MONTREAL -- Nick Palmieri has waited all season for an opportunity like he will be getting Thursday when the Minnesota Wild face the Montreal Canadiens.
Palmieri was identified by Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher as the key piece that came back from the New Jersey Devils in the trade for defenseman Marek Zidlicky, and as soon as Palmieri arrived he could see why.
Coach Mike Yeo had Palmieri playing on the second line with Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck for his first two games, but Thursday Palmieri will get bumped to the top line, alongside Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley.
"I've been very impressed so far," Yeo said of Palmieri. "The first day you see him he looks like an NHL player. He's got the size, the strength, the way he passes and shoots the puck. Every game that he's played for us -- he's played two now -- he's generated some quality scoring chances. We kind of eased him in, but he's earned himself some more opportunity on that top line and he's a guy we'd like to see on the power play, as well."
Palmieri, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-wing who's just 22 years old, readily admits he was starting to find his role difficult to take in New Jersey. After playing at least 10 minutes in all but one of his first 18 games with the Devils, Palmieri did not reach that mark once in his final 11 games, dating to Nov. 23, a span that included three return trips to the AHL.
"They had their lines pretty much set there, so there wasn't much room for me," said Palmieri. "But that's the way it goes. I'm just excited to play more minutes, no matter who I'm playing with."
Palmieri was getting decent minutes earlier in the season, but the production was slow to come in his second NHL season. Next thing he knew, he was a fourth-line player.
"I kind of got behind the eight-ball early in the year and started to feel the pressure," he said. "When they move you to the fourth line you kind of start to play more passive. You play to not make mistakes instead of trying to make a play."
He certainly will get that opportunity Thursday.
One player who won't, however, is Erik Christensen, who will be a healthy scratch for the first time since he was acquired from the New York Rangers on Feb. 3. Christensen does not have a point in 12 games with Minnesota, and he is a minus-5 in his last three games.
"It's one thing to not be getting goals and to not be getting assists, but if the puck is going in (our) net when you're on the ice, then it doesn't add up," Yeo said. "Some guys can go out and they might not score a goal but they can still be effective, they can still bring momentum or they can still be solid defensively. That's what we have to make sure of with Erik is the next time you're in the lineup, you might score or you might not, but just make sure you play a good game."
Here's how the Wild are expected to look like tonight:
Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Palmieri
Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Kassian - Darroll Powe - Nick Johnson
Stephane Veilleux - Warren Peters - Jed Ortmeyer
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk - Tom Gilbert
Nate Prosser - Kurtis Foster
Niklas Backstrom will start in goal, with Josh Harding the backup.