The Minnesota Wild opened the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament Friday with an afternoon game against the Dallas Stars. They enter the weekend with the most offensively gifted roster they’ve had at the tournament in years.
But it wasn’t enough Friday, as they fell to the prospect team from the Dallas Stars 3-1 on a pair of goals from Cole Ully and a strong performance by goaltender Philippe Desrosiers, who made some big saves, including a break from 2015 first-round draft pick Joel Eriksson Ek.
Olofsson is clearly the top of the class for the Wild’s defense in Michigan. Paired with Gustav Bouramman, whose future is still unclear, they were clearly the best pairing for the Wild. Even as the Wild struggled to control play early, it was clear this pairing was a step up from the others the Wild brought to Michigan. Olofsson scored the Wild’s lone goal in the first period when he received the puck at the point, took a couple steps in toward his check and found the gap in traffic to be Desrosiers.
Unfortunately, Olofsson had to leave the game in the second period with a knee injury. The Star Tribune’s Michael Russo reports the team hopes it is a “mild MCL sprain,” but the severity isn’t clear at this point. Olofsson is done for the tournament, but they do not believe this is a long-term injury.
Hopefully that’s true because Olofsson has had a tough run of injuries since turning pro. His first pro season was non-existent because of an early-season shoulder injury that took him out for all but one game. He got more time last year and was key for the Iowa Wild when healthy, but again had his season cut short by a shoulder injury in February.
Now this. While the severity isn’t known, it is known that the Wild have a precarious situation on the blue line. They have a few promising prospects they’re waiting to step up and take an opportunity. Particularly with the ever-looming possibility of the team trading away one of their top-four defenders for more offensive firepower. That loomed large last season and that talk could easily surface again with the expansion draft on the horizon and the most likely scenario being that the Wild can only protect three of their talented top-four. They could wind up trading one of those defenseman away rather than losing a valuable defender for nothing in the expansion draft. Getting a good look at all defensive prospects early in the year could make that process a little easier.
Michalek, one of two goaltenders the Wild brought to Traverse City, was injured and left the game at the start of the third period. Dan Myers, of the Wild’s official site, reports that it was a leg cramp that took Michalek out of the game. The team expects him to be fine.
Both Michalek and Hungarian free agent signee Adam Vay had a good game against a quite offensively gifted Stars roster. Michalek stopped 21 of 23 shots and Vay stopped all nine shots he faced. Vay was slated to start Saturday’s game regardless of the Michalek injury, so, for now, things are proceeding as planned with Michalek expected to back up Vay Saturday.
The Wild’s second line played well for the most part. With Adam Gilmour departing Boston College to join the Wild — and missing Development Camp — it was an early look at how he can work with the players in the Iowa.
He had a solid defensive game, making a few intelligent plays and backchecking hard. It wasn’t a flashy game for him or his linemates, but they were consistent and were a challenge for the Stars in all three zones. That’s not bad for a line that features two players coming out of their college career with next to no professional experience.
Christoph Bertschy had a promising rookie year with Iowa last season and even made his NHL debut. He looked like a veteran player on the ice Friday. Particularly late in the game, Bertschy was buzzing and was showing signs that he could take another big step forward in his sophomore campaign.
This is the same top-line group the Wild had together at Development Camp, where they dominated. It was nice to see them together against something closer to AHL competition. They weren’t as dominant, spending time against the top Dallas lines, including an experienced line of Ully, Devin Shore and Remi Elie.
Despite having some struggles, they still showed off their talent. The line moved the puck well, particularly in transition, and had a majority of the team’s best opportunities. Eriksson Ek was stopped on a breakaway and both he and Tuch rang a shot off the post late in the second.
“I think I got the nerves out of me after the first period,” Tuch told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale, “every time I step on the ice I have eyes on me, so I have a lot to prove.”
After Olofsson and Bouramman, the Wild defense struggled. Nick Seeler had some good moments, but Nolan Zajac, Hunter Warner and Braydyn Chizen generally had trouble with the fast Dallas attack. Hesitation on pinches, forcing passes in the neutral zone and poor reads of the pressure in the defensive zone that resulted in sloppy or broken breakouts were more or less the norm.
Just like at Development Camp, Petan made his presence felt. It’s still not clear that he would succeed in the NHL, but the intelligence of the reigning WCHA Player of the Year is clear. He backchecks hard and is constantly doing smart things without the puck, though size remains an issue that could stand in his way.
Petan is currently without a contract and is playing for the team on an invite. The Iowa Wild forward group is very crowded for the coming season with a huge group of incoming players bound for Iowa, but Petan continues to show signs that he could be a useful player in Iowa.
They play for this in Traverse City pic.twitter.com/nJobPArdg1
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) September 17, 2016