Aeros start camp today with testing and physicals in the morning and then hitting the ice at 3 p.m. I find it interesting that they're on the ice today, as it seems like most camps don't hit the ice until day 2.
But I like it. This team needs a jump start and I'm guessing the guys won't mind it either. Maybe helps to knock some nerves back to just rip that bandaid off and get out there with the guys you're competing against for a job.
The first round of Wild cuts came last week, sending down LW Brandon Buck, RW Jarod Palmer, RW Joel Broda, RW Jean-Michel Daoust and G Josh Tordjman to join the tryouts on the training camp roster in Houston.
But today, the big cuts come as the team whittles down to the crew that will mostly be together until the end of training camp and into Finland.
Before we get to those names, though, an update on the goaltending situation: Apparently, Khudobin is not the shoo-in we first thought he would be. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has not committed to making Anton the #2 and has made noises like he might pick up a free agent with more NHL experience to back up Backstrom.
That's disappointing for Anton, though. I would guess his latter-half inconsistency last season is a good chunk of where their reservations are coming from, and rightly so. He let in too many untimely goals in the AHL and you just can't do that in the NHL or you're the next Vesa Toskala (which, BTW, is a name Fletcher threw out there, along with Jose Theodore. Wouldn't THAT be fun?)
We'll keep you posted on that front as the Wild continues to evaluate and make decisions between the pipes.
Okay, here's your list of guys who are having a crappy day today:
Colton Gillies (who Russo reports is "pumped")
*These guys are on waivers for the purposes of being sent down. Will know tomorrow if they've cleared.
A few who have managed to hang on for at least a bit longer are Kassian, Wellman (though I think he's going to stick out of camp), Bagnall, Falk, and Scandella. These guys might get a sweet first class trip to Finland at the end of the week even if they don't make the final roster, so congrats to them.
Anyway, welcome to Houston, fellas. It's not that bad. Flip-flops in the winter, yo! It's gonna be great. Just ask Colton!
(Thanks to Russo and his killer tweeting and blog today for the updates.)
For those who missed the news, Josh Harding was injured in last night's exhibition game. Michael Russo is tweeting that Harding tore his right ACL and right MCL and that he is likely out for the season. Russo is also tweeting that, as of now, the Wild's number two goalie for the season will be Anton Khudobin until/unless he proves he can't handle the position.
For the Aeros, that means that Josh Tordjman and Matt Hackett will be number one and two in Houston to start the season, and I would expect Jim Mill to get another AHL-experienced goalie under contract and stashed in the ECHL.
Born: October 28, 1986 (age 23)
6 ft 05
245 lb Left Wing
Career Transactions: Selected by Minnesota in the second round (57th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Signed a 2-year contract to stay in the Wild system this off-season.
I don’t think it’s fair to say that Kevin Constantine had a favorite player. He appreciated some players more than others, but as long as the guys worked their asses off, as long as they worked on their games, did everything they could make their games better, did everything they could to make the team better, then Constantine liked them.
Matt Kassian fits that definition to a key. Kassian set career highs last year with 6 points (2+4=6) last season, and probably nobody was happier than Constantine because this was proof of Kassian’s work ethic. The guy was willing himself to be a better hockey player, to be something besides the team bruiser.
Mike Yeo is going to like Matt Kassian, just like Constantine liked Kassian, just like his teammates like him, and just like those of in the press box like him. Kassian’s a friendly guy, but he’s a worker. He’s not the most graceful guy, nor the most gifted of skaters. But it’s doubtful that anyone on the team’s going to work harder. And if anybody starts messing around with one of his teammates, then they're going to have to deal with Kassian because while he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Kassian's not afraid or shy about playing the protector/enforcer when the need arises.
And not that it matters, but in my opinion, Yeo’s not going to have a nicer guy on the team. Kassian’s always ready to a joke or a friendly greeting. He’s a great guy to know, and from what I can tell, he’s a hell of a teammate.
Matt Hackett Born: March 7, 1990 (20)
6'2" - 170 lbs
Goalie Catches: Left
Hackett robbing some guy - Photo by Rena Laverty
Matt was one of the top-rated North American goalies in the 2009 draft, and the Wild were in desperate need of a top goalie they might develop into Backstrom's successor. I haven't seen him enough to give much of an assessment, but he's a tall kid and should take up a good amount of space in the net. But he isn't so big/heavy that speed should be an issue for him.
My understanding is that he's not a flashy goaliel, but he's extremely solid technically, so he doesn't have to be flashy. As I type this, he's getting tested big time in St. Louis as Josh Harding has gone down with a knee injury and that little third period Hackett was supposed to play has turned into almost the entire game.
Hack and Joe O'Donnell will share hair tips, no doubt.
I'd give you his stats in juniors, but I don't put a lot of stock in goalie stats when looking at a big jump like junior to pros. A goalie's numbers exist in the context of his team and you just have to see 'em play. But he knocked it out of the park according to reports from the Traverse City Prospect Tournament a few weeks ago and the Wild brass are really impressed.
So, we'll see two things: How his game holds up against men rather than boys and how the Wild decide to manage his ice time. With a solid 5th guy like Tordjman, they can afford to send either one of them to Bakersfield to make sure they're seeing enough starts to stay fresh. KC was a coach who liked to ride the hot goalie (heh), but I don't know what Yeo's take will be. Have a definitive #1 in Anton? Or play the guy who's getting wins? That might be the tipping point on those "who goes where" decisions.
Here's some video of Matt at a goalie camp last summer:
Forwards Jarrod Palmer, Brandon Buck and JM Daoust (pictured left) ; and goaltender Josh Tordjman.
Also, Darcy Kuemper was sent back to the Western Hockey League. Kuemper filled in nicely for the Aeros late last season and has been part of a few trade rumors. I say there is a 50-50 shot right now that he will see time with the Aeros in the next 2-3 years.
The Aeros still start training camp Monday and host the Rampage on Saturday, Oct. 1, in the teams' first preseason game.
Check back often for more updates on Wild roster moves and how that affects the Aeros this preseason.
Do keep in mind that times may vary and what the guys are doing on the ice might not be real interesting all the time. For the last two years, I've gone the morning of the home pre-season game. First year, it was a good pre-game practice for the guys playing and then a real practice for the guys not playing. Second year, they were just screwing around, shooting on the goalies, not much structure, not much fun to watch.
Looking back, that's kinda how the seasons went, too, eh?
NHL pre-season starts tonight and if you are fortunate enough to have the NHL Network on your television, they're showing 35 or so pre-season games for the first time ever.
I love the NHL pre-season. The games are kinda weird, but it's cool to see the AHL-bound guys try to become somewhat less AHL-bound, if'n you know what I mean.
And the Wild are apparently going to start making cuts either after the first pre-season game tonight or tomorrowWednesday or Thursday, so guys will be trickling into town shortly.
Was picking up some breakfast this morning and listening to the NHL channel on XM and heard part of the Hockey Diaries. It follows Caps veteran Mike Knuble and up-and-comer Tyler Sloane through all of last season with audio diaries and other reporting and tons of interviews.
It's an NPR-style thing, so an unusual "tone" from how you normally hear hockey reporting, but it's really lovely, interesting, and a must-listen for any hockey fan. A real inside look at the course of a season for two players at very different points in their careers.
OH! I remember now what I meant to add this morning:
Talked to a friend in Denmark who keeps me posted on former Aero Morten Madsen who was rather unceremoniously shown the door at the start of last season. Things are going great for him. He was named an alternate captain for his team in the Swedish Elite League, Modo Hockey and just recently scored in the season opener.
Nice to hear that a not so great ending to his time in the Wild system has turned into a really good situation for him in Sweden.
Won't be long until we're all back at the Toyota Center. I'm pretty excited for the season, eager to see what Coach Yeo and this bevy of prospects (for the first time in a while), will be able to do against what is going to remain a very tough division.
Anton Khudobin Born: May 7, 1986 (24)
5'11" - 203
Goalie Catches: Left
Photo by Fred Trask
I was typing his birthdate up above and was reminded fondly of the incredible playoff game he played in 08-09, after which Aeros fans sang happy birthday to him. Easily one of my nicest memories of an Aeros game, and for those of you who rag on Steve, recall that he instigated that. Even I thought it was a little cheesy at first, but what a warm memory it turned out to be.
Anton is easy to have a soft spot for. He's a tremendous goalie when he's on. His acrobatic style and amazing flexibility are really something special. Those dimples. That accent and sort of "funny without knowing how funny he is" thing. I mean, come on.
He was fantastic enough last November to earn a spot in the AHL All Star game, but had a nasty slump after that and never really got back that success in the AHL. But he was terrific in his games with Minnesota, so how much of that was a leaky defense in Houston?
Anton hit a crossroads with the organization this summer when the Wild signed Dennis Endras and said he would not play in Houston (at least this season). They essentially put him ahead of Khudobin in the ladder to Minnesota and, as I wrote in my blog as Anton's deadline to re-sign with the Wild approached, I wouldn't have blamed him a bit if he headed to Europe for bigger money.
But he stuck with his shot at the NHL and I think Houston is fortunate for that. He's improved every season, and I don't think he's hit his potential ceiling. It will be fun to see what unfolds for him this year and I think having Tordjman and Hackett nipping at his heels will be good for him.
Kalus used to be a source of much frustration, both for Aeros fans and Wild fans who hoped to see him move up and help in Minnesota. His first season with Houston in 07-08, while high energy and gritty, was unfocused and ineffective. He was a ball of chaos.
Then, after not making the Wild in 08-09, he bailed for Russia where he played a mere 17 games and maybe gained some perspective and maturity. He definitely came back last season with a more mature attitude and with the same energy but more ... tame?
Either way, he turned his energy and grit into an asset and was fun to watch. I even missed him when he was up with Minnesota, and that surprised me. I'm eager to see continued growth this season, hopefully some more pucks in the net (23 points last season), but even if he's destined for a energy/checking role, he's got the temperament for it and that's okay.
He's only 23 and I think we've seen distinct growth in the last 3 years. Plenty of time for Petr to find his stride. Looking forward to continued progress from him this season.
Born: January 11, 1985
6'1" -- 155 lbs
The rule when writing about goalies is that they're going to make you look like an idiot as soon as you publish a piece on them. If they're playing well and you write about it, they'll start sieving it up. If they're playing poorly and you write about it, suddenly they're Patrick Roy.
Apparently this holds up in the off-season as no sooner had I written a piece for a goalie scouting report about how Tordjman hadn't been picked up this off-season and how bizarre that is, the Aeros signed him.
But the benefits of the move for the team and organization outweigh the annoyance at making me look painfully out of the loop. Mostly. Kinda. Hmph.
Anyway, we all know Tordjman from his seasons in the Phoenix system with San Antonio. He's a solid tender you can count on to put up a good fight. He's reliable, steady, and kabob skewer skinny, so I'm in constant fear of him snapping like a twig, but I guess he's held up better than a lot of other goalies having played significant minutes throughout his pro career.
I think a lot of folks were a little puzzled by the move. With Khudobin and Hackett already slated for Houston, why do they need another one? Essentially, he provides insurance and competition. The team could still look to trade Harding, which would pull Khudobin up to the Wild, and you can't leave an AHL team with a rookie tender and an emergency backup between the pipes.
So for a spell, either Hackett or Tordjman will be in the ECHL until someone gets hurt, traded, etc.It's a lot like Brusty's situation last season, except I think this time, it's a more calculated abundance of tendies where guys are coming into the season with expectations appropriately set. But even better is the competition he provides. It's good to have two goalies pushing each other. It's great to have 3 trying desperately to earn their spot in the AHL. We will see their very best and I think the Aeros are going to need that this season.
Born: November 24, 1989 (age 20)
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
203 lbs Center Shoots: Left
Some guys just have that gift for putting the puck in the space around the goalie and some guys have the gift for putting the puck right in the goalie's stomach (or in the space around the goalie but outside the net). Apart from one year in recent memory, most Aeros forwards have been of the latter persuasion. So on that front, Broda has the potential to be a stand-out, as he was a point-per-game guy his last two seasons in junior (and is currently tearing it up in the Wild's rookie tournament in Traverse City).
But he comes with some red flags, the biggest of which is that the Caps, who drafted him in the 5th round in 2008, decided to let him walk rather than signing him. Sure, that organization has crazy depth, but who lets a point per game center go for nothing if there's not something else going on?
The Wild took a flyer on him anyway because, why not? Let's see what the kid can do. The scuttlebutt I'd heard on him was that maaaaybe there's a lack of hustle in his game, so I went to a couple of friends (Scotty Wazz and I Mean, We Got Guys -- thanks y'all!) who have seen him in juniors and asked for the low down.
Here's the gist: There is something to the "lazy" reputation, but that could be attributable to his poor skating skills. Apparently Caps scouts have said he's got an NHL shot and hands with ECHL skating. They haven't said that to ME though, so I can't vouch for it, but it's something to look for.
Scott says he's got a beefy frame (ahem) and will take a hit to make a play, but isn't good in 1 on 1 situations and rarely wins those battles. And chemistry may be an issue for him as well, as he did fine throughout his junior career but really blew up when paired with Brandon Kozun (108 and 107 points the last 2 seasons for the Calgary Hitmen).
So he's a guy clearly with a lot of potential in his hands, but we've seen guys with sick hands (but lacking the full package in one way or another) be tremendous disappointments and we've seen them have tremendous success. Which way will Broda go?
Just a quick note. The Aeros have announced today the signing of former San Antonio Rampage goalie Josh Tordjman to a one-year contract. Along with Tordjman, the team also signed center Rylan Kaip to a one-year deal. Kaip spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Wolves.
Born: September 10, 1988 (age 21) Brandon, Manitoba
6 ft 02 213 lbs Right Wing Shoots: Right
Career Transactions: Minnesota Wild seventh round draft pick (number 200 overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Carson McMillan’s not the most graceful of skaters. He’s not going to be a big scorer, witness his eight points (4+4=8) in 56 games for the Aeros last season. This is something that McMillan confessed at the end of last season, as he was coming to grips that he wasn’t going to be that scorer at this level that he’d been in the lower ranks. What he will be, if he can keep his head on, is a good third or fourth line guy. Think Mitch Love or Jason Ryzner in 2008-09. He’ll provide some good energy off the bench. He also provides a physical presence, and if he plays within himself, there’s no reason he can’t be a consistent ice presence when the team needs a key defensive stop.
McMillan’s best hockey last season seemed to come early on, when he was teamed up with Cody Almond and Peter Zingoni. Zingoni’s veteran presence seemed to be a really good fit with Almond and McMillan, and for the first few weeks of the season, they were easily Kevin Constantine’s best line on the ice. Then the injury bug hit Almond and Zingoni, and McMillan never seemed to be able to recover his game.
McMillan’s biggest problem was using his head. He was called for stupid penalty after stupid penalty last season, and he served a suspension for a hit on a Texas Stars player. But if he can get the penalty problem under control, and if he can work on the puck control, then he’s got the skill set necessary to be a key guy on one of the energy or checking lines. And as much as we all like scoring, those lines often end up being the most important lines on the ice.
Born: January 18, 1987 (age 23) Eden Prairie, Minnesota
5 ft 11 178 lbs Center Shoots: Left
Career Transactions: Signed a 2-year, 2-way deal in May with the Wild…signed a PTO with Houston…Selected by Toronto in the seventh round (228th overall0 in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Chad Rau played, in his rookie professional season, the way most veteran players can only hope to play. Playing in 79 games, Rau was fourth on the Aeros in scoring with 38 points (19+19=38). He didn’t look lost on the ice, and he appeared to handle the adjustment from college hockey to the AHL with aplomb. His 79 games played also led the team, and that was a key to a team that found itself torn apart with injuries and call-ups. He also found a way to fit in with every line on which he skated.
Rau is a familiar name to Wild fans, having starred at Eden Prairie high school before going to college hockey where he was a standout with Colorado College, earning their Rookie of the Year honor in 2005-06 and putting up at least 30 points in each of his four seasons. But more important than standing out at Eden Prairie or Colorado College, Rau stood out with the Aeros in a year when many of the names who were expected to stand out didn’t. And that earned Rau not only the praises of Wild execs, it earned him a NHL contract.
“Chad had a successful rookie season in Houston, making the adjustment from college hockey,” Aeros GM Jim Mill said when Rau signed his two-year contract. "He is a skilled offensive player, but also plays a strong two-way game. He adds valuable depth to our organization.”
Not much was expected from Rau last season. The youth spotlight was instead focused on Colton Gilies and Cody Almond. But Rau was one of the few Aeros to excel last season, and with a year of professional play under his belt, and with a new coach coming in to take command, Rau should excel once again.