Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 9/30/11
Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo continues to use "The Process" as a major catch-phrase to describe the preseason for his hockey squad. The process of learning a completely new system at the NHL level takes time and Yeo and his coaching staff are hoping this team will learn on the fly when the regular season opens next Saturday against Columbus. "We need to play fast, aggressive hockey and take the game to our opponents if we are going to be successful this season," said Yeo. "I think the guys are still trying to learn the system and you can see the progress but you can also spot some of the areas where we need to improve." The Wild started the preseason 3-3. "We finally have our roster down a workable number," Yeo noted, "so it will be a much more polished product, specifically when it comes to special teams." The Wild will travel to Duluth to practice at the Amsoil Arena on Monday and Tuesday morning. General Manager Chuck Fletcher believes the time spent away from home will allow the team to start to come together. "It's a good time for our team to get away and start to really bond with the start of the regular season just around the corner," said Fletcher. Here arefive things we've learned through the first two weeks of training camp and preseason play: 1. The Wild's top line is clicking. They have only skated in three games together but the new first line of Koivu-Setoguchi and Heatley already has posted5 goals and 11 assists as a unit. The chemistry is starting to develop and it might be the best front line the Wild have had since the departure of Marian Gaborik. The powerplay still is in need of some fine-tuning but these three figure to get plenty of looks in 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 situations all season. If they stay together you can expect an 80-plus point season from all three of these players. 2. Bret Bulmer has a serious shot to make the team. He was a total unknown and a complete longshot initially,but 19 year-old Bret Bulmer might actually make the cut when the season starts next week. Bulmer stands 6-foot-3 and goes just short of 190 pounds, and he has the personalty to stir up trouble all over the ice. Last year, while playing in the WHL, he scored 18 goals with 31 assists for 49 points while racking up 109 penalty minutes. Brad Staubitz, who was penciled in as a fourth-line winger, has been suspended by the NHL for the firstthree games for a hit from behind earlier in the preseason. Bulmer had a terrific game on Tuesday against St.Louis, which included a great passing play to help his team score a goal. There is pretty good chance Bulmer might be on the ice for the home opener next weekend. 3. Mike Lundin's injury is opening the door for Scandella. Marco Scandella showed in his brief time with the Wild last season that he has the potential to be a gamebreaker on the blueline. Apple Valley native Mike Lundin has been bothered by back spasms throughout the preseason schedule and Scandella has seen his ice time ramp up game by game. Mike Yeo was Scandella's coach in Houston last season and he has a ton of respect for his game. "Marco is going to be a fun player to watch in our system," said Yeo. "He is big, strong and he can really rush the puck. His skill set fits perfectly into what we are trying to do on the back end." Lundin will likely be ready by next weekend, but either way the Wild are going to have a hard time not using Scandella when the season gets rolling. 4. Guillaume Latendresse could have a bounce-back season. Latendresse had a terrible season last year. He came into camp out of shape then got hurt and never recovered. After being called out by the GM and the owner, Latendresse has come into this training camp in great shape and he appears to be ready to get his game back on track. Pure goal scorers are extremely hard to find, but two years ago when he arrived Latendresse scored 25 goals in just over half of a season in Minnesota. Latendresse has been creating all kinds of chance so far in the preseason, skating alongside Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. On Thursday night he scored an unassisted goal at Columbus. You can feel the confidence rising, which is good news for the Wild. 5. Niklas Backstrom will be busy. Josh Harding is back and starting to get healthy after missing the entire 2010-11 season, buthe looks like a work still in progress. Thursday night in Columbus he gave up four goals on 26 shots. Niklas Backstrom, meanwhile,has been battling a nagging knee injury throughout camp but day by day it seems to be getting stronger. Backstrom, who will turn 34 during the upcoming season, has averaged over 1,500 minutes over the last four years. However, it should not surprise anyone if he plays over 2,000 minutes this year, like he did back in 2008-09. If the Wild are going to be a factor in the Western Conference they will need Backstrom to be at his very best.
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