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Wild coach Dean Evason answers a bevy of questions ahead of training camp

After a stellar 2021-22 season, the Wild still have high expectations for the 2022-23 season

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Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason looks on from the bench during action against the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 14, 2022.
David Berding / TNS
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Wild coach Dean Evason has moved on.

Though he still has a sour taste in his mouth after how last season ended — the Wild lost to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL playoffs after a stellar 53-22-7 regular season — Evason isn’t going to live in the past.

He believes the Wild are capable of doing something special this season as long as everyone enters with the right mindset.

With the Oct. 13 season opener only weeks away, the Wild open training camp on Thursday at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul.

On his way to Interlachen Country Club earlier this week, Evason took time to chat with the Pioneer Press. Here’s the full conversation:

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It’s hard to believe that this is about to be Year 4 in charge for you. It feels like time has gone by pretty fast, eh?

“Agreed. It certainly doesn’t feel like that with us taking over for 15 games or whatever before the COVID shutdown and then the playoff bubble (in 2019-20) and then the shortened season (in 2020-21). It hasn’t really felt like full seasons. It’s felt very chopped up. As far as our coaching staff, I feel really good about everything. I like our group. I like the progressions that we’ve made and the adjustments that we’ve made. Just like we want our players to get better every day, we want our coaching staff to get better every day. I truly believe that we’ve done that, and we’re going to continue to do that this season.”

What should we expect from Kirill Kaprizov this season? He’s coming off such a spectacular season. Can he replicate that?

“I certainly don’t put numbers on anything. You probably know that by now. It’s not like I’m sitting here like, ‘Jeez, he’s got to this amount of goals and this amount of assists.’ We want him to do the same thing he’s done since Day 1, and that’s compete his (rear end) off. Obviously, he has a skill set that is above so many other players in the National Hockey League. The thing that sets him apart, though, is his work ethic, and he’s going to bring that every single night. I think the next step for him is becoming a leader for our team. He already has started to do that. He leads by example. He works in absolutely every situation that he gets put in. That’s not only in games, that’s in practices as well.”

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You saw some of that leadership in the playoffs last season, right? It really looked like he tried to put the team on his back against the St. Louis Blues.

“Yeah 100 percent. That’s the work ethic part of it. You know, when we have our best offensive player working his (rear end) off in all three zones, it’s hard for his teammates to watch that and not want to follow him. He was a leader in the playoffs for us, and we expect that to continue this season.”

Obviously, you don’t have Kevin Fiala this season. He had 85 points last season. Is it possible to replace that type of production?

“You can go up and down our lineup from last season and there are a lot of guys that maybe people didn’t think would have the offensive production that they did. It could be the same thing this season as far as numbers go. We’re hoping that it’s several people that step up for us. We want our guys to compete. There’s going to be an opportunity. There’s going to be some line combination that we’ll look to juggle through the preseason to see if we can find some chemistry. You look at a guy like Matt Boldy. He took a step forward last season. We need to put some people around him. Obviously he had some good chemistry with Freddy Gaudreau, and we’re expecting some people to compete to fit into those spots.”

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Let’s talk more about forward Freddy Gaudreau. You’re clearly very fond of him. He showed some glimpses last season. What does his role look like this season?

“Everyone talks about the Swiss Army knife that can play up and down the lineup and play on both special teams. He’s that guy for our team. The asset that he brings more than anything is that he will commit to whatever we ask of him. That is such an incredible attitude to have. There’s no question we feel he can play any position up front. He’s going to do whatever he possibly can to help his team win.”

What about Ryan Hartman? He had a career-high 34 goals last season. Some people don’t think he can do that again. Why can’t he?

“He just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing and he’s going to be fine. I don’t look at the point production or anything like that. If he works and competes and does whatever it takes to help our team win games, the points are going to come. We need people to be offensive players for us, and Hartzy is a part of that group. We just don’t put a number on it. All there is is the pressure to compete the same way that he has done. That’s the standard we’re going to ask, not only of Hartzy, of everyone on the team.”

What was it like to see goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury parachute into the locker room last season? He seemed to fit in as soon as he got there.

“It was absolutely wonderful to watch how seamlessly he fit in with the group. That’s twofold. He’s obviously a tremendous teammate. We also have a tremendous group that’s extremely welcoming to everyone. That went hand in hand. To have him come in, and for our group to watch his leadership, starting with his work ethic, that was a huge asset for us. Now to have him here from the start, practicing with the guys, hanging out with the guys, it’s only going to be better going forward this season.”

What’s the plan with him this season? It’s probably not a 50-50 split like it would have been if Cam Talbot was still here.

“It’ll be no different than how we’ve handled the goaltenders ever since we took over. It’s game by game. We obviously are very mindful of where he is in his career (at age 37). What does it matter how old he is though? He’s in fantastic shape. He will be able to play as many games as we can get him. That’s what he’s going to want. It’ll be game by game. We won’t put a number on it as far as games we want him to play. We’re going to go game by game and communicate with him to see how he feels physically and mentally and then go from there.”

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