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Fontaine Excited About Possibility Of Season Debut

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild will likely dress its third different lineup in three games on Thursday in Arizona against the Coyotes, with another player likely making his Wild season debut.

Head Coach Mike Yeo said rookie forward Tyler Graovac will be out a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury. Groavac played in the season-opener in Colorado, but not on Saturday against St. Louis, making way for Jordan Schroeder.

With Schroeder now in Iowa, it could mean that Justin Fontaine is ready to see his first action of the regular season. After missing part of training camp and landing on injured-reserve with an upper-body injury, Fontaine has been practicing with his teammates, and back on a line with Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle, where he was to begin camp.

"I'm excited, and I'm feeling pretty good now. I got a good week of skates in, and getting back into it," Fontaine said. "Just continuing to work on my game through practices, situational stuff."

Flexibility in the lineup is something the Wild has because of the diverse skill set of its players. When Coyle was supposed to start the season centering a line with Fontaine, he moved over to Fontaine's wing spot to make way for Graovac.

Coyle is now back in the middle, and Yeo said even Fontaine's ability to play in a few different roles is an asset to the Wild.

"Certainly if [Graovac] was healthy, then [Fontaine] would be starting on the fourth line," Yeo said. "What I like about [Fontaine] is he can be moved around, he can play in that kind of role, and he can also—if he were on our fourth line right now—it would change the identity of the line a little bit. It would still be a strong defensive line, but have probably a little bit more of a threat offensively."

Instead, for the time being, Fontaine will likely stick with Vanek and Coyle, a duo that, through the first two games of the season, has produced three even-strength goals.

Fontaine also knows his versatility can also benefit the Wild.

"That's a factor of my game that kind of helps me, and can move me wherever," he said. "Hopefully I can adapt to that role, and hopefully I can continue to grow my game."

What the Wild is getting back, according to Yeo, is a high-IQ player, and one that he thinks has room to grow.

"Hockey sense is usually what we say the most about [Fontaine]," Yeo said. "He's a player—we talk about Charlie and we talk about [Granlund] taking a step this year—and I'd like to see [Fontaine] take a step as well like this. Making sure that he's not a guy that gets bounced around, or gets bounced out of the lineup."

Fontaine said he was able to benefit in his recovery from the break in the schedule, which sees the Wild with a five-day break between games two and three.

"You always think you're kind of ready to go for games, but it's a whole new level when you're in the game, and the speed of it," Fontaine said. "The last week has helped me, and pushed me."

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