Forward Zach Parise returned to Minnesota Wild practice on Thursday, and could play on Friday when the Wild hosts the Winnipeg Jets.
The Wild has two plans in place, according to Head Coach Mike Yeo: One that includes Parise, and one that doesn't.
"We don't know which one we're going with yet," Yeo said. "He's medically cleared, and if we had any kind of concerns or uncertainty then we'd hold him out."
After taking part in morning skate this past Saturday before the Wild played the Nashville Predators, Parise did not participate in the next two Wild practices, but continued to skate on his own. He again took part in morning skate on Wednesday before the Wild played the Vancouver Canucks.
On Thursday, Parise was a full participant, taking part in every drill, including 3-on-2's on a line with Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund.
"It was a pretty big change from the way it felt that one Saturday, to Wednesday," Parise said. "It was kind of quick, and then just kind of jumping back into practice. It didn't feel like I was behind or anything."
Since Parise sprained his MCL on Nov. 5 in a game against the Predators, the Wild has gone 4-3-1, scoring 2.75 goals per game. With Parise in the lineup, Minnesota is 7-3-2, scoring 3.08 goals per game.
"They've been playing hard," Parise said. "It's easy to judge the game from up high. It's not fair for me to comment on how they've been playing when I'm not in the lineup, and I'm not in the locker room or traveling."
Before he was injured, Parise was skating on a line with Granlund and Jason Pominville. That could change if Yeo chooses to go with the lines the Wild showed, but neither that nor Parise's status have been decided.
"Obviously if he's ready to play, then we think we can probably find a place for him in our lineup," Yeo said. "Today we just experimented with something, we don't even know if we'll go with that tomorrow or not. Adding one player gives you so many more options."
What being without Parise has done to the Wild, and what Yeo said Minnesota has felt lately, is the attention it has afforded other teams to apply on Mikko Koivu's line, and the expanded role almost every forward has had to step into.
"Those guys, they're playing bigger minutes, and they're playing harder minutes because of the guys that they're going up against," Yeo said. "It gets us a little closer to having the other team pick their poison of who they want to match up against, and we think that when we're healthy, we've got a pretty deep group up front with the number of guys we have capable of contributing offensively."
When Parise is back, matchups become an area the Wild can take advantage of. Thomas Vanek had been playing on the third line before Parise's injury. Since then, in the eight games, he's scored five goals in a more featured role.
"The last several games he's been involved in numerous scoring chances every game," Yeo said. "I would expect that to continue, and who he's playing with, that might change from game-to-game, but he's the type of player that regardless of who he's playing with, when he's on top of his game, he finds a way to create."
After losing to the Canucks on Thursday, Yeo said, "In the very near future with guys coming back, you'd be making a bit of a statement right now."
In the third period of that loss, it was Coyle who got an early shift on the top line with Koivu and Jason Zucker, Coyle, who scored a late 6-on-5 goal to draw the Wild within 3-2, and Coyle, who played 6:26 in that third period, more than he played in the first or second.
It remains to be seen whether Parise plays on Friday or not, and if he plays with Coyle, but if so, the 6-foot-3 forward is ready.
"Every opportunity you get you have to take advantage of," Coyle said. "To play a top-six role, I have to take advantage of it; I have to play my game. It doesn't get any easier, just because you're plying with a different line, or different guys, or whatever the case may be.
"They put together lines with certain guys for a reason, so you have to be able to create some chemistry right away, and just play your your game."
Justin Fontaine is not likely to play on Friday, according to Yeo, but could play on Saturday against the Dallas Stars. With the Wild playing a back-to-back, Yeo said it's easier to get Fontaine, who has been out since Oct. 30 with a sprained MCL, into one game.
Defenseman Marco Scandella, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, skated on his own before practice on Thursday.
"I haven't had a chance to talk with him since, but I don't expect him to play this weekend," Yeo said.
Here are the Wild's lines from drills on Thursday:
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Nino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Charlie Coyle
Thomas Vanek – Erik Haula – Jason Pominville
Chris Porter – Ryan Carter – Kurtis Gabriel