As the Minnesota Wild prepare to play their first two regular-season games in Helsinki, Finland, an outpouring of support has them feeling right at home. The Wild will open the season with back-to-back games against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday and Friday in a place several Wild players know well.
The trip has been a homecoming for three Finnish-born players: forwards Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen, and goalie Niklas Backstrom. Fueled by this strong hometown contingent, the Wild practiced in front of a few thousand rabid spectators Sunday in Helsinki, according to Star Tribune Wild insider Michael Russo’s story.
The stop was also an opportunity for Wild management to observe the progress of their latest Finnish import: 18-year-old center Mikael Granlund. The young prospect was the Wild’s first-round draft pick earlier this year, and although some scouting reports stated Granlund was very close to being NHL-ready, the team wisely allowed him time to mature in his homeland. The move appears to be paying off as Granlund has already accumulated 10 points in eight games in the Finnish Elite League. The 10 points are second in the entire league, according to Russo’s blog.
Wild addresses back-up situation
After back-up goaltender Josh Harding went down Sept. 24 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the Wild were left scrambling to replace him. The top candidate was Anton Khudobin, who has played in only two NHL games at the end of last year. Needless to say, the team was in desperate need of a veteran backstop to provide depth and insurance in case starter Backstrom goes down with an injury.
On Saturday, the team solved its lack of experience by signing veteran goalie Jose Theodore to a one-year contract worth an estimated $1.1 million. According to a story by Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press, Theodore has played 548 NHL games, winning 240 of that total. As a starter for the Montreal Canadians in 2002, he won both the Hart Memorial Trophy (league MVP) and the Vezina Trophy (top goaltender).
The fact that the backup position went from two to over 500 games of NHL experience could prove invaluable throughout the course of the season. Khudobin put up impressive numbers in the two games he started last year, but that is far from a representative picture of future success. In Theodore, the Wild have a proven quantity who has shown he can succeed, and at times dominate, at the NHL level. His best days may be behind him, but the fans can breathe a little bit easier knowing he’s present on the bench just in case the worst happens.
It should be an interesting season, and starting Thursday we’ll know a lot more about our prospects for future success.