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Wild get solid contributions from young players

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 11 players on the roster who hadn't played a single playoff game in the NHL.

Among those 11 are three rookies, all of whom played big minutes and important roles for the Wild in its Game 1, 2-1 overtime loss to the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Minnesota boasts a pair of rookies among its top-six forwards, plus a 19-year old rookie and a pair of 23-year-olds on its top-four defensive pairings. Four of those five have played major roles for the Wild this season.

Defenseman Jonas Brodin is the headliner of the bunch, a 19-year-old Calder Trophy candidate who skated a team rookie record 34:20 in Game 1.

"I've got total confidence in this kid," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Seeing him go out over and over again, we've talked about it many times this year, but you have to be impressed to see this kid go into Chicago and perform in a playoff game like that. … It shows the composure and the mental makeup he has."

Minnesota's second pairing reunited a duo who spent a large portion of last season together, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.

Generously listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Spurgeon doesn't get much recognition nationally but has earned a reputation as a solid puck-moving defenseman with the ability to add goal-scoring on the back end. His five goals this season led Wild blue liners.

Scandella's story is interesting on its own. A second-round pick of the Wild in 2008, Scandella has been highly thought of by the organization for years and was one of the reasons the franchise felt comfortable trading defenseman Brent Burns to the San Jose Sharks in 2011.

In Scandella's first extended time with the Wild last season, he scored three goals and had nine assists but was a minus-22 in 63 games. It was his performance over the season's final month which gave the team a glimpse into what it had. Scandella played big minutes over that stretch, often times approaching 30 per game, assisting on four goals and posting a minus-2 rating over the final 12 games of 2011-12.

Perhaps slotted too high too soon, the Wild moved him down a pairing at the start of this season. But average play and a two-way contract made him easy to send to Houston of the American Hockey League when Spurgeon got healthy after an early-season injury.

Tuesday's Game 1 was Scandella's first NHL action since Feb. 7. He looked like he hadn't missed a beat.

"I was super excited to get the call," Scandella said of his addition to the roster Monday. "I've been watching the NHL playoffs my whole life, so to be a part of it is special."

Up front, the Wild have rookies Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker also making an impact.

Coyle played a large chunk of the season on the first line with veterans Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Coyle often is seen on the bench between the two, soaking in as much advice as he can. The 6-2, 205-pound wing has given that group a physical presence along the wall and in front. His eight goals are tied for fifth on the team despite playing in 37 games. His plus-3 rating also is fifth-best.

Zucker made his debut last season, playing in six games, and has been back-and-forth all year between the NHL and AHL, but in 20 games has four goals and has often been the catalyst with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi on the Wild's second line. When Zucker has been at his best this season, so has that line.

"It's a huge part of their development, getting that experience," Yeo said. "One thing that's important for them to recognize is how hard it is to get here and make sure you make the most of it; you are here, appreciate it, and make sure you're ready for it every year."

Zucker nearly won the game Tuesday with a snap shot that caromed off the crossbar midway through overtime. He also used his elite speed to create several other Grade-A chances throughout the game.

"I thought overall it was a fun game to play," Zucker said. "The team played pretty well, a few bounces here and there, a few better plays executed better by us and I think it's a different outcome. We gotta learn from that and get better. And we will."

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