Minicamp in Motown, as Wild falls to Wings 4-2
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While the Detroit Red Wings held a number of celebrations on Sunday, the Minnesota Wild is out of the playoff race and officially in "playing out the string mode." That, combined with a boatload of injuries to key players, manifested itself in a kind of sneak preview of what the Wild might look like next season and beyond. Or, a look at many of this season's Houston Aeros.
The 4-2 loss in Joe Louis Arena is all but irrelevant, as every win from here on out just lessens the chance of a top draft pick of the Wild. We know how this season is going to end. What we don't know is which of the youngsters currently toiling in Texas is going to be ready for the Show next season.
With players like John Madden, Martin Havlat and Nick Schultz out of the lineup and not making the trip to Motown, the Wild dressed four rookies among the six defensemen in uniform on Sunday, and got some encouraging signs that there may be some talent waiting to break out in the future.
While the Red Wings passed out goal coins commemorating 20 consecutive years in the playoffs, and clinched the Central Division title with the win, the Wild's Carson McMillan became just the fourth player in franchise history to score a goal in his NHL debut. Colton Gillies carried the puck with authority throughout, and the Wild's other goal was initially credited to rookie defenseman Justin Falk, before a video review changed the scoring and gave credit to Brad Staubitz. Still, coach Todd Richards liked what he saw from the youth.
"Four young defensemen on the back end. I was impressed with Colton tonight," Richards said. "I liked his game, and Mac scores his first NHL goal is his first NHL game, and Justin Falk gets his first too, so it's nice to see those stories in a game like this."
Most young NHL prospects get a chance to prove themselves and impress the team brass in a practice rink somewhere in September. For a change, the Wild is giving players like Gillies, Falk, McMillan and Maxim Noreau a chance to try out on the big stage, versus a top-level NHL team like the Red Wings, in a venue like Joe Louis Arena. Richards said that even with the playoffs out of reach, there should be plenty to play for.
"It's playing for each other, it's playing for the franchise, the organization and the fans," he said. "I've been asked that question a lot and I was asked it a long time ago. There's always that pride. That pride in how you play as an individual and being proud of how we play as a collective group."
The collective group, rookies and all, has a few days off now before the final road trip of the season. With the Frozen Four occupying Xcel Energy Center, the Wild heads to Vancouver on Thursday, then to Edmonton on Friday.