ST. PAUL - It's an uncharacteristically hot September day and Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has taken a break from watching the NHL Network at his suburban St. Paul home to attend the team's annual golf tournament at Troy Burne Golf Club.
How's his golf game?
"Not good," Boudreau said with a laugh. "You know, it's the last one of these of the year, though, so let's hurry up and get it over with."
Boudreau actually drained an impressive 15-foot putt during his round. That said, the 62-year-old hockey junkie's mind was understandably elsewhere with training camp only a few days away.
About 50 players will report to training camp Thursday, Sept. 14, at Xcel Energy Center with the the first practice to follow Friday.
"I was telling somebody the other day, it's like it being Dec. 22 and we're anticipating Christmas," Boudreau said. "It's an exciting time of the year for anybody that loves the game."
Boudreau's excitement is intensified because the Wild followed one of the best seasons in franchise history with a solid offseason that included trading for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis, locking up young stars Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter and convincing 20-year veteran Matt Cullen to delay retirement.
Boudreau spoke to the Pioneer Press about last season, the offseason and what to expect this season.
Do you let yourself think about last season's 4-1 series loss to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs? Is it something you want the team to carry with them this season?
I think it's one of those things where I try to let it go and it still lingers. You know, it doesn't linger 24 hours a day. You're doing something and then all of a sudden think, 'Oh, crap. What happened?' Or I'll be watching NHL Network and I see something and it brings me back. It's something that we'll remember and hopefully we'll use it as a motivator rather than anything else. It's a new season, though. It's exciting for everyone involved.
What excites you most about this year's roster after some of the moves general manager Chuck Fletcher made this offseason?
You know, any time there's an unknown, when we make a trade like that, that's exciting because we want to see what we're getting. I've talked to Marcus (Foligno) and Tyler (Ennis). I've talked to Matt (Cullen). I'm excited to see what these guys bring to the table. I'm excited to see what Kyle Quincey brings to the table. Then there's the maturation of our young kids that went to Traverse City and looking at how much better we were this year than last year. The young guys there - the Joel Eriksson Eks and the Luke Kunins - they're exciting to watch. It makes me really look forward to the season.
Speaking of Joel Eriksson Ek, he got a taste of the NHL last season and performed well in spurts. Is he ready to take on a bigger role?
Yeah, he's a solid 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. He's not a boy anymore. I'm sure there's room to grow as far as getting stronger. He's definitely a man, though. He plays a man's game. He's smart. Those things add up to getting management and coaches excited, whether it's the start of the year or halfway through the year or next year. The future looks really bright for him. I think he's going to be really interesting to watch in training camp to see where he's at. Not saying he can float around and still make the team. He has to make the team. From what I see, he's working very hard to get to that end.
What does the addition of a veteran like Matt Cullen, who won two Stanley Cups in the past two years, do for this team?
It really gives us great depth, and I'm not taking anything away from anybody that was on our team last year. He's a guy that stabilizes our fourth line, and if that line is on when the puck is iced the other team isn't going to be able to take advantage of it as much as they tried to do last year when our fourth line was on the ice.
Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter signed big contracts this offseason. Can they develop into the go-to scorers the Wild have seemed to lack at times in previous years?
I mean, we're going to need them to. They are both in their mid-20s. They haven't hit their prime yet as far as I'm concerned. They are getting better each year. They weren't cheap, though, so we're counting on them to be big parts of this team.
Are the Wild better going into this season than they were going into last season?
Well, our depth is much better. I can say that right now. You look at forward-wise, we went into camp last year with 10 forwards signed and we didn't have any clue who was going to make it as the last three guys. You know, this year we've got 12 forwards signed heading into training camp and we've got guys coming in that are going to be knocking on the door, with Luke Kunin and Landon Ferraro and some other guys. That depth alone is going to make competition in training camp better. There are open jobs on defense. There are four guys that are going to be really fighting hard for two regular jobs. That's great depth there. You know, Alex Stalock and Niklas Svedberg are going to be fighting hard in goal (behind Devan Dubnyk). The competition is going to be better all over the ice, and I think that's going to push the team to do better things.
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