2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

New coach Mike Yeo travels to Finland to meet with Wild stars

There were those who thought GM Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were taking a sizeable risk when they hired Houston Aeros headman Mike Yeo. Some thought the 37-year-old (now 38) was too young for a head coaching position in the NHL. There were those who thought he needed more seasoning since he’d only been a head coach for a single season at the AHL level. Some thought he was awful as an assistant in Pittsburgh, some thought he was too much like former coach Todd Richards, and others wondered if Minnesota hired him because he was a cheap alternative to the other available candidates.

The man has his work ahead of him if he wants to win over the skeptics.

With all of that in mind, Yeo isn’t waiting around for training camp to make his mark on next year’s team. Accompanied by GM Fletcher, Yeo recently flew to Finland to have face-to-face conversations with two of the most important players on next year’s roster: captain Mikko Koivu and goaltender Niklas Backstrom. He understands that if he wants to win over the locker room from the start, it’s essential to be on the same page with the team most important returning players.

Yeo spoke the Star Tribune about the importance of meeting his new captain face-to-face:

“Mikko is our captain. He’s a guy when it comes to the coach, he’s going to have these guys on board and going out and doing the things you want them to do. If we can make a little headway with that and hopefully get him buying into and believing in the things we’re talking about right now as opposed to a month into the season, then we’re just going to be that much further ahead.”

Koivu is under contract for the next seven seasons with a no-movement clause, so it’s doubtful he’s going anywhere any time soon. Seven years in today’s NHL for a coach is an eternity—but if Yeo wants to last for a while, it’s imperative that he has a good working relationship with his on-ice leader. If he has Koivu’s support from the beginning, it should make the transition much easier as he tries to install his new system for his new team.

Yeo understands that for the Wild to be successful next season, Koivu and Backstrom will have to lead the team on the ice, in the locker room, and on the stat sheet. Koivu tied for the team lead with 62 points last season—yet each of the other top four scorers from last season have either been traded or left via free agency (Havlat, Brunette, and Burns). Yeo and the Wild are depending on him to recapture the 71 point season from 2009-10 while continuing to be one of the best two-way centers in the league.

Similarly, Yeo will need Niklas Backstrom to be a reliable backstop for the team if they want to take the next step to the playoffs. The Finnish netminder put up good numbers with a .916 save percentage and 2.66 goals against average. If the Wild want to be successful though, they’ll need the all-star goaltender to put up great numbers. No matter how you look at it, a sub-.500 record for a goaltender isn’t going to get it done.

Yeo will have plenty of work as he attempts to silence the critics, change the team culture, and improve the meager Wild; all while he tries to meld all of the offseason newcomers with the players who are already in place. If he can get Koivu and Backstrom on his side, it’ll go a long way towards getting all 22 guys pulling on the same end of the rope. They’re only two players—but they’re two of the most important.

The next step is getting the other 20 players to buy in during training camp.

Update: Wisniewski tore ACL 47 seconds into ‘Canes debut

James Wisniewski, John-Michael Liles, Elias Lindholm
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Last night, we passed along news that veteran d-man James Wisniewski — acquired from Carolina at the draft — suffered what looked to be a serious injury just 47 seconds into his ‘Canes debut, and was ruled out for the remainder of the night.

Now, he’s been ruled out for a lot longer than that.

From the club:

Ron Francis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that defenseman James Wisniewski will undergo surgery on his left knee after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during Thursday night’s game in Nashville.

Recovery time for the injury is estimated at six months.

This is, obviously, a tough development for both player and club. The ‘Canes were counting on Wisniewski to be a regular contributor on defense this year, and help improve last year’s middle-of-the-pack power play.

Wisniewski, meanwhile, was looking to bounce back from a disappointing ’14-15 campaign. He was shipped out of Columbus at the deadline to Anaheim but never made an impact for the Ducks, failing to see any playoff action as Anaheim made it all the way to the Western Conference final.

Jordan Weal to make NHL debut for Kings

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Two days after an uninspiring performance versus San Jose, the Los Angeles Kings will be getting an injection of youthful enthusiasm tonight versus Arizona.

Coach Darryl Sutter confirmed today that Jordan Weal will make his NHL debut at Staples Center.

A 23-year-old center, Weal is expected to replace Andy Andreoff and skate between Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan on the fourth line.

“It’s really exciting,” Weal told LA Kings Insider. “A lot of work has gone into getting to this part of my career, and the hard work’s just going to continue. It’s going to keep going, and I’m trying to do as much as I can in this game and keep improving from this game moving forward in trying to solidify a solid spot in the lineup.”

The 70th overall pick in 2010, Weal had 69 points in 73 games last season for AHL Manchester.

Related: Jordan Weal is looking to make the leap