Friday, December 1 2023

Every player who reaches the highest levels of ice hockey has talent, athletic ability, skill and likely some smarts. Eventually, they discover they have something else. A role.

That’s something Wild coach Dean Evason brought up before training camp started this week at TRIA Rink, and Nick Swaney was listening. He describes his role as that of an energy player, but it goes beyond that with the Wild staff.

“Kind of like a Swiss Army Knife,” said Brent McLean, a longtime Wild assistant who will start his first season as Iowa’s head coach after camp ends Oct. 11.

Swaney, 26, will be in the lineup for Sunday afternoon’s preseason opener against the Avalanche in Colorado, playing on a line with Rasmus Kumpulainen and Servac Petrovsky.

“He can kill penalties, he can play on the power play, he goes to the net, he skates well, fantastic kid,” McLean added. “That’s why we like him.”

Swaney, 26, re-signed on a one-year, two-way contract in June and now is aiming to take the next step during camp this week.

“I’ve been in Iowa the past two years, and whether you’re down there or coming here for training camp, your goal is always to make it up here,” he said.

Swaney played varsity at Lakeville South as a freshman, played four seasons of USHL in Waterloo, Iowa, and scored 46 goals among 101 points in four seasons at Minnesota Duluth. He played one game with the Wild last season — 9 minutes and 33 seconds in a 4-2 overtime loss at Nashville in the final regular-season game of the year.

“I learned a lot. Obviously it was only one game at the end of the year, but just being with the guys, traveling with the guys, seeing the different pace of play and what it takes. The American League is such a good league to get you ready to play in that situation,” he said.

Living in Minneapolis’ North Loop, Swaney worked out with Wild players and prospects such as Matt Boldy, Calen Addison and Sammy Walker, as well as with Wild training staff. “It was a good group, and I think it’s rare that you see as many guys work out together in the summer as we did here,” he said.

It was a long road to get to that first NHL regular-season game and likely will take a little bit longer. The Wild roster is all but full, and the team is only about $40,000 under the salary cap. “Veteran” prospects such as Swaney, Adam Beckman, Sammy Walker, Vinni Lettieri — and even newly signed NHL veteran Jujhar Khaira — are essentially fighting to be the 13th forward when the season opens Oct. 12 against the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center.

So, most of them are fighting for a spot in “the memory banks,” Evason said. Yes, the NHL staff keeps tabs on the prospects during the season but, he added, “human nature is you’ll remember what happened when you had the visual.”

Sunday’s game will be a good place for Swaney to make another positive impression — and it won’t be his last. The team will make some cuts before a scrimmage at TRIA on Monday, but it’s unlikely Swaney will be one of them. For one thing, he has a role in the organization. For another, his NHL salary of $775,000 fits under the cap right now, something that can’t be said for eight other forward prospects in camp.

But if Swaney has to make another stop in Iowa, so be it.

“If I’m down, that’s awesome; I use that as an opportunity to keep getting better and put myself in a position to, if I do get called up, be ready,” he said. “At the same time, I want to play in the NHL. That’s the goal of everyone in this camp — they want to play in the NHL.

“That’s the dream for everybody, and when you have that opportunity you have to make the most of it. It starts every single day doing the little things. I think good things will happen if you focus on that process.”

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Source: Yahoo Sports


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