Forward Justin Fontaine, who has been out since sustaining a sprained MCL on Oct. 30, has been activated off Injured Reserve and is expected to play on Saturday when the Minnesota Wild hosts the Dallas Stars.
"It gives you some more tools," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "We're going to be able to re-assemble our lines the way they were a little earlier in the year when we were having success. We'll see if we can recapture some of that."
Fontaine has missed the past 11 games with the knee injury. He missed the first two games of the season and much of preseason after sustaining an oblique injury.
"The game pace is obviously a little different, but to be able to go through practice this week, it definitely helps getting some reps in there," said Fontaine, who took part in a long practice on Monday.
Yeo has said the Wild has missed Fontaine on the penalty kill, as well as simply providing more forward depth for the Wild.
With Fontaine in the lineup this season, the Wild's penalty kill has been at 84.2 percent (16-for-19). Without Fontaine in the lineup, the penalty kill has been at 67.7 percent (23-for-34).
"He's a versatile player, and he's a player that helps us in a lot of areas," Yeo said on Monday. "He's responsible defensively, can contribute offensively, can fill in offensive roles when you need him to, and can complement offensive players. He's a guy that you can put on the ice when you're protecting a lead, or when you're killing a penalty."
The only other lineup change right now is goalie Darcy Kuemper, who will make his third start of the season, relieving Devan Dubnyk who had started 13 straight and appeared in the past 17 games.
"We have to play pretty close to the vest early in this game to make sure that if [Kuemper] is facing some opportunities, we're giving him a good chance to settle into the game," Yeo said. "More than anything else—it's a good opportunity for [Kuemper]—but I'm anxious to see how we respond here as a group. We haven’t been playing our type of game."
The Wild is carrying 14 forwards on its roster right now, and Yeo said Minnesota is monitoring the condition of one of them.
"We'll take one person into warmup that we just have to make sure," Yeo said. "They didn't skate this morning."
Forward Tyler Graovac also was on the ice for morning skate, his first activity since sustaining a groin injury on Oct. 8.
The Wild assigned defenseman Christian Folin to Iowa on Saturday, and recalled defenseman Gustav Olofsson, who made his NHL debut Nov. 19 against the Boston Bruins.
"[Folin], he's a young player in our team, and obviously our job is to win here, but our job is also to develop players," Yeo said. "Sometimes those guys can do it here, and sometimes they need to spend a little time down in the American League."
Olofsson skated 10:41 in his debut after learning he was going to play following pregame warmups when a sick Jonas Brodin could not go.
"Just getting the first one out of the way—you're obviously a little nervous—and that's not a part of it anymore," Olofsson said. "Now it's easier to focus on my game, and I've been here now with a morning skate, and taking care of my body, so we'll see how tonight goes."
Given that uncertainty, Olofsson told his father, Hakan, not to come to Boston. His latest call-up came with his grandfather, Gunnar, who lives in Sweden, in the United States. Hakan and Gunnar were at the University of Nebraska-Omaha to watch Olofsson's brother, Freddy, play.
Both will be in attendance on Saturday after making the five-hour drive after to Minnesota.
"It was perfect. They make it over once a year, and they were already over here, my grandma and grandpa," Olofsson said. "They're over here for two weeks, and then this happens. It's crazy for him to be here; that's unheard of.
"He sits up and watches my games at 3 a.m. back home in Sweden, so it will be so much fun to play in front of him."
It's been a long journey for Olofsson, who missed all but one game last season with a shoulder injury. He's taken in plenty of Wild games at Xcel Energy Center, but Saturday will be his first as a player.
"It's all for a cause though, and I'm excited to be out on the ice instead of watching," Olofsson said.
Marco Scandella also took morning skate, and was with his teammates for the first time on the ice since sustaining a lower-body injury that has held him out the past four games.
"He's getting close," Yeo said. "He's not in tonight, but Tuesday is a possibility.
Where Scandella and Olofsson could help Minnesota is in its breakouts. It's an area both Yeo and Zach Parise cited after the Wild's 2-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
Yeo said it's not on Olofsson to come in and fix those problems, and even when Scandella returns, there are other elements of the breakouts hurting the Wild.
"A lot of the times that we're not getting out of our zone, or we're not getting into the offensive zone, a lot of those problems fall on the shoulders of our forwards," Yeo said. "Our forwards in a lot of ways are playing a game that's tough for our defensemen right now. We're either turning pucks in the neutral zone over, or we get in the offensive zone and we're one-and-done."
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Nino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek – Charlie Coyle – Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter – Erik Haula – Ryan Carter
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson – Nate Prosser
PREGAME HAPPY HOUR
Start Saturday's festivities a little earlier with our pre-game happy hour, from 4:45pm - 6:30pm, on top of the box office at Xcel Energy Center.
Two full bars will be serving Anheuser-Busch beers, liquor and Chankaska wine, as well as 20oz bottles of soda and water as you gear up for tonight’s match-up against the Dallas Stars. Popcorn, chips, and candy will also be available for purchase.