Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Goalies the Focus as Wild Opens Camp

Ilya Bryzgalov denies Chicago’s Patrick Sharp in the Wild’s 4-2 Game 4 win over the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on May 9, 2014. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

 Harding, Kuemper out, Bryzgalov back in as Wild goalie saga continues.

It has been just over four months since the Minnesota Wild left the Xcel Energy Center ice stunned by an unfortunate bounce and the greatness that is Patrick Kane. While changes have since been made, one thing in particular remarkably remains the same.

The Wild opens training camp on Friday with shiny new acquisition Thomas Vanek skating with his new teammates—officially—for the first time. But Vanek will not be sharing the ice with goaltenders Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper as coach Mike Yeo and his staff begin the process of assembling the 2014-15 roster.

That roster may yet include goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who was victimized by Kane’s Game 5 overtime winner which was thought to have ended Bryz’s Wild career after 21 combined regular season and playoff appearances.

Kuemper

Wild G Darcy Kuemper makes one of his 27 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sat. March 22. (MHM Photo/ Jeff Wegge)

But with Darcy Kuemper in the midst of his second lengthy contract battle in as many negotiations with the team and Josh Harding suddenly sidelined indefinitely with a fractured right foot suffered under mysterious circumstances, the Wild’s goaltending, once again, had all the depth of a kiddie pool.

The Minneapolis StarTribune’s Michael Russo reported late Wednesday afternoon that Bryzgalov had accepted a professional tryout contract offer from Minnesota and will arrive on Thursday. This, of course, came as little surprise considering the way Bryz has spent the offseason openly lobbying for a return to the Wild and raving about the organization.

JoshHarding

Wild goaltender Josh Harding makes a save in shutting out New Jersey on Nov. 3, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Bryzgalov, a trade-deadline acquisition last spring, is now in line to back up de facto No. 1 netminder Niklas Backstrom, who at 36-years-old is coming off abdominal and hip surgeries which ended his injury-marred 2013-14 season.  Veteran John Curry and prospect Johan Gustafsson are also expected to compete but the job is essentially Bryzgalov’s to lose pending any progress between the Wild and Kuemper’s camp.

In addition to Vanek, Minnesota’s now 57-man training camp roster features the return of former Wild forward Cody Almond vying for a spot among a much deeper corps of forwards than he skated with in playing 25 games over parts of three seasons from 2009-2012. Vanek, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle are more than a cut above Antti Miettinen, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi.

Look for Almond to compete with Jason Zucker and Stephane Veilleux for the final two forward spots on the roster unless a young prospect emerges.

Local notables up front include Jordan Schroeder, the former Gopher drafted by Vancouver in the first round (No. 22 overall) in 2009 and Rosemount’s Ryan Walters, a UFA who played for Dean Blais at Nebraska Omaha and earned his invitation with six points (3 g, 3 a) in the 2014 Prospect Tournament in Traverse, City, Mich.

The blue line competition is far more interesting with up to six players in contention for what likely are just two open spots. The battle between Christian Folin, John Blum, Justin Falk, Stu Bickel, Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson will be something to keep an eye on as we progress through camp and the preseason games. Any or all of them could easily see at least some NHL action this season.

Players on the roster when Kane scored his series-clinching goal but have since departed include the likes of Dany Heatly (Anaheim), Matt Moulson (Buffalo), Cody McCormick (Buffalo), Nate Prosser (St. Louis), Mike Rupp (UFA) and Clayton Stoner (Anaheim). The physical roles McCormick and Stoner played, particularly at the end of the season, will be the toughest for the Wild to fill.

The Wild’s practices on Saturday, Sept. 20 will be open to the public. Fans can enter through Gate 1 beginning at 8:30 a.m. with practices running until 1 p.m. Concessions will be available. Regular season single-game tickets also go on sale that morning at 10 a.m. exclusively at the Xcel Energy Center box office with web availability on the Wild’s web site and Ticketmaster locations beginning at noon.

Backstrom

The pressure is on for Niklas Backstrom to remain healthy this season. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)