Summer time for athletes of most sports not named baseball it is the offseason. Back in the day, especially for NHL'ers, the summer time was work time, literally. Before players were routinely making six and seven-figure salaries they used the summer to make some extra cash. Players had to work all kinds of odd summer jobs just to tide them over before the NHL season resumed in the fall. Very few players worked out in the modern sense or even skated during that time. They were carpenters, working at golf courses and they were not just there to garner celebrity attention. They were working like most us average everyday people out there. Oh how things have changed. Even for high school athletes, summer is spent being a part of calculated strength and conditioning programs. These same high school athletes skate and play hockey year-round. They are going to camps were they are refining their skills in intense drills. Now, is any of this absolutely required? For the most part its not, it is simply expected. Whether you're a professional or a high school athlete coaches most likely will not tell their players they have to be at a camp. Yet, the players know the coaches will demand that they be training in the offseason.
Are any of these players ready to play in the NHL or should they stick to preparing NHL-like meals?
Its all about what is said and what's not being said. Its not always subtle in the way that is communicated. It could be plastered all over the wall in the form of flyers as in the case of a high school athlete or perhaps its a statement made by a coach or general manager made to the media like Todd Richards tossed out a few years ago. Most of the time the players are savvy enough to get the message and do what is expected. Yet, every now and then a player will either ignore those messages and show up to the opening of training camp out of shape (cough Guillaume Latendresse cough). In the Wild's most recent development camp which wrapped up last weekend the team made sure certain messages were being disseminated to the fans. But what were the Wild saying without actually saying so as well as what should they have said?
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What they were saying…
1. "This is not an evaluation." - One thing that was repeated over and over by Wild coaches and management is that the camp was not an evaluation of any kind. They said the entire goal of the camp was to develop the skills of the players, emphasizing skating, stick skills and their understanding of proper strength training and nutrition. This is backed up by the players attending media training, leadership discussion, power skating drills, nutrition and cooking seminars.
What they should've said…
Of course we're evaluating our prospects at this camp. Afterall, the players all go through fitness testing. A test of any kind is an evaluation. You can't tell me that if a player came to fitness testing out of shape or was weaker than he was last year that the organization would not make some sort of judgement on such an event. Why lie to our faces and say this is not an evaluation. Of course it is. It may not be a place where you feel guys earn a spot on the roster, etc but it certainly may make management wonder if a prospect is really ready to challenge for a spot on the big club. So please, at least fess up to what Development Camp really is. Its not some hockey camp you sign up for, you're invited, and you're invited for a reason.
2. "Erik Haula had a great camp" – No player got nearly as much kudos for his performance at camp as the former Golden Gopher who was his team's leading scorer the last two seasons. Haula demonstrated experience, speed, and creativity that really set him apart from fellow Wild draftees and the invitees. Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said that Haula performed very well and looked very motivated (funny, that sounds like an evaluative statement to me) at camp while attributing some of that due to his maturity due to the fact he's 22-years old.
What they should've said…
Erik Haula realizes the time is now for him to make a push for a roster spot and used the camp to give management something to ponder a bit. Haula, is a skilled and versatile forward can play on the wing or at center. Especially as Mikael Granlund still appears to need time to adjust his game to the quicker pace of play found in North America. The 2nd line center spot sort of penciled in for Charlie Coyle, Haula can perhaps shake up that mix with a strong training camp. The former 7th round pick has great creativity with the puck but also has the ability to finish on his own as well and considering Coyle's lack of experience in the NHL playing center and Granlund's struggles in that very spot the opportunity is there for Haula to make his mark. They should've also admitted this team needs Erik Haula to step up and take that 2nd line center spot in my opinion to save the team's embarassment that Coyle and Granlund can't do the job.
What they didn't say but they should have…
1. "Don't expect much from the kids this year" - The Wild's insistence that this is not an evlauation camp has the hidden meaning of asking fans to temper their expectations for this group of prospects. Perhaps still reeling a bit from Mikael Granlund's epic failure to live up to the hype, the club doesn't want to put too much buzz behind its young players. The incredibly 'deep' Wild prospect pool does not have really all that many young kids that are ready to make the jump this season. Granlund likely still needs more seasoning in the minors and the prospects that will be there like Zack Phillips, Johan Gustafsson, Darcy Kuemper, Brett Bulmer and the aforementioned Erik Haula will likely be kept in Iowa to ripen and develop. Last season the Wild wanted fans to think that the team had a huge host of talent on the farm just waiting to jump in the lineup. That is less likely to happen this season. Beyond the AHL, only Mathew Dumba seems to be close to having a realistic shot at making the big club but more on that a bit later. Young players like Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker will try to prove they belong in the NHL this season and quite frankly the Wild needs most of them to have great seasons. So far the team is being pretty quiet about the youngsters even though they will be leaning on them that much more this year.
Does Mathew Dumba really have a chance to make the team?
Well, if you listen to Dumba he's certainly going to do all that he can to make the team. In a few different articles, like this one posted on NHL.com Dumba expresses a strong desire to make the team this season. Well, no real shock there. A young kid would rather play in the NHL rather than play in major junior where he'd have to play because he's not old enough to be dispatched to the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa. So what are his chances?
If I had to wager (70-30) I'd say he's probably not going to make the team out of training camp. Despite the fact he'd bring a physical game that is unique to the Wild's blueline, I do not think this team really wants to rush Dumba even if his penchant for dishing out an open ice hit and offensive skills might help a little. The team added an extra veteran in Jonathan Blum a little over a week ago and I think that in itself was a response to wanting to have the depth to call up a player who has previous NHL experience. Apart from Dumba's skillset, the other area that does work in his favor a bit is that the teams defense is probably the most suspect part of the team beyond Norris trophy candidate Ryan Suter and soon-to-be-NHL sophomore Jonas Brodin. So as I mentioned with Haula before, if Dumba performs well at camp and shines in the pre-season he might make the Wild think twice before sending him back to the WHL.
Thurs. October 3rd vs. Los Angeles** – 7PM
Sat. October 5th vs. Anaheim – 7PM
Tues. October 8th @ Nashville – 7PM
Thurs. October 10th vs. Winnipeg – 7PM
Sat. October 12th vs. Dallas – 7PM
Mon. October 14th @ Buffalo** – 6:30PM
Tues. October 15th @ Toronto – 6:00PM
Thurs. October 17th @ Tampa Bay – 6:30PM
Sat. October 19th @ Florida – 6:00PM
Tues. October 22nd vs. Nashville** – 7PM
Thurs. October 24th vs. Carolina – 7PM
Sat. October 26th @ Chicago – 7PM
Mon. October 28th vs. Chicago – 7PM
Fri. November 1st vs. Montreal – 7PM
Sun. November 3rd vs. New Jersey – 7PM
Tues. November 5th vs. Calgary – 7PM
Thurs. November 7th @ Washington – 6PM
Sat. November 9th @ Carolina – 6PM
Wed. November 13th vs. Toronto – 6:30PM
Fri. November 15th vs. Florida – 7PM
Sun. November 17th vs. Winnipeg – 7PM
Tues. November 19th @ Montreal – 6:30PM
Wed. November 20th @ Ottawa – 6:30PM
Sat. November 23rd @ Winnipeg – 2:00PM
Mon. November 25th @ St. Louis** – 7PM
Wed. November 27th vs. Phoenix – 7PM
Fri. November 29th vs. Colorado – 5PM
Sat. November 30th @ Colorado – 8PM
Mon. December 2nd vs. Philadelphia** – 7PM
Thurs. December 5th vs. Chicago*** – 7PM
Fri. December 6th @ Columbus – 6PM
Sun. December 8th vs. San Jose – 5PM
Wed. December 11th @ Anaheim – 9PM
Thurs. December 12th @ San Jose – 9:30PM
Sat. December 14th @ Colorado – 8PM
Tues. December 17th vs. Vancouver – 7PM
Thurs. December 19th @ Pittsburgh** – 6PM
Sun. December 22nd @ NY Rangers – 6:30PM
Mon. December 23rd @ Philadelphia*** – 6:30PM
Fri. December 27th @ Winnipeg – 7PM
Sun. December 29th vs. NY Islanders – 7PM
Tues. December 31st vs St. Louis – 5PM
Thurs. January 2nd vs. Buffalo – 7PM
Sat. January 4th vs. Washington – 7PM
Tues. January 7th @ Los Angeles – 9:30PM
Thurs. January 9th @ Phoenix – 8PM
Sat. January 11th vs. Colorado – 7PM
Sun. January 12th @ Nashville – 6PM
Tues. January 14th vs. Ottawa – 7PM
Thurs. January 16th vs. Edmonton – 7PM
Sat. January 18th vs. Dallas – 8PM
Tues. January 21st @ Dallas** – 7PM
Thurs. January 23rd vs. Chicago – 7PM
Sat. January 25th @ San Jose – 9:30PM
Tues. January 28th @ Anaheim – 9PM
Thurs. January 30th @ Colorado – 8PM
Sat. February 1st @ Calgary*** – 9PM
Tues. February 4th vs. Tampa Bay – 7PM
Thurs. February 6th vs. Nashville – 7PM
Thurs. February 27th @ Edmonton – 8:30PM
Fri. February 28th @ Vancouver – 9PM
Mon. March 3rd vs. Calgary – 7PM
Sat. March 8th @ Dallas*** – 7PM
Sun. March 9th vs. St. Louis – 7PM
Tues. March 11th vs. Edmonton – 7PM
Thurs. March 13th vs. NY Rangers*** – 7PM
Sat. March 15th vs. Columbus – 7PM
Mon. March 17th @ Boston** – 6:30PM
Tues. March 18th @ NY Islanders – 6PM
Thurs. March 20th @ New Jersey*** – 6PM
Sat. March 22nd vs. Detroit*** – 1PM
Sun. March 23rd @ Detroit** – 6:30PM
Wed. March 26th vs. Vancouver – 6:30PM
Thurs. March 27th @ St. Louis – 7PM
Sat. March 29th @ Phoenix – 8PM
Mon. March 31st @ Los Angeles** – 9PM
Thurs. April 3rd @ Chicago** – 7PM
Sat. April 5th vs. Pittsburgh – 7PM
Mon. April 7th @ Winnipeg – 7PM
Tues. April 8th vs. Boston – 7PM
Thurs. April 10th vs. St. Louis – 7PM
Sun. April 13th vs. Nashville – 7PM
**- Games broadcast on NBC Sports Network
***- Games broadcast on NHL Network
The schedule certainly shows the benefits of the Wild being realigned to the Central Division. Instead of playing over a quarter of its games at 8PM or later the Wild has just 15 games that begin at 8PM or later (18.2%). This means Wild fans can get to bed sooner and it also has resulted in the fact the team is being placed on national television a bit more as well. The Wild have 16 games either being broadcast on NBC Sports Network or the NHL Network and part of this national coverage includes a 3-game span where they are on national networks from March 20th-thru-March 23rd.
The team has more lengthy road trips than it did in the shortened 2012-13 season. It has four 4-game road trips, with the last one coming in late March. Here are some other games of note.
Thursday, October 10th vs. Winnipeg – This will the first game the Wild play Winnipeg as Division rivals. It will probably serve as a strong indicator of what to expect in terms of Winnipeg's fans presence at games played in Minnesota. I expect it to be rowdy and considerable but we'll see if it lives up to those expectations.
Monday, October 14th @ Buffalo – The Wild's Jason Pomniville travels to play his former team for the first time since being traded last season. Buffalo fans had mixed views of Pominville, who served as the team's captain and it will be interesting to see what sort of reception he receives.
Saturday, January 18th vs. Dallas – Hockey Day Minnesota, which will be hosted in Elk River and culminate in this rivalry game against the Stars.
Thursday, March 20th @ New Jersey – This game will mark the return of Zach Parise to New Jersey since the Wild signed him as a free agent last summer. After a rough summer where Ilya Kovalchuk bailed on the team by his retirement and his subsequent signing in the Kontinental Hockey League may make for a quite hostile environment in New Jersey. Parise's departure certainly was a part of the 15-year contract they tendered (originally a 17-year pact before the NHL intervened) to Kovalchuk. Yet that anger for Kovalchuk might be vented at Parise's return.