The (Preseason) Puck Drops Tonight…

What’s up Aeros fans? Aero Joe here – en route to the Cedar Park Center for the Aeros 2012-2013 preseason opener against the Texas Stars.
I wanna hit on a few things before I get into training camp / the preseason:

  • On the summer / off-season: mine was good, yours?  Spent a lot of time with the family in Sugar Land (more on that in a minute).  In addition, I got to head back to Philly for a minute – good times.  With that said, I’m stoked for the new season, my 5th (aka FIF) with the Aeros.  Damn, 5 seasons…crazy how time flies.
  • On some Aeros staff “moves”: It was disappointing to have David Burke, Rich Bocchini and others depart the staff this summer, but that’s the name of this business.  Great people get great opportunities…for those that aren’t a part of the staff anymore, you will be missed and good luck in the new endeavors.  On the flip side, I’d like to welcome all the new members to the “Aeros party”, specifically Josh Fisher who is our new PR guru – I’ve known Fish for about 8 years now.  He’s great at what he does, and I’m certain Aeros fans will enjoy the content he’ll provide to aeros.com, Twitter and anywhere else we can use him.
  • Back to the family scene for a minute – my wife and I just welcomed our second child into the world last week:  James Daniel O’Donnell was born a week ago today.  He’s 7 lbs. of awesomeness, and I’m proud to have brought another hockey fan to this planet (even if he doesn’t even know it yet).  The timing of the delivery threw a wrench in my plans to head to Minnesota for the start of Aeros training camp, so like the rest of you, I was relegated to watching the web cast on wild.com.  Thus, I’m excited to see what tonight and the next week-plus hold for the Aeros as they try to learn the team systems / get to know one another.

Now, to the ice…

  • This training camp is obviously different than any that I’ve  been a part of with the NHL lockout in full effect.  Thus, there are more players (and more talent) across all AHL training camps.  In the Aeros case, there are 36 players currently on the roster.  Expect those numbers to get paired down significantly in the coming days.  Here are 10 names to get used to (at least for the time being):
  1. Drew Bagnall – In my eyes, the 3rd year Aero is the likely team captain.  With the departure of Jon DiSalvatore via free agency, there’s no better replacement in my opinion to wear the “C” then “Bags”.
  2. Brian Connelly – Probably the most significant Aeros-relevant signing made by the Wild over the summer.  The two-time AHL All-Star is one of the top puck moving defensemen in the AHL, and an elite power play quarterback.  Last season he posted 52 points between Rockford and Abbotsford.
  3. Mikael Granlund – A blue chip prospect, the 20-year-old Finn would never have experienced the beautiful fall weather in Houston if not for the NHL lockout.  Granlund is a stud.  Period.  He was drafted 9th overall back in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
  4. Charlie Coyle – Another 20-year-old phenom, the Wild got him from the Sharks in a trade during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.  He’s listed at 6’2″, 210 lbs and he’s got skill to go with it.
  5. Brett Bulmer – Fiesty, physical and hard-nosed winger.  Aeros fans should remember him from his late season “cup of coffee” the last couple of seasons after his major junior campaigns came to an end.  He made the Wild out of training camp last season, played 9 games, and then went back to the WHL.
  6. Johan Larsson – Wore the “C” for Team Sweden during the 2012 World Junior Championships where they won this thing known as the gold medal.  Not too shabby.  Again, another 20-year old.
  7. Jason Zucker – A star at Denver (NCAA), he played for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in 2012.  As a senior with the Pioneers, he buried 22 goals.
  8. Jonas Brodin – A 19-year-old Swedish defender, Brodin played 49 games in the Swedsh Elite League last season.  Another top Wild prospect who will be learning the ropes of North American pro hockey in Houston.
  9. Chay Genoway – Skated in 73 games with the Aeros last season and he made his NHL debut late in the campaign.  The big question for “Geno” is whether he can make the jump from year one to year two.  Did he do enough in the summer to improve on his weaknesses, and will the confidence he (hopefully) gained in a successful first pro season translate to bigger and better things in 2012-2013?
  10. Darcy Kuemper – Surgery late last season derailed Kuemper’s otherwise impressive first, full pro season, which he split between the ECHL (Ontario) and Houston.  Aeros fans know Matt Hackett and what he brings to the table, but Kuemper, the 6’4″ Saskatoon native has a ton of upside and could turn out to be one of the top goaltenders in the entire league with enough ice time and good health.

To be frank, there are several more guys that could be mentioned above.  Simply put, the Aeros are loaded with talent…and youth, which always makes for an interesting combination.  There are a lot of new faces, which means chemistry early in the season will be something to keep an eye on.  With all that said, the NHL lockout benefits the Aeros immensely (from a “selfish” standpoint).  This team was going to be young and good to begin with, but the lockout has added several other legit pieces to the puzzle.  A prime example is Marco Scandella, his experience, despite still being just 22 years old, will help the defensive corps big-time.

I talked with Coach Torchetti yesterday after the first day of on-ice work in Sugar Land and he was impressed at how the players responded given they had all traveled from Minnesota after Sunday’s scrimmage.  He told me he’s keying on “hockey sense” during the preseason – he thinks this year’s team has a great deal of “hockey sense” and he wants to see that continue to grow.  He also felt yesterday was a great day of team system implementation.

Here’s tonight’s lineup at the Texas Stars:

Forwards:

Bulmer, Larsson, Palmieri

Foucault, Phillips, Petersen

Mignardi, Ginand, Vargas

Caron, McMillan, Grantham

Defensemen:

Medvec, Lorenz

Baldwin, Montgomery

Jobke, Genoway

Cuma (extra D)

Goaltenders:

Hackett

Kuemper

The full training camp roster can be found here

I won’t be making the trip to OKC this weekend, but I will check back in prior to the home opener on 10/13.  Spread the word Aeros fans, it’s time to drop the puck!

- Aero Joe

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