The Minnesota Wild enter their 2010 training camp with several familiar names missing from last season, most notably Owen Nolan and Derek Boogaard, who received a WHA-ridiculous pay increase from the New York Rangers, who have apparently not heard of the NHL salary cap.
With the vast majority of the roster returning from last seasons 38-36-8 club, which missed out on the playoffs by 11 points and five places in the standings, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of optimism among the local fanbase that the 2010-11 edition has a lot of upward potential.
The Wild can expect the usual production from team captain Mikko Koivu, who led the club with 71 points (24th in the NHL) and will hope for consistent output from the 37-year-old Andrew Brunette, who has only had two seasons under 50 points this century.
Guillaume Latendresse can be expected to take a leap forward starting the season in familiar and comfortable surroundings for the first time in his career.
Aside from Koivu, the other centers will be the Wild’s most notable free agent signing in 2010, Minnesota native Matt Cullen, 37-year-old John Madden, one of the many departures from the Chicago Blackhawks who is now entering the “veteran in the twilight of his career new team every season” phase, and returnee Kyle Brodziak. The additions of Cullen and Madden should greatly improve the weakest position for the Wild the previous two seasons.
With Brunette, Latendresse and free agent signing Eric Nystrom set at left wing, the Wild are hoping against hope that Pierre-Marc Bouchard can return from missing all but three minutes of last season with the effects of a concussion. Still, Bouchard has now been away from hockey for a year and a half and even if up to speed, has never scored more than 63 points in a season, and that was when paired with the talent of Brian Rolston. Recent news has Bouchard travelling to Denver for tests to see if he can be cleared for contact. Even so, it might be a long shot for Bouchard to start the season with the team.
Martin Havlat, Antti Miettinen and super-pest Cal Clutterbuck are joined by Chuck Kobasew as all four return at right wing this season plus the addition of Brad Staubitz, who is expected to replace some of the muscle provided by the departed Boogaard with the addition of some offensive production completely absent in The Boogeyman’s game.
For the Wild to contend for a playoff spot however, depends on career years from Miettinen and Havlat, who must simply improve upon his 54 points last season, down 23 from the year before while in Chicago.
James Sheppard, rushed to the NHL before he was prepared and ready back in 2007, and already on double-secret probation thanks to his 49 points in three seasons, most likely made the Wild’s decision to not award him with a roster spot by sadly taking himself out of action with an ATV accident that shattered his left kneecap and will sideline him for at least three months.
The Wild’s defense looks fairly set with returnees Marek Zidlcky, Nick Schultz, Brent Burns (who can hopefully stay injury-free after missing 58 games the last two seasons), workhorse Greg Zanon and Cam Barker.
The departure of Shane Hnidy does open up a place for one newcomer, most likely Clayton Stoner, who has five seasons of AHL experience. Tyler Cuma, Nate Prosser or Marco Scandella, all of whom would benefit from some time in Houston will compete for the final defensive roster spot.
In goal, look for the tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding to return, although Harding struggled with his confidence last season on his way to a 9-12 record and could be pushed by Kazakh Anton Khudobin, who posted a 2.43 goals against average in 40 games with the Houston Aeros of the AHL.
The most interesting competition for the remaining forward spot will likely come down to centers Cody Almond and the dynamic Casey Wellman, who impressed in 12 late season games after finishing his college career at UMass. Warren Peters and Robbie Earl, who bounced between Houston and Minnesota last season, also hope to be in contention. While we think Wellman is the best of the lot, the Wild probably will assign him to Houston to get some substantial playing time to continue his development., but when injuries happen, expect to see him in a Wild sweater at some point this season.
The Wild will be having an Open House scrimmage at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, September 19th at 10:00 AM for your first live look at the 2010-11 Wild roster.