As the calendar turned to the new year, the Minnesota Wild and the rest of the NHL began training camp this past week in preparation for their opening games on Jan. 13 and 14. Now that we’ve had a glimpse of what lines, units and goalies look like in these training camp practices, there are a few topics for discussion that we can begin to think about as we inch closer to the beginning of the regular season.
Here are a few to ponder as we sit one week away:
Center position will be a constant shuffle
The prevailing assumption was that Marcus Johansson would be the Wild’s top-line center heading into training camp. As camp opened, head coach Dean Evason moved Johansson to the wing where he enjoyed previous success in his career. That leaves Minnesota with Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Victor Rask at center.
Heading into the season with only those four in the middle would be quite a bold move.
Is there a roster spot waiting for Marco Rossi?
Now that the World Junior Championships are completed, 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi has arrived in the Twin Cities and is currently going through his mandatory seven-day quarantine. With the current center depth chart early in camp, does this mean that Rossi would be given a prominent spot in the lineup once he is ready to go?
The Wild can play Rossi up to seven games this season — it would be 10 in a regular 82-game season — before they have to decide if they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract. With the Wild lacking a true top centerman, Rossi’s potential, and the quality of competition (or lack thereof from some teams in the, ahem, Honda West Division), it is theoretically possible to see Rossi getting significant playing time throughout the season for Minnesota.
Would Evason consider a four-wing power play?
As reported in The Athletic, Zach Parise has been practicing taking faceoffs with former Wild player and current coach Darby Hendrickson in the early proceedings of camp. The team’s top power-play unit would consist of Parise, Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov at forward, along with Ryan Suter and team captain Jared Spurgeon on the point.
But as the NHL starts to shift power-play tactics to having four or even FIVE forwards on the power play, would the Wild consider rolling with a four-forward top unit where all are primarily wings? Or perhaps, would they roll with four forwards and Rossi, a center, once he gets up to speed with the team?
Those are questions worth pondering as the season draws closer.
Wild will need the defense to pick up where it left off
For what seems to be the first time in a long time, the Wild have a healthy Greg Pateryn to open camp, and therefore, their blueline is at full capacity entering the season. Minnesota will need to rely on their ever so stingy defense to pick up where it left off the past few seasons in terms of expected goals, especially in the early part of the season where their forward lines might struggle should they need to make changes to try and find the right combinations.
The Wild open up the season with eight games against teams that did not make the playoff bubble in August, an advantage for their top defense.