It seems that everyone that has offered an opinion on the recent Wild Training Camp scrimmages viewed the games and players differently. Therefore, I will add my own two cent opinion into the mix. The waters cannot get any more muddy with yet one more boot stomping through the puddle. Since I am also known for having an “Anti-Todd Richards” bias, some of the following may still contain disparaging comparisons.
Most hockey pundits are decrying the loss of Brent Burns on the Wild’s defense, some even labeling it the “worst defense in the league” because he was shipped out to San Jose. I may agree with that from the goal perspective, but frankly, I’m enough of a defense first fan that goals from the D don’t particularly matter to me. Keeping the puck out of the net and keeping the puck out of the zone are more important from my perspective than having a D-man that has a very strong end to end rush (and that’s about it).
During the scrimmages, it is very apparent that the “I know better than you” mentality of Todd Richards is gone. Rick Wilson and Darrel Sydor are running a very tight ship with our D, and it became apparent through the “stronger than last year” positional play of our mostly intact blueline.
Mike Yeo brings a more aggressive neutral zone trap system to the bench. He learned it in Pittsburgh and it works well for that club. It is already evident that nearly all of the players are more comfortable playing the aggressive 1-2-2 system than they were playing the poorly structured 2-1-2 system utilized by Todd Richards. If I have to take this space to explain to you what a neutral zone trap is, then there is already no hope for you. Simply put, a NZT is only used when your team doesn’t have the puck. If you have the puck, you aren’t trapping. Edmonton fans, this negative comment is directed at you.
In the very short amount of time that the coaches have had with the players, it seems that the blue line is already buying into what our coaches are selling. Each player, from Nick Schultz down to Chay Genoway, were concentrating on where they were on the ice and the nearest pressuring opponent. One notable play had Marco Scandella dropping down to the dot as one of his forwards ragged the puck back out to the point. During this sustained pressure, the forward would shift from the point to the goal line and Scandella read each shift as it was happening and moved to fill the positional hole that was being created.
The decisions of the D were all very simple options; keep the puck for a half a second longer or move the puck with a short pass. The only prospect that had trouble with that concept seemed to be Chay Genoway. I thought he struggled with his decisions, often showing panic and just giving the puck to an opponent or passing it to no one. No longer could you see a defenseman wrestling with the decision of “should I pinch or not” since the default answer was “NO!”
All of our forwards were also doing their jobs well on the defensive end of the playing spectrum. Dany Heatley made several great defensive plays. Yes, Ottawa fans. Yes, San Jose fans. Dany *&*% Heatley. The forwards were doing a good job clogging up the neutral zone for both sides with the obvious players excelling at the defensive aspects and the surprising players like Heatley, stepping into it. Bouchard even went in as the sole forward in to pressure the puck carrier several times.
As for the forwards chemistry? Bouchard and Latendresse showed amazing chemistry already with both of them able to read where the other was going on the ice. Matt Cullen seemed more out of place on Saturday than he did on Sunday, but he still seemed too North-South for that pair. I think I’d prefer to see Brodziak as the second line center again. The line of Heatley – Koivu – Setoguchi clicked on everything, but there were times when passes were just slightly off. This is probably due to Koivu having played with Brunette and Miettinen solely for the last two seasons. Koivu will need to step up his passing game to compliment these two but I am sure that will happen by the end of the pre-season experience.
The Wild do have an interesting quandary in net. Dennis Endras looked a bit shaky in warm ups, but those nerves were quickly calmed. Matt Hackett and Keumper were both solid. Josh Harding? He’s back to the standard form in which many Wild fans say; “He deserves a starting job!” The obvious tandem is going to be Backstrom and Harding, but what about Houston? Endras would be a fine backup in Houston for Hackett, which means that the Wild send Keumper to the ECHL. Wait, the Wild don’t currently have an ECHL affiliate.
The Wild are going to be a dark horse in the West. They suddenly have a top six that can be scary good if they figure out their 2nd line center. The defense? While they are going to be bringing up the league caboose in goals scored by defensemen, they are looking like a strong group to be keeping the puck out of our own net. I’ll take that over a risky, pinching D-man in any given season.
Am I saying they are Cup bound? Oh heck no… But I am saying that any pundit saying the Wild are going to be dead last in the West have not really looked at the deficiencies in the other teams, either.
Topics: Brent Burns, Chay Genoway, Dany Heatley, Darcy Keumper, Dennis Endras, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse, Josh Harding, Kyle Brodziak, Marco Scandella, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Matt Hackett, Mike Yeo, Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, Nick Schultz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Rick Wilson, Todd Richards