Wild opt to go with youth, for now
By Chad GraffSt. Paul Pioneer Press ST. PAUL -- It would have been easy for the Wild to send their talented young players to the minors for more seasoning. While the big league club started its 2014-15 season, Jason Zucker, Christian Folin and Ma...
By Chad Graff
St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL - It would have been easy for the Wild to send their talented young players to the minors for more seasoning.
While the big league club started its 2014-15 season, Jason Zucker, Christian Folin and Matt Dumba could have gotten more time in the system and learned to play major roles for AHL Iowa until injury or demotion demanded their participation.
It would have been a no-brainer, except that Zucker, 22, Folin, 23, and Dumba, 20, all earned big-league jobs.
“Those guys have come in and had very strong camps,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We gave them the opportunity to succeed, and we also gave them the opportunity to fail, and they went obviously in the (right) direction.”
In an upset, the three youngsters beat out veterans for roster spots Monday when the Wild got down to the NHL maximum of 23 in advance of Thursday’s season opener against Colorado.
“I’m definitely excited,” Zucker said. “It was a big goal of mine to be here. But the work is just getting started.”
Forwards Cody Almond and Stephane Veilleux were placed on waivers, Justin Fontaine was placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury, and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was released from his tryout. Earning the final spot was Ryan Carter, a free-agent forward from White Bear Lake who signed a one-year, two-way contract Monday.
Yeo’s message to Zucker, Folin and Dumba, though, was the same one he had for those who didn’t make the opening-night roster:
“There’s usually nothing final about final cuts,” Yeo said.
The Wild’s decision to keep Folin and Dumba means veterans Keith Ballard and Nate Prosser will start the season as the odd men out on the blue line. It makes no sense, Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher have said, to keep a young player on a two-way deal in the NHL just so he can sit in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Yeo, in fact, said there is “a very good possibility” that Folin and Dumba will be paired against the Avalanche.
Folin, 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, was solid on the back end, good in the offensive zone, and showed he can move the puck up the ice during the preseason. Dumba, while not as big (6-0, 189) or consistent, showed a game-changing ability offensively, with one goal among his five preseason points.
“It’s a little bit of a relief, but ... there’s still a long ways to go,” Folin said.
But because of their youth, the three youngsters have a slim margin for error. If anyone slips out of the top six for an extended period he’ll likely be sent to Iowa, where he will be guaranteed big minutes.
“They had good camps, so they should be proud of that,” Yeo said. “But this is the same message that I’ll give them: Every day is a new day, and you should feel real good about being here, but you have to make sure that you stay here.”
Zucker and Chanhassen’s Stu Bickel, 28, were the last forwards to make the team out of camp.
Zucker was one of the final players cut a year ago but made his mark during a call-up in January and February, when the Wild rallied back into the playoff hunt. His season was cut short, however, by knee surgery.
He is penciled in to open the season on the fourth line after a strong camp that included one preseason goal.
Yeo compared Zucker to Nino Niederreiter, who emerged as a potential star in the postseason a year ago.
“Maybe this an opportunity for Zucker to prove that he can be in the lineup consistently and play in different roles and play different positions,” Yeo said. “For young guys, that’s quite often how they work their way in full time.”
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