer is the same thing- he's got size, he can skate, he goes into dirty areas, he creates space for his teammates, he plays with sandpaper...but his effectiveness won't be judged by the score sheet, but I think his production will be based on who he plays with.
- Don't know who Joey Martin is (the only one I can think of played for The Gophers years ago) but he was buzzing out there. Came out of nowhere to score a nice rebound goal.
- Yes, kids. Doug Risebrough was in the house for the Third Period.
- Did I mention that Guy Lapointe came over to say hi and shoot the breeze with me before the game? Pretty damn cool stuff.
- Kris Foucault wasn't on the scoresheet, but was more consistent effort-wise than Sunday. This is what I wanted to see out of him.
- Ms. Conduct pointed this out to me, and she was right; it can be an adventure when Hackett leaves his crease to play the puck. Man, Martin Brodeur he is not. Scary at times.
- Just noticed this tonight, and I can't confirm it sitting in my condo, but I believe the refs are all from the ECHL. They had patches on their sweaters.
- Pro Tip: Scouts drink coffee. ALOT of coffee. Seemingly at all times of the day.
- The more I see of him, the more I like Tyler Graovac. Big lanky thing, mobile, protects the puck well down low.
- Josh Caron must be injured or something. He didn't play Sunday, skated today at practice, and didn't play tonight.
Big time game tomorrow for...7th place.
Remember, we will be doing a live chat here on FRB at 6pm CENTRAL time, where you can pepper me with questions about the hockey I've seen, life questions, and relationship issues if you'd like.
HERE is the link to the chat, be there or be square.
-I posted this on Twitter yesterday but if you missed it, here is Mikael Granlund acting in a Finnish commercial
Someone can correct this if it's wrong (we're big in Finland) but apparently it's for a Finnish betting company (that's kosher over there). Joining Granlund in the ad is Jari Kurri, Ilari Filppula (as the joker) and former Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala.
-Josh Harding's mask this season honors three fallen ex-teammates: Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien (who played with Harding in juniors) and Pavol Demitra. (h/t FRB contributor Cole and Puck Daddy)
-It appears that Minnesota will be looking for a new ECHL affiliate. After two seasons as the Wild affiliate, the Baskersfield Condors will spend next season as an independent club. (h/t @swamphockey)
-With today being the day NHL.com previews Minnesota, Hockey Wilderness has fun with the "You know you're a Wild fan..." Twitter responses. Personally, I know I'm a Wild fan because I miss James Sheppard.
-KFAN continues their excellent coverage of the Wild since gaining their radio rights as Brandon Mileski nods his approval over Mike Yeo's line selections.
Something like 10 hands in a row...
Needless to say, far less people to watch Minnesota practice than Columbus. Maybe 15 people total, and 5-6 of those were Wild Front Office types; Brent Flahr, Jim Mill, Paul Charles, Chuck Fletcher, Blair Mackasey, and some others. Unfortunately I didn't see my homeboy Guy Lapointe there.
I heard Flahr say "meetings" were the reason Minnesota got out on the ice a tad late, and they warmed up a bit before getting into some drills.
The thing I noticed right away was that Aeros Head Coach John Torchetti more or less oversaw the whole thing- his assistants, Mike Van Ryn and Sebastian Laplante, along with Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir, were running the drills. Torch would occasionally talk to a player, like in this pic where he was emphatically saying something to Chay Genoway.
Torch's hands were going up and down, as if he was trying to hammer a point into Genoway's head.
The end where I sat (pro tip: scouts like to sit in the corners.) had the defensemen, so I saw drills on puck retrieval and breakouts, defenseman making the first pass, and taking a pass (sometimes just a grenade from Bombardir) off the wall and shooting it from the point and then taking a second one then dishing off to their defensive partner who would do the same thing.
Torchetti talking with everyone:
After that pow wow, things sort of became freelance; at center ice forwards took turns taking draws and taking instruction, and everyone else kind of, well, farted around.
At a certain point, Kuemper and Hackett went back into the net, and a handful of players surround them, playing a game which I akin to Horse: there is a shooter from the slot, then the goal is to gather the rebound and score on the goalie. The players all got a chance to shoot, and it got highly contested at times.
You can see at the bottom of the screen, that's Colton Jobke and Brad Bombardir working on gap control as the puck carrier brings the puck into the offensive zone. After a while defensive pairings like Cuma/Genoway, Medvec/Fredheim, etc. worked on just passing the puck back and forth with each other, as if to build some more chemistry.
- Sam Lofquist almost operates too fast; he struggled at times with the first pass drill, but got better when he slowed down.
- Cuma is so polished as a player.
- Hackett is incredibly competitive- he was all business in that game against the shooters; expletives when he didn't make the save, talking sh*t when he did. And he made some beauties.
- Kyle Medvec can get his point shot off really quick.
- Genoway's mobility is just crazy. Man can that kid skate.
- Even when skating around, Zack Phillips was looking to put the puck on someone else's tape. Later in the session he was working on taking the puck off the boards around the faceoff dot on his off-wing and firing it on net.
- Foucault can really shoot the puck, whether its a snapshot or a one timer.
- I thought this was odd, but apparently its been decided that Buffalo and New York will play for the Championship tomorrow. Its not just a recent thing either, because NHL.com made note of it last Friday.
Talk to you after the game.
I started to do some work for Future Considerations this last week- I will essentially be a scout/media jackal/feature writer for them, and my season began with the first Upper Midwest Elite League game in New Hope on Tuesday. I got there a bit early, and had a brief exchange with another scout who was there to take in the action (pro tip: want to identify a scout at a game? Look for the leather portfolio they will be carrying around.)
I cracked wise about us being the only two at one end of the ice (this was before the hordes of hockey parents came in) and he remarked "that there will be events where you wish it was this empty. Once people find out what you are here to do, you make friends that you don't want."
Which brings me to last night.
I basically broke every sort of driving law on my way from Muskegon to Traverse City: I sped, because I knew I was going to be late for the game (just how late was to be determined,) I was checking my phone for messages and Twitter updates (I thought the game started at 6:30, but saw on Wild.com it was 5:30- I was looking for confirmation) all the while cruising well above the speed limit.
God bless Michigan drivers- they drive fast. And thank you to Julie Robenhymer, who tweeted that there was about 5 minutes left in the first period, and I was about 26 miles out. I made it to the arena for the last half of the second period- grabbed a slushie and some popcorn, and grabbed an open spot along the rail for the rest of the stanza.
Now, I don't know if any of you have been the Centre I.C.E. Arena: the actual building is huge, but it houses two rinks, so everything is a bit condensed. Metal bleachers, but when you get to the top of the aisles, you have big concrete pillars which affect sight lines if you're standing on the top of the concourse or in the central corridor between the two rinks. I grabbed a cup of coffee at the next intermission, and grabbed a seat in a section of the top row where there were just two spots between the aisle and a big pillar. I grabbed the seat on the aisle.
Just as the puck drops, someone hops down next to me for the final period, between the pillar and I.
I do a double take.
Now I mentioned last night that it was a who's who there: entire front offices, scouts from many leagues, players, coaches, etc. And here's a guy, Hall of Fame Defenseman with six Stanley Cups, legendary in scouting circles, and the Coordinator of Amateur Scouting for Minnesota, sitting down right next to me.
The puck dropped to start the Third Period, and play began. At the first stoppage I leaned over and said that (he and the front office) had "done a great job with the last few Drafts." He said thank you, but that "some of the kids have a long way to go." That kind of broke the ice a bit- he knew that I knew who he was and what he did, and I supposed it may have helped show my allegiance that I was wearing a North Stars jacket. Lapointe then began to initiate some conversation- (imagine that gruff and sometimes indecipherable French-Canadian accent) "you know, we don't even have 5 of our best kids here...Granlund, Brodin, and Larsson are in Europe..." and I finished it with "and Coyle and Zucker are in the NCAA."
"Ya, so we are seeing a totally new team!"
He asked me if I was from Traverse City, and I told him how I came from Minnesota to watch the Tournament- now I'm going to go with that he seemed impressed by that, although there may have been a chance that he was saddened for my existence. I noticed he had a line chart, folded up into an origami swan at times, with a couple of names highlighted. Just out of respect I won't list them, but I believe that all of them (the Minnesota kids are, that I know) are there on tryouts.
Now, to bring it back to the little prologue; I didn't want to make myself a friend he didn't want. Sure, I could have talked shop AT him the entire time, but thought it was best to pick my spots. We talked about Kris Foucault (that was him who nudged me and said "wooooo" after Foucault's game winner) and his inconsistency, how it was nice to see Tyler Cuma back on the ice, and how at times The Wild just failed to make the simple plays: chipping the puck out of the zone on the PK, getting the puck deep when they had the lead, and elements of that nature. I wanted to shake his hand at games' end, and tell him I'd see him at the next game, but with the Carter Sandlak/Willie Coetzee fight it ended it- in what should have been an even up situation (Sandlak had highsticked Brendan Smith, which caused Coetzee to come after Sandlak- an instigator penalty) they still gave the man advantage to Detroit, with a minute or so left.
Lapointe turned to me and goes "That is bullsh*t. I gotta go yell at the ref." Up he went, down the concourse, and right into the face of (presumably) the Director of Officiating. As I passed him on my way out, he was still fired up about it, as he was talking with another Wild Scout, Paul Charles.
In August when I finally cemented plans to come here, I told that to another scout- he said that its a great time, and a nice place to meet people in the hockey world. Sure as hell, the first full period of the week (for me anyways) I end up sharing a conversation with Guy Lapointe, a legend in his own right, and the Head Cheese of Amateur Scouting for my favorite hockey team.
I can't wait for tomorrow.
- Zack Phillips...yes, he's centering the top line, but he was also guilty of doing things that may have worked in Saint John but not here. Little cutesy things, like trying to dangle between two defenders at the offensive blueline instead of chipping it deep past the opposition and getting after it. Its a learning process though- Phillips was lauded for his hockey sense, so I'm eager to see if he continues to do the same thing or adapts. That being said, he flashes some pretty nice offensive skill. Could use some bulk though.
- Matt Hackett, and stick to tap to Heather Galindo (Ms. Conduct) for this. Like I mentioned last night he was a rock in goal- 46 saves! He looked poised above the moment, and it seemed like Detroit shots just hit him and stopped. But, as Galindo pointed out, it can be an adventure when he goes to play the puck. I'm assuming there is a goalie rotation between he and Darcy Kuemper (who has a rather dubious streak going between DevCamp Scrimmages and the six goals he let in on Saturday) but its something I'll look for.
- Mike Kramer...St. Paul kid, Como Park alumni, on a tryout after a nice little career at Princeton. Kid works his bag off. Maybe the hardest working kid on the ice- didn't show a ton in the offensive zone (mainly because Minnesota rarely saw that end of the ice), but he hit, hustled, blocked shots. Stocky little plug. He knows what he has to do to impress the Brass, and he's doing it.
- Sam Lofquist...when we saw him last, he was like a wild horse- he was EVERYWHERE on the ice. Maybe it was the moment, but he was solid all around, jumping up into the rush occasionally, and seeing time on the PP (where Chay Genoway desperately wanted to set him up to use his cannon of a shot but never got too.) He's got the tools- the size, skating, a heavy shot; I really think its a matter of finding a role for him to settle into. I think there's enough there to warrant a contract, and some tutelage under Mike Van Ryn can be beneficial to him.
I wouldn't be surprised if either he or Kramer got at least an AHL deal just to keep these guys under organizational control.
After two looooooooooooong days of travel, I made it to the Centre I.C.E. arena in Chartwell, which is essentially a township on the edge of Traverse City. I didn't quite appreciate the popularity of the whole thing; the parking lot was packed.
I ended up parking on the grass. That's how I roll.
There was roughly 10 minutes left in the 2nd period, and Minnesota was up 1-0. I never caught who scored the goal, but sloppy play on The Wild's behalf (a reoccuring theme for the night) led to a tying Red Wings goal. A blue slushie and a bag of popcorn later, I was ready for some puck.
Here's what I gathered of the lines:
Kris Foucault-Zack Phillips-Brett Bulmer
Carter Sandlak-Tyler Graovac-David McIntyre(A)
Mike Kramer-Nathan Burns-Justin Fontaine
Alex Belzile-Taylor Peters-Tyler Maxwell
Chay Genoway-Tyler Cuma(C)
Kris Fredheim-Sam Lofquist
Tyler Busenius-Colton Jobke
Matt Hackett in goal, Darcy Kuemper riding pine.
- The Wild were sloppy. Excruciatingly sloppy. Turnovers, failures to make the simple play (Get the puck out of the zone, getting it deep, etc.) And when you have a puck possession team like Detroit (yes kids, even the Baby Red Wings were scary good with the puck) you get outshot by a 2:1 margin.
- The play was chippy. I walked in right before Tyler Cuma and Joakim (sp?) Andersson had a small scrap (it was broken up quickly) and there was an awful lot of jawing and jostling throughout the game. Carter Sandlak and Willie Coetzee had a tilt within the final minute or so, which I remarked to someone (more on that later) that an instigator, which Coetzee should have gotten, wouldn't cost the Head Coach on the Detroit bench $10,000. I'm sure Mike Babcock, who was there, probably thought the same thing.
- Quick note on two Wings players: Brendan Smith, a defenseman (Wisconsin Badger) and Gustaf Nyquist (Maine Black Bear) were scary good. Let's hope Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference.
- Finally got to see some Brett Bulmer. He's still pretty raw; you can see flashes of what he can be. Got some nice offensive instincts and does some good work along the boards, but still can get outmuscled off of pucks and will try to do too much. His line had some really good shifts, and some were forgettable.
- Tyler Graovac, who didn't play in the Prospect Camp Scrimmages, is a nice little find. Tall and lanky (he and Bulmer are just beanpoles) but he does alot of defensive things right. Takes draws, killed penalties, blocked shots; maybe not a high end player, but maybe a Dave Steckel type. Big hard nosed defensive type.
- You could tell who had some pro experience- Kris Fredheim, Tyler Cuma, Matt Hackett, and David McIntyre all looked like they were able to process the game a bit quicker.
- Speaking of Hackett, and I mentioned it on Twitter; he was a rock. Especially with the Keystone Kops playing in front of him. Calm, poised, played like this was no big deal. Saved Minnesota's ass a number of times.
- KRIS FOUCAULT. Maddening. Just a frustrating player to watch. I mentioned that his line with Bulmer and Phillips controlled play at times, and Foucault was a major catalyst. He's got good puck skills, a great shot, that "look" like he can be a contributor...then he takes a dumb penalty. He did a ton of work to set up Justin Fontaine's goal, then promptly through the puck out of play for a delay of game call on the next shift. Then takes a stupid cross checking penalty...only to dangle through half of Detroit to score a highlight reel game winner. The guy next to me nudges me and just goes "wooooooooooo". I really like what he can be; at times he was so impressive, but he can take selfish penalties and do dumb things on the next shift. Almost like his focus wanes.
- It was nice to see Cuma out there playing. Very Nick Schultz-like, and I hope to hell he can stay healthy for once. He certainly played like a Captain.
- Kyle Medvec was scratched, along with two others. Dylan Willick and Josh Caron maybe?
- It was a who's who there; the area between the two rinks is small- essentially a small corridor. Fans, player personnel types, Coaches, GM's, Ken Hitchcock (shorter than I thought,) Tommy Thompson (a short and odd shaped man, with hair growing out of his ears,) scratched prospects, and other hockey types. Oh hey, there's Ernie Vargas and Paul Charles (the scout who got the shaving cream smear on Becoming Wild,) there's Kirk Maltby from Detroit, there's Chuck Fletcher and Guy Lapointe.
Pretty awesome, I'm glad I was able to catch some hockey tonight- but tomorrow morning I'm gonna write about a really cool experience I had tonight, so be on the look out for that. I plan on writing a couple of posts a day, and Nate and I tentatively have a plan for a live chat some point this week, to make the whole Traverse City experience a bit more interactive for everyone involved.
Have a good night.
Throughout the "Becoming Wild" series, the State of Hockey have been given a look at different aspects of the team and episode four is no different. While primarily focusing on the first half of prospect development camp back in July, the episode shifts gears a few times from the future back towards the present. It can be a little jarring at times going from a serious training exercise to a sidebar between coaches but the end game has little nuggets about this upcoming season sprinkled around the overall organization philosophy of youth.
Although Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi make an appearance which can almost count as an ad for the Hockey Lodge (alongside some great quips about Heatley's 26 goals being a "down year" - it's not like they would have lead the Wild the last few seasons), the stars of the first half are the serious, hardworking prospects. After a no-nonsense lecture from the strength and conditioning staff, fans were treated to the rigors of what a professional athlete goes through.
Watching a training sequence doesn't always make for the best television but I thought that these came across well. There's a lot of variation in player size at this age as a guy like Mario Lucia is going to pale in comparison to a 21 year-old college freshman like J.T. Brown but regardless the training sessions drove home the much-needed fact that as great as these prospects are, not all of them are NHL bound.
Other small nuggets of information were sandwiched around leadership training and skating practice with Barry Karn as Chuck Fletcher once again tried to sell this year's team as being one in transition along with players like Marco Scandella and Cody Almond discussing their experiences and hopes to make the Wild. If Scandella's skating is any indication - the guy took seven strides to get halfway down the ice - he's not going to Houston without a fight. The sell jobs are getting a little repetitive at this point but with expectations being raised high with the Heatley and Setoguchi deals a dose of realism might be needed.
At the same time, the leadership training, which seems to be a Minnesota staple after last season, is always a good touch. Although leadership is not gained by sitting and listening to people sell leadership, its impact on the youngsters can not be understated.
One thing throughout episode four which surprised me was the lack of 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund. For a team selling its fanbase on the future, having the player which the team is building around in the background when there's an opportunity to introduce Granlund to their audience is bizarre. It's not like he can't speak English or has never handled the Finnish media so hopefully that changes in episode five.
Overall, it appears that the crew behind "Becoming Wild" is finding their touch. While there are moments which seem forced like the quick discussion about holding training camp in Duluth, the dead spots are getting few and far between. It seems like each episode leaves fans wanting more regardless of what comes next. And with episode five tonight covering the second half of prospect development camp (and knowing what happens in there), it's hard to not be excited.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate
While Dan and I have a few other things in the hopper, especially with the Traverse City tournament coming up, it's impossible to overlook the loss of Pavol Demitra and 42 others in a plane crash yesterday. For the fourth time this offseason, members of the NHL fraternity have lost their lives and Demitra is the second former Wild player to pass away. Sadly, it's getting to the point where I'm becoming numb to the continued deaths of hockey players; a thought which on its own is nothing short of disturbing.
That's not to say Demitra and everyone aboard the plane carrying members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL hockey team should be seen as another statistic. No one wants that. It just means that after reading a heartfelt piece yesterday on Derek Boogaard and addiction and many Wade Belak tributes over the last week, this hockey season could not come any sooner. With so much sadness and grieving throughout the hockey community, October 8th against Columbus will be a relief; an opportunity for the State of Hockey to pay our respects to Pavol Demitra and Derek Boogaard in the best way possible.
Although his stint with Minnesota was short, Demitra symbolizes one of the biggest changes the franchise has undergone. Before the 2006 NHL Draft, the Wild were an expansion team who had one magical postseason run but otherwise were the new kids on the block. In one fall swoop, that changed and this video speaks for itself.
Demitra's arrival, which foreshadowed former General Manager Doug Risebrough's attempt to go all-in (i.e. signing defensemen Kim Johnsson in free agency and re-signing Demitra's best friend Marian Gaborik) made Minnesota into the team they are today. Those two seasons with Demitra have been the most successful regular seasons in club history - culminating with a Northwest Division title in 2008 - and he was fairly successful scoring 25 and 15 goals, respectively, while being entertaining on a "boring" club. His shootout goals were as one fan noted "so far wide that he'd need GPS to find his way back to the net."
The hockey moments go on and there are many to choose from. Like Derek Boogaard before him, I never knew Pavol Demitra. I can't reflect like Marian Gaborik, Luc Robitaille or Andy Murray. But the fact that so many who knew Demitra or any of the 42 other people who passed away speak so highly of the fallen is soothing for those who never had the opportunity.
It's great to see the hockey community rally around Pavol Demitra because he means a lot, both on and off the ice, to those who know and don't know him. Hockey does that. And with the way this off-season has gone and the way so many have been taken away far too young, we need hockey just a little bit more.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate
Some nuggets for you guys:
This came from Tony Da Costa's twitter account:
A picture of Mike Yeo and his assistant Darby Hendrickson preparing for Training Camp. Kinda nondescript, right?
Check out the picture full size.
Over Yeo's shoulder are lines, and the right wings are visible.
Maybe its something, maybe its nothing. Tip of the cap to Bullrun of HFBoards for the find.
- Nate mentioned on Twitter this morning that this was a search term that led someone to First Round Bust. On a related note, Mike Russo caught up with a slim but "hungry" Guillaume Latendresse.
- Mike Yeo made mention of what the lines will be heading into Training Camp:
I like the top line, especially with Setoguchi and Heatley already have chemistry. I worry about the 2nd line, because I don't know if Cullen can create enough space for Bouchard to set the table for Latendresse. And man...our bottom six will have some serious jam.
- There will be an open scrimmages in two weeks at the Xcel Energy Center. The scrimmages will be from 10 to 11am on the 17th and 18th. That will be a treat for us fans, and will serve to whet an increasing appetite for NHL hockey. FRB will likely be there in one form or another to soak it in, and post our thoughts.
Because what we think is, uh, important.
Jumping the shark is an idiom, first employed to describe a moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery.
Which brings us to this guy.
There is no doubt that Mr. Heatley has terrific career numbers; and that he's widely regarded as being a part of the upper crust of the league- amongst the elite. A potent goal scorer, a game changer, and someone who should bolster a perennially anemic and flaccid offense.
Is this really the case though?
Kent Wilson, who writes for a handful of websites, wrote a piece in Early July about the decline of Dany Heatley. Wilson used a variety of sabermetrics, which have established a solid foot hold in the hockey community (thanks to guys like Timo Seppa at Puck Prospectus,) to illustrate that Heatley is trending downward. His even strength numbers, at one point were considered elite, have slid into mediocrity. Wilson even made the point that Heatley's metrics were among the lowest on a stacked Sharks team, and comparably speaking, Martin Havlat's numbers were fantastic.
So, has Dany Heatley jumped the shark?
Full disclosure, I'm not a numbers guy- never excelled in math in school (in fact I was TERRIBLE with it,) and try to avoid them to a large extent- I even initially chose a major in College because I was told that there was very little math involved. I've come to accept the increasing usage of metrics in professional sports, namely baseball and now hockey, as an inevitability- so I try not an look at them with complete disdain. There is a place for them, in terms of widening the horizon of analysis, but I don't necessarily subscribe to things like Relative Corsi (even though I really should.) I don't think that the numbers necessarily tell the whole story, that there can be non-quantitative and non-numeric elements to the game; almost an esoteric level.
And maybe, in Dany Heatley's defense, this may be the case. Heatley had injuries to both his ankle and hand, amongst other little nagging nuisances that held his production back. Maybe the chemistry, despite how great it looks on paper, wasn't there. It could have been any number of things- elements of the game that can't be defined by metrics.Maybe the most important thing to consider here is that this is the first time Heatley's been traded; not asked to be traded, but flat-out traded. He's been savaged for being a no-show in the playoffs, and he and his 7.5 million dollar contract has been shipped here to Minnesota, for a guy that San Jose presumes can put them over the top in Martin Havlat. That should be motivation itself- to prove everyone wrong.