The Wild flew in to a balmy Edmonton for an afternoon practice at Rexall Place before re-starting the season after the Olympic break (yes, this might be the first time Edmonton has been described as balmy in a sentence, but compared to the State of Hockey this morning, it is downright tropical here).
Minnesota was rejoined by Olympians Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was happy to have them back at an intense practice today.
“You can tell that they’ve been playing at a high speed over there, and I expect them to step right in where they left off,” Yeo said.
Granlund helped Finland win bronze, leading the team in points (3-4=7) and was named to the All-Tournament Team. It was a phenomenal experience for the center, who turns 22 today.
"It was great, the atmosphere and the whole set up," Granlund said. "The best players in the world were playing there. It was a tough tournament. It was a little different, playing with guys you just met over there and with a larger ice surface. But I enjoyed it a lot."
Granlund was on a line with tournament MVP and his childhood idol, Teemu Selanne. When asked about the experience of playing with Selanne, Granlund could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“It was awesome—all the things he’s done for Finnish hockey,” Granlund said. “He’s 43 years old now and he can still play at that level. It was an honor just to play with him. I can’t even describe it. He was my biggest idol growing up and now you’re playing with him; it was great.”
Of course, Granlund and Finland’s bronze medal victory came at the expense of Parise, Suter and Team USA.
Parise said that he’s a little worn from the travel, tournament and time change, but ready to restart with the Wild after the disappointing end to the Olympics. Sometimes after falling down, getting back on the horse is the answer.
"With how disappointing it was, I think the best part about it is that we're coming back and playing more hockey," Parise said. "You can shift your mindset to what we're doing here…For me that's the best way, as disappointing as it was. The best part is coming out and playing another game tomorrow and try to feel good about that."
Granlund and Mikko Koivu rotated taking shifts with the top line with Jason Pominville and Parise. Before the break, Granlund, Pominville and Parise were a unit, but Yeo said that after an explosive third-period performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 30, the trio was unable to generate much 5-on-5.
"If Mikko doesn't play tomorrow, then we'll go into the game this way and see how they perform," Yeo said.
However, Yeo added that he feels the club has more depth at forward than ever during his tenure. Just because a couple of guys are together tomorrow, doesn’t mean they’ll be together long-term. So, there could be some shuffling as play resumes and the Wild looks for productive combinations. Here’s what the other forward lines looked like today:
Heatley – Coyle – Fontaine
Niederreiter – Brodziak – Cooke
Veilleux – Haula – Mitchell – Rupp
Men at Power Play Work
With just 23 games remaining in the regular season, special teams will be paramount in the push for the playoffs. With the Wild getting a number of its power play contributors back today the club did some extra work on the man advantage, spending time with both full-ice and in-zone reps.
"I'm hoping we can keep the momentum we had going into the break," Yeo said. "Special team success is going to be a huge key to team success heading down the stretch."
On the first unit, Granlund, Parise, Dany Heatley were up front with Pominville and Suter running the points. The second unit was comprised of Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine in the forward spots with Jared Spurgeon and Keith Ballard and Jonas Brodin rotating at the point.
Extra Time in the Crease
Niklas Backstrom was on the ice before today’s practice working with goaltending coach Bob Mason. He was warming up with lateral movement and up-and-down drills.
Backstrom was held off the ice yesterday with “mid-body soreness” as Yeo called it, and did not dress in the team’s final game before the Olympic break against Nashville. The 36-year-old remained in net for the entirety of the practice.
Yeo did not say who'd be in net tomorrow against the Oilers. Backstrom has had a ton of success against the former Northwest Division rival. Backstrom is 25-4-1 with a 1.91 GAA, a .928 SV% and four shutouts in 32 career starts against the Oilers.
Scandella and Zucker on IR
The Wild placed forward Jason Zucker and defenseman Marco Scandella on Injured Reserve. Zucker had a minor procedure during the Olympic break and didn’t travel with the team to Edmonton.
Scandella was placed on IR today, retroactively to Feb. 4 after suffering a knee sprain against Tampa Bay. The blueliner did make the trip and practiced with the team today. However, Yeo doesn’t expect him to be in the lineup tomorrow.
"He's taking on more in practice and he's looking better and better, but we've got six healthy guys right now so there's no reason to rush him," Yeo said.
Curry, Veilleux Recalled
The Wild recalled goaltender John Curry and forward Stephane Veilleux from Iowa, the club’s American Hockey League affiliate. Curry signed to a two-way NHL contract on Feb. 17 and will wear jersey No. 30 for Minnesota. The netminder is 7-5-2 with a 2.08 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in 15 games with Iowa this season.
Both Curry and Veilleux joined the team today and skated in Edmonton.
Wild Trades For Winchester
The Wild acquired journeyman forward Brad Winchester of the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League for defenseman Brian Connelly.
The 32-year-old has collected 30 points (16-14=30) including six power-play goals and 85 penalty minutes (PIM) in 55 games with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League (AHL) this season. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound native of Madison, Wis., has recorded 68 points and 552 PIM in 390 career NHL games during seven seasons with Edmonton, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim and San Jose (2005-12). He has also notched three points (1-2=3) in 24 career NHL playoff contests. Winchester was originally selected by Edmonton in the second-round (35th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.