As surprising as last year's 3,000/3,500 fans showing up in 99 degree heat for a pair of scrimmages were, this year took it one step further. The last two weeks have been a godsend for getting the State of Hockey excited about the Wild again and Minnesota announced Thursday night an attendance of 6,500 fans; most of whom weren't there in the odd chance Zach Parise showed up. To put in perspective, there were only 7 sections in the Xcel Energy Center lower bowl that were blocked off.
|6,500 Fans Ready For Hockey (photo credit: Nathan Wells)|
Unlike both of last year's prospect scrimmages, we aren't able to break up this one into Team White and Team Green posts as Dan was unable to attend Thursday night. However, we'll both be at Sunday's scrimmage so there will be twice the breakdown then. Plus we might have a couple other scrimmage posts.
The other thing to take away from these is that it's a scrimmage and not a game. While some of the invitees may see prospect development camp as a chance to make a lasting impression, there are bigger names who just want to entertain and stay healthy. So without further adieu...
Thursday Night Lines:
Jason Zucker - Mikael Granlund - Justin Fontaine
Marshall Everson (Harvard) - Zack Phillips - Brett Bulmer
Louie Nanne - Adam Gilmour - Bobby Farnham (Brown)
Josh Caron - Drew LeBlanc (St. Cloud State) - Carter Sandlak (Belleville)
Cody Corbett (Edmonton) - Mathew Dumba
John Draeger - Sean Lorenz
Corbin Baldwin (Spokane) - Daniel Gunnarsson
Johan Gustafsson (first half...yes there were two 30 minute halves)
Stephen Michalek (second half)
Raphael Bussieres - Johan Larsson - Charlie Coyle
Kris Foucault - Erik Haula - Christoph Bertschy
Ryan Van Stralen (Ottawa OHL) - Kyle Thomas (Norwich DIII) - Will Merchant (Eagan HS)
Joel Broda - Tyler Graovac - Brett Olson (Michigan Tech)
Jonas Brodin - Steve Kampfer
Kyle Medvec - Nick Seeler
Ashton Saunter (Edmonton WHL) - Colton Jobke
Matt Hackett (first half)
Joe Howe (Colorado College - second half)
Joe Howe (Colorado College - second half)
Highlight o' the scrimmage
Amazingly after the last two years of shootout goals, the highlight o' the scrimmage is Steve Kampfer laying the smackdown on poor Bobby Farnham. In fact, the shootout was a letdown in the true Wild tradition with many fancy moves and few goals. Even Mikael Granlund failed to score, which up until this past WJC seemed to be impossible.
Mikael Granlund - Speaking of Granlund, the guy has vision that would make Superman jealous. The 2010 first round pick was not playing at 100% effort but at times it didn't matter; there were occasions where Mikael at 50% was still the best player on the ice. He skates flawlessly, sees things coming two steps away and best of all makes those around him better.
After setting up Jason Zucker on the scrimmage's first goal early on, Granlund continued to make difficult plays look easy. On one exchange, he took an opportunity where 95% of players would dump the puck into the offensive zone at the end of a shift and set up a 2x1 break for Team Green. On another, he created a scoring chance with a between the legs pass. There are always negatives to harp on like the shootout or being on the ice for two of White's final three goals (the last ten minutes saw Green having fun while Team White wanted to save face) but the fact remains if anyone is NHL-ready out of the prospects, it's Granlund.
Jonas Brodin - The birthday boy (Brodin turned 19 Thursday) showed off the skills which made him marveled at by NHLers this past World Championship. He played well off of Kampfer (which could be the first pairing in Houston this fall), was defensively responsible and had a few breakout passes. Hell, he even looked to shoot the puck. It was to the point where he got burned at the end of a long shift and that was amazing.
Zack Phillips - Underrated. It's easy to look good when you're on a line with Granlund or Zucker or Coyle but Phillips was one of the great surprises Thursday night. His line wrecked havoc on Team White, forechecking their hearts out in a way the Wild wish they could have last season, did the little things and had a couple great setups despite having Marshall Everson (who played well but is no Zucker) as his left wing. One of those found John Draeger (whose family was sitting below me and cheered loudly) for a 4-1 lead.
While Zack still relies on skating and plays that won't work in the NHL, it's a lot less than last year and the 28th overall pick last year has come a long way.
Charlie Coyle - While it's a scrimmage, he was mostly invisible outside of the occasional scramble along the boards or play with Johan Larsson. Things were so bad that after a five minute stretch in the second half I had to check and make sure Coyle wasn't injured. That's not what you want to see out of a player who led the QMJHL in playoff scoring and highlighted a bigger problem among Team White forwards, a lack of chemistry. Other than Kris Foucault and Tyler Groavac the last 5 minutes, no one seemed to find a rhythm and shows why they struggled in the first half.
(UPDATE: In fairness to Sir Charles, he was around. Coyle scored a late goal on the backdoor from a Foucault pass and picked up an assist. However, between expectations and watching he didn't make the same impact on the ice that he did on the scoresheet.)
Mathew Dumba - Paired with Cody Corbett to form an-all WHL pairing, it was interesting to watch Dumba play a more defensive "rover" role after hearing and reading about his physicality and offensive play. Skating-wise, he's up there with Brodin and can cover a large area but I won't lie, it would have been nice to see some offense go with the skills. Maybe on Sunday...
Tyler Cuma - Did not play. Neither did Marco Scandella (thankfully), Darcy Kuemper, Mario Lucia or A.J. Michaelson.
Jason Zucker - The first half was Zucker Time. Along with scoring the scrimmage's first goal, Zucker used his speed as an advantage, took a couple great shots had unbelievable chemistry with Mikael Granlund and punished Team White's forwards. There were multiple times where an entire shift by the Zucker-Granlund-Fontaine line would be spent in their offensive zone and it's something that he has to be happy with.
Erik Haula - This was closer to mid-season Haula than the "beast mode" he was over the last month of the season and the Gophers center could not get anything going with Bertschy. He was, however, the most defensively-responsible Team White forward.
John Draeger - His family is very nice.
Daniel Gunnarsson - The elusive Daniel Gunnarsson is not so elusive anymore as defensively he wasn't afraid to travel 200 feet. He set up a goal by pinching in and circling the puck behind the goal and was able to use his body to move forwards off the puck on the other end. Yes it helps that outside of Sean Lorenz he's the oldest defenseman there (and Gunnarsson is someone is used to playing against men in the Swedish Elite League) but I still like the cut of his jib.
Christoph Bertschy - After watching Bertschy play, I understand why he slipped to the sixth round. At times the Swiss forward could do whatever he wanted to in the offensive zone and looked like he was playing shinny. However, Bertschy was a different story playing against the boards and defensively where he would be frequently out-muscled and moved around like a traveling trophy. Throw in not clicking with Erik Haula and it was an up-and-down scrimmage.
Louie Nanne - There was some flash, some dazzle but mostly Nanne looked like a high school junior playing against men. It's not a bad thing for the second-youngest player - if anything, he reminded me of Mario Lucia last year - and just goes to show how much of a long-term project the seventh-round pick will be.
Johan Gustafsson - Could have read a book in his half. He did stop Johan Larsson on a penalty shot (Larsson also scored on him for White's only first half goal) but there wasn't much for him to do or be judged. Surprisingly, Matt Hackett got lit up for four goals which is hard to see happening on a regular occasion.
Kyle Medvec - While the Houston Aero got torched by Jason Zucker on Green's first goal, Medvec made up for it in the second half by using his body to shut down Mikael Granlund. That's one to tell the grandkids about.
That's it. If you have a question about a player who wasn't covered, leave it in the comments or ask me on Twitter @gopherstate.