NHL training camps open this week. What to expect from the Minnesota Wild in the next three weeks?
A few things:
1. Very spirited competition, the likes of which head coach Mike Yeo never had last season. Yeo, not unlike most NHL head coaches, hated last season's 48-game 'shotgun start' regular season. The fact is that the Wild never had a real opportunity, after the lockout was settled to sort out all the talent on the roster to see who was NHL ready, and who wasn't.
2. The end of an era for some players? Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma, and a few others on the first wave of the 'bandwagon of youth' need to figure their games out. And quickly. Because, there's others coming up thru the system to push these 'older' players aside. Scandella especially, as he already has had two cracks at the big time, and hasn't made the most of those chances. Time to either step up or pack up, Marco.
3. Will the new talent help finally take the Wild to the next level? The first full season of Jason Pominville. Minnesotan Keith Ballard quietly trying to rebuild his career after having been signed as a UFA after a stint with the Sedins in Vancouver. And then, there's the man you really love to hate, Matt Cooke. (I still can't believe he is a member of the Minnesota Wild.)
4. Will the real Mikael Granlund please finally step up? The most-hyped Euro in five seasons didn't live up to the lofty expectations that Minnesota fans put upon his young shoulders last season. Hopefully, the grind which was a season in the AHL last year will put some of the hunger back, into a young man who's been spoon-fed a bit much in the last three years.
And, speaking of the farm club...
5. Will the Wild take full advantage of having their farm team less than 250 miles away from St. Paul? By the Alexanders not renegotiating a proper lease in Houston, the Aeros have moved to the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa for 2013-14. Renamed the 'Iowa Wild', the club is only a 3-hour drive from the 'X', which is both good and bad. Good for the 'big club' as they have ready access for help, when they are at home. Bad for that Des Moines is not a hub for any major airline, unlike Houston's Bush Intercontinental. Getting players up to the Minnesota Wild roster when the parent club is on a long road trip will be a real challenge; all moves will have to be made either via MSP (on Delta) or Chicago (American, United).
The logistics of call-ups and send-downs are somewhat daunting, especially when you consider that the final destination is, indeed, Des Moines. Not exactly a hot spot for anything, unlike the hustle and bustle of Houston, the largest city in the US without a pro hockey franchise on any level. Should make for interesting conversations in the Des Moines Register between Iowa Hawkeye and ISU Cyclones seasons.
So what happens next? We'll all find out together, starting on Thursday. So hang on for the ride.