In the Wild’s Blue Line Academy in Des Moines, Daemon Hunt is considered something of an upperclassman.
“Hunt’s been there for a couple of years, so we felt, obviously, that he’s the next guy to come up and play,” Minnesota head coach Dean Evason said.
Hunt, the first of what the Wild believe is a talented young group of defensemen to be called up from Iowa, is all of 21 years old, but he has 69 AHL games under his belt in parts of three seasons with the Wild’s top affiliate.
It wasn’t unexpected.
“I have high expectations for myself and I did believe I could be the next guy to get up here,” Hunt said Tuesday before the Wild’s 8 p.m. puck drop against the Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center.
Hunt was having a strong camp before suffering a concussion, on a hit from Colorado minor leaguer Tanner Kero, in the team’s first preseason game but said he has recovered fully and back on his A game.
It didn’t appear he would be making his NHL debut on Tuesday. He was called up as insurance with Jon Merrill banged up and the team ready to leave Wednesday for a three-game East Coast road trip. Merrill said after the morning skate he felt ready to go, but Evason said Hunt would go through warmups just in case.
With veteran Dakota Mermis, 29, getting an early callup to Minnesota, the Iowa Wild’s blue line is composed primarily of young draft picks Hunt, Ryan O’Rourke, Simon Johnsson, Carson Lambos, David Spacek and Kyle Masters. Average age, 21.
“We definitely are a bit young back there,” Hunt said. “It was nice having our captain Dakota down there, but that’s awesome he’s here. But I told him he’s like a baby sitter down there with us a bit.”
“I think everyone’s there for a reason, right? They’re all really good hockey players and they can all take care of themselves. They’ve all had really good starts. We haven’t been winning too many games, but I’m sure they’ll find the path soon.”
Iowa (3-3-0) is giving up an average of 4.3 goals — and lost to the Manitoba Moose, 8-3, on Saturday in Winnipeg — but the Wild have seen those young defensemen in at least one training camp, and liked what they’ve seen.
“We’re excited about our blue line down there,” Evason said. “Are they going to give some goals up like they did the other night in Winnipeg? Sure. That’s gonna happen. But they’re going to become pros because of it, and the teaching that (Brett McLean) and his staff will do down there will do great things for them.”
Shooting to thrill
Also up this week is Vinni Lettieri, a veteran pro who was set to make his first start with the Wild, the team he grew up rooting for while playing at Minnetonka and the University of Minnesota.
One thing Wild fans can expect from Lettieri is shots on goal. Last season at AHL Providence, he threw 163 on net while scoring 23 goals and 49 points in 48 games, and his 14 shots — one goal — lead the Iowa Wild this season.
“Even Michael Michael Jordan said he failed so much he succeeded,” Lettieri said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “You’ve gotta keep on shooting. Not every one’s going to go in, and if they did, you should probably win the lottery, as well.”
In three preseason games, Lettieri, 28, had a goal and three assists. In parts of five NHL seasons with the Rangers, Ducks and Bruins, he has seven goals, 11 assists and 126 shots in 83 NHL games.
“It’s not just getting as many shots as you can, because obviously you don’t want any play-killers,” he said. “But when the shot’s there, you never know which shot’s going to go in.”
“You still have to be able to see the game, and see if someone’s open,” Lettieri added, “but I’ve been a shooter all my life, that’s pretty much what I worked on every single day in my basement, and I try to do it as best I can.”
Evason confirmed Tuesday that Matt Boldy (upper body) will travel with the team when it leaves for Philadelphia on Wednesday. “He won’t be ready for the start (of the trip),” the coach said, “but maybe at the end.”