Sunday, the day where millions of Americans settle down in their living rooms to watch the action on football fields all across the country. The weekly nature of the National Football league makes each game its own unique kind of spectacle with a huge buildup of discussion, emotions and speculation for each game. Perhaps I'm different, instead of turning on Fox Sports to watch the Minnesota Vikings I went onto Wild.com to watch the Team White vs. Team Green scrimmage. Although with the sad and pathetic comedy of errors of the Fox broadcast it doesn't sound like I missed much. NHL training camps opened this week and next week the pre-season play will start to heat up. A lot of questions loom for a team with high hopes and expectations to live up to.
As a football coach, I must admit its tough to try to focus on another sport at this time. So I'm here to kick the tires and try to wake up those football slumbering Wild fans out there. Last year, with the lockout the Wild didn't really have time to answer any questions and had to find solutions on the fly during the course of the season. This time the team will have the time to make some adjustments and players will really have the chance to battle for roster spots.
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Team White prevailed 3-2 over Team Green in front of about 3,000 fans at Xcel Energy Center. The scrimmage was the first opportunity to see some of the Wild's new faces in the closest thing to game action since the playoffs last spring. You can read the Minneapolis-Star Tribune's Michael Russo's post scrimmage report here. So I came up with some questions one can have about training camp as well as how those questions related to today's scrimmage.
Does Mathew Dumba really have a chance to make the team?
1. Who is going to round out the Wild's defense? Minnesota's blueline has a lot of potential for some significant shakeups as there is a log jam of players battling for that final spot. Incumbant Nate Prosser will try to hold off Jonathan Blum and talented youngster Mathew Dumba who doesn't want to return to major junior this year. After watching the scrimmage, you have to think the Wild coaching staff were pleased with the play of Jon Landry who made the subtle plays that you'd expect from a 30-year old veteran. The competition should bring out the best in all that are involved. I think Dumba's offensive ability could be the x-factor in whether or not the team decides to keep him. Marco Scandella, who I thought was rather ordinary in the scrimmage could fid himself the odd man out if he struggles in camp and pre-season games. Prosser is on a one-way contract, but with one year left I could see the team place him on waivers if they really feel Dumba is able to make the jump to be in 'the Show.'
Will Wild fans see a 'new & improved' Dany Heatley?
2. Where will the secondary scoring come from? With the Wild seeming to opt to put all its top players on one line, as Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville worked together during the scrimmage. The Wild's biggest hope for secondary scoring is a new trim and svelte Dany Heatley who has been rehabbing his shoulder and dropping somewhere between 15-20lbs in the process. In the scrimmage, Heatley looked a little faster and crisper moving and up and down the ice. He won't be confused for being Torrey Mitchell in terms of his speed, but a more mobile version of Heatley should help him get into scoring position and the Wild need a productive winger on that 2nd line. Another player the Wild could use some offensive punch from is Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter exhibited some decent quickness and puck protection as well as deciveness with the puck. I like how he immediately took the puck to the net on the power play. Another person the team needs to see take his offensive game to another level is Charlie Coyle. Coyle played ok working on the top line last season, but now he's trying to be a 2nd line center. Coyle rang a shot off the crossbar in the 1st period. Jason Zucker, who appears to have lots to prove to the Wild coaching staff if you listen to what Mike Yeo seems to be saying is another possibility. I would not have tossed out this name a few weeks ago but Matt Cooke might be an option. Cooke chipped in a goal and an assist in the teams' scrimmage today and always seemed to make good things happen in the offensive zone. The line of MIkael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine was also very pesky in the scrimmage. Fontaine is a player that hasn't been given an NHL shot yet and posseses great quickness and creativity as well the ability to finish. He might be a nice dark horse candidate to earn a spot on the team. Granlund looked a little quicker and perhaps just as importantly calmer and more poised than he did last year. Zucker earned two lazy stick penalties which won't endear him to the coaching staff but he also buried a goal too.
3. Can Keith Ballard revive his game with the Wild? If the scrimmage was any indicator Keith Ballard seemed to be more comfortable his own zone unlike the way he was with the Canucks. He was stepping in well and pulling the trigger on his big shot. I think if he can be a stalwart on the 2nd pairing he can help spare Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin from logging the mega minutes that they did last season. Brodin also exhibited a bit more offensive flare as he took his chances to unleash shots on goal.
4. How did the goaltenders look? I thought all of the goaltenders looked pretty good today. The goals that were given up were quality chances and for the most part their rebound control was ok and they seemed to work well enough with their defenseman, some of whom they had minimal experience with. Obviously, the offense did not execute at the level of the regular season yet but the team certainly has some good options. NIklas Backstrom is still the #1 goalie, backed up by Josh Harding but I think it will be a good battle in the minors between Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson for the top spot in Iowa.
5. Fantasy Hockey help? The player who I think fantasy teams should wait in the later rounds for is Jason Pominville. I think he looks hungry and primed to have a huge season; especially if he stays on the top line with Koivu and Parise. Pominville is in a contract year and I think he'll generate a lot of points and I think he'll have a good chance to top 30 goals. Parise is an obvious choice and if your league gives you points for shots you definitely should try to get the fiesty Wild forward. Ryan Suter is a decent selection as your #2 pick for a defenseman. I don't think he'll ever have a ton of goals but he gets a lot of points by osmosis from playing so many minutes. Beyond that, the Wild do not have much in the way of quality and (most importantly) reliable help for your fantasy team.