The Minnesota Wild held their second of two inter-squad scrimmages on Sunday night. The teams were split equally and full game rules in place as well as music being pumped into the near-empty arena to make it feel as close to real as possible.
Friday night’s scrimmage was focused more on special teams with the teams practicing in between periods while Sunday was meant to be as close to a real game as they could make it.
Players like Kirill Kaprizov, Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, Nick Bjugstad, Cam Talbot, and Kaapo Kahkonen all were able to showcase what they can bring to the Wild.
Kaprizov Is the Real Deal
Naturally, everyone’s first thought when it comes to the Wild this season will be focused around Kaprizov. Seeing him play in a game-like scenario, he’s everything the organization hoped for so far.
He’s quick, energetic and brings a lot of attention when he’s on the ice. He’s the type of player that doesn’t go unnoticed, and skates with passion and intention. He didn’t tally any points in the final scrimmage, but he had a fair amount of ice time.
He spent the majority of that time on what is suspected to be the number one line for the Wild come Thursday night. That line comprises of Kaprizov, Bjugstad, and Zach Parise.
The three seem to have a lot of chemistry together and work quite well. Their passes clicked and they were able to have some good scoring chances. It’ll be interesting to see what this line can do if it stays together.
Bjugstad Is a Happy Surprise
When Bjugstad was brought to Minnesota in September, many wondered what general manager Bill Guerin was doing. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Bjugstad hadn’t played a game since March of last season when he returned from core muscle surgery.
Seeing his play in the scrimmage, he doesn’t look like someone who hasn’t played an NHL game in almost a year. He appears to be in good shape and is ready to use his big frame on the top line. A surprising fit for the number one line, he’s been centering Kaprizov and Parise most of training camp.
He has the speed and agility to keep up with the two of them, as well as being able to muscle his way around to get to the front of the net or set up one of his linemates. Bjugstad has easily been one of the biggest surprises for the Wild so far, coming back from an injury and a long time away from the ice, as long as he stays healthy he may stay on the top line for a while.
Kahkonen Shows Promise
With Minnesota trading former number one goaltender Devan Dubnyk to the San Jose Sharks during the offseason, there’s an open spot for a new starting goaltender. Many believe that spot will go to newcomer Cam Talbot due to his veteran experience, but the rookie Kahkonen may put up a fight for the spot.
The young goaltender made his debut for the Wild in December of the 2019-2020 season playing in five games, winning three and losing two. He looked very capable during the scrimmage and seems poised for a chance at the top spot if not a steady backup.
He did win the American Hockey League’s award for outstanding goaltender last season and looks to prove that he earned that title by snatching a spot in the NHL lineup sooner rather than later.
Veterans Stand Tall
Parise, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon all played to their expected caliber for an inter-squad scrimmage. They were skating hard, making crisp passes and helping the younger players get adjusted.
Talbot may not be a veteran to the Wild’s lineup, but his NHL experience makes him a master between the pipes. He was able to get some time in net during the scrimmage and showed what his potential may be if chosen to be the number one goaltender.
Jonas Brodin is another player who is still making his way in the Wild’s lineup, but has played enough to be considered a veteran presence. He was paired with new captain Spurgeon while Matt Dumba tried out a new pairing with Suter. The combos seemed to work well and may be used during the season as well to change things up.
Louie Belpedio Making His Presence Known
Out of all the rookies who joined the Wild’s training camp, a couple of names were heard repeatedly. One being Kaprizov, of course, and the other being defenseman Louie Belpedio.
He did play in three games so far for the Wild, one game in the 2017-18 season and the other two in 2018-19. He didn’t get any time in during the 2019-20 season, but he looks to change that for 2020-21.
During the scrimmage, his name was said often and he did make some noticeable plays that may have been good enough to get his name locked in on the roster especially since the Wild still need another defenseman. With Brodin, Suter, Spurgeon, Dumba, and most likely Brad Hunt making up the core of the defense that leaves one spot up for grabs. It could go to Carson Soucy, Greg Pateryn, or Belpedio.
With his flashes of speed and ability to break to the net, Belpedio may have a chance to crack the lineup, if not right away, then at some point throughout the season.
While it may have just been a scrimmage amongst themselves with nothing on the line but maybe some bragging points, it was a chance for the Wild to try and get the feel of what the season may bring. Everything will be different once again and it’ll be something the teams will need to get used to quickly.
As for the Wild, during their scrimmage they looked as good as to be expected with the shortened and somewhat rushed training camp. They were moving at a quick pace and seemed to be getting along well.
One issue they need to work on is making crisp, clean passes and not let themselves be rushed into turning the puck over in front of their own net. The first line seemed the most successful with connecting on their passes. The chemistry among the top line was what was most impressive.
Kaprizov and Parise worked well together, but Bjugstad in the middle is the real shocker. He fit in like he’d been playing with the two of them for years. If they can keep that chemistry going in real games, they’ll hopefully score a lot of goals.
Overall, there are minor things here and there that need to be worked out, but as the season gets underway they’ll take care of themselves. The Wild look ready and poised to have what will hopefully be a healthy and great season ahead.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.