Dean Evason has been back home in Montreal for the past month and a half. He doesn’t plan to return to Minnesota until after Labor Day.
But the 56-year-old Wild coach is already looking ahead to next season.
He has been tinkering with his lineup since last week when the Wild started the process of filling out their roster for the 2020-21 season. He likes the signing of veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski as well as the grit fellow defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill will bring. He’s also a big fan of center Frederick Gaudreau, who he coached during their time together in the Nashville Predators organization.
Though the lineup itself is far from complete, the possibilities are endless for the Wild with training camp coming up next month.
“We had a Zoom meeting last week and it’s fun to get our depth chart and start putting lines together,” Evason said. “We talked about this last year at training camp. We’re going to see who’s going to fit where.”
The most intriguing position is center, but then, isn’t it always? A couple of weeks ago general manager Bill Guerin teased that the Wild might have to take a by-committee approach at that position once again, and based on the way this offseason has transpired, it looks like that is likely.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Wild had the following players at their disposal at center: Joel Eriksson Ek, Victor Rask, Ryan Hartman, Nick Bjugstad, Nico Sturm and Gaudreau. There’s also the potential that top prospect Marco Rossi competes for a spot in training camp. Same for Connor Dewar.
“There’s always the talk of, ‘Our center ice is this, our center ice is that,’ ” Evason said. “We have a lot of (players) that can go into those spots, as we did last year. We put people at different times into our so-called top center positions (last year), and we’re going to have to do that again (this year).”
Maybe the best aspect of the current Wild roster is that many players have position flexibility. In a pinch, Rask can play center and/or wing, as can Hartman, Bjugstad, Sturm and Gaudreau. That gives the coaching staff some options when putting together the lineup.
“We’ve talked about this before, that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing with, as long as you’re playing with a Minnesota Wild player, then you should be excited about that,” Evason said. “Our guys committed to that last year. We don’t expect them to not commit to that this year.”
There are certainly line combinations from last year that seem like a natural fit. The Wild won’t go away from Eriksson Ek centering Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno, right? That trio was so dominant in nearly every situation.
That was Evason’s thoughts initially, too, before taking a step back and realizing that training camp is the time to tinker. There’s the thought Eriksson Ek could thrive in an elevated role. Or maybe someone else is just as effective between Greenway and Foligno.
“We’re going to try some stuff for sure and see how it works,” Evason said. “It’s nice now that we know what’s worked in the past, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in the future. We’ll definitely play around with some stuff in training camp, which will be fun for us as coaches.”