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Young defensemen ready to step up in wake of Brodin injury

Olofsson and Reilly eager to slot into lineup full-time for foreseeable future

by Kayleigh Jackson / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- The Wild has 53 games under its belt in the 2017-18 campaign. Just five of those have seen an entirely healthy roster. 

Minnesota made it two and a half more games with a full bench before Jonas Brodin left Tuesday night's contest against the St. Louis Blues midway through the second period with an upper-body injury. Gustav Olofsson moved up to take his spot next to Matt Dumba as the Wild held on for a 6-2 win with only five blueliners. 

Brodin underwent successful surgery on his left hand Wednesday afternoon. He is expected to return to game action in three to four weeks. 

That will allow, for the first time since the Wild claimed Nate Prosser on waivers on Nov. 30, both Olofsson and Mike Reilly to slot into the lineup. 

"You've heard it all around the sports world this year, 'the next guy up,'" said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "We've been moving Mike and [Olofsson] in all year and so now's their time to shine." 

Though the Wild is far from the only NHL team that's dealt with frequent and lengthy injuries to key players this season, it's handled them remarkably well. When five players -- Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno and Nino Niederreiter -- were all out of the lineup after the first three games of the campaign, call-ups and younger players heeded the call and stepped up. 

Once again, the burden will fall on the young guns. Olofsson has elicited comparisons to Brodin, and not just because they're both Swedes. 

"All the players on our team are capable of raising their game, and when you rely on [younger players] more they either excel or they fall flat on their face," Boudreau said. "We're hoping that he excels." 

For their part, Olofsson and Reilly are embracing the challenge. The battle for the sixth defensive position has evolved into more of a rotation, giving both players a chance to develop and gain consistence in their game. If anything, Olofsson is even more inspired to prove himself without the threat of the press box looming. 

"I still think there's pressure to always play good, I mean if you're not playing well you're not gonna play those minutes anyway," Olofsson said. "I think you've still got to have the same approach, worry about my game and make sure I'm helping out in any way I can." 

There could certainly be worse times for an injury to hit. With a five-game homestand ahead, the Wild can make that defensive transition without having to worry about travel or its up-and-down play on the road. Ideally, it will be a seamless changeover. 

"Take one Swede out, put one Swede in," Dumba said. "[Olofsson] and [Reilly] and the rest of us will get some good minutes and hopefully that will be really good for them as well." 

Video: Reilly and Olofsson in for Brodin

Reilly slotted into the lineup in 33 games this year; Olofsson has seen action in 29. Both average around 12 minutes of ice time per game. 

"It's good to get back in here, and obviously it's tough, a guy like [Brodin] goes down, he's such a good player and a great teammate," Reilly said. "Other guys have got to step up here and I think we're gonna do that." 

In front of the home crowd through the next week and a half, the Wild has a chance to continue its impressive home-ice dominance. The Wild is 18-4-4 at Xcel Energy Center this season, tied for first in the League in points on home ice. 

It's also on the cusp of breaking a franchise record. The current 10-game point streak (8-0-2) in St. Paul is tied for the longest home-ice point streak in franchise history. 

But more important to the team is getting points in every outing possible, especially against Central Division rivals. Only two of the remaining games in February are against divisional rivals, but every point counts. 

"We can't have any nights off and just know how important each point is," Reilly said. "The homestand here is huge for us, get some points here and try to make up some ground." 

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