By: Brandon Mileski | KFAN.com
The Minnesota Wild begin training camp today at Ridder Arena. With veterans Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard now gone, an influx of young players will be counted on to help the Wild improve from last year’s playoff team.
The biggest storyline during this training camp and preseason will be the 2nd line center position. Matt Cullen had a great season in that spot last year, tallying 7 goals and 20 assists in 42 games. There will be many players vying for that coveted spot. Charlie Coyle recorded 8 goals and 6 assists last season, mostly as a wing on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Coyle has had plenty of experience playing up the middle though, and could find himself back at the center position. Mikael Granlund, the Wild’s first round selection in 2010, had a disappointing season last year with just 2 goals and 6 assists in 27 games. He spent a good portion of the season in Houston playing for the AHL affiliate, but still has the talent to win the #2 center spot. If he improved his feet and his strength during this offseason, he could win the job. The Wild just gave a tryout invite to faceoff wizard David Steckel. At 6-6, Steckel could bring some much needed size to the Wild lineup. Two other players who could surprise, both had success in the WCHA. Erik Haula scored 51 points for the University of Minnesota Gophers last season and impressed at the Prospects Camp this summer. Former UMD Bulldog and National Champion Justin Fontaine had a great season for AHL Houston last year, tallying 56 points in 64 games, and could be a dark horse to make this team.
On top of the 2nd line center spot, line combinations could be a fluid situation during this preseason and during the season. Head Coach Mike Yeo has indicated he will try a lot of different line combinations and it will be interesting to see how long he sticks with Zack Parise and Mikko Koivu on a line together, after what appeared to be chemistry issues last season.
The Wild’s first preseason game is Tuesday, September 17 vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7pm at Xcel Energy Center and can be heard on your home for Minnesota Wild hockey, FM 100.3 KFAN.
Brandon Mileski can be heard weekdays noon-3pm and can be followed on twitter @BMileskiKFAN