ST. PAUL -- If you asked Bruce Boudreau at the start of the season if he expected to have rookies Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler in his lineup going into the postseason, he probably would have laughed at you.
"Nope," Boudreau said. "When you're at the beginning of the year you're looking at your roster and you're not anticipating injuries."
But if injuries to key defensemen weren't anticipated, neither was the success that Soucy and Seeler have had in the NHL this year. Between the unexpected level of reliability from the young defensemen and the impending return of Jared Spurgeon, things are looking up after a spate of blue-line injuries struck the Wild.
And that's for a team that already ended the regular season second in the NHL for defensive scoring, posting a collective 200 points.
After missing 12 games with a partial right hamstring tear, the defenseman returned to full team practice on Monday just ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild and Winnipeg Jets will play a best-of-7 series beginning Wednesday with Game 1 set for Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, with puck drop shortly after 6 p.m. CT.
Though Spurgeon hasn't been officially cleared for action yet, the team hopes it's only a matter of time.
"It's fun to get out there with some guys," Spurgeon said. "Take it day by day, hopefully it responds well and go from there."
Spurgeon's goal is to make it back into the lineup by Wednesday. Likely meeting with a doctor before the team makes the trip north of the border, he's hoping for the 'all clear' sooner rather than later.
Spurgeon admits he isn't back at 100 percent. That isn't going to stop him, however.
"I think if you worry about stuff, that's when you're gonna be thinking about it too much," Spurgeon said. "Just go out there and practice."
In his first practice back, Spurgeon found himself alongside one of the team's unexpectedly pleasant surprises: Soucy. The 5-foot-9 Spurgeon and 6-foot-5 Soucy made an odd couple, but an effective one.
"He's a good player, he handles the puck well, he can skate well and he makes some good plays," Spurgeon said. "Makes it pretty easy to play with."
For his part, Soucy -- freshly recalled from Iowa after a few days' sojourn from the Wild roster -- is equally impressed by his new defensive partner. "He's obviously such a smart player and super skilled," Soucy said. "He's gonna be in the right spots … keep my game simple and hopefully we can work well with each other."
Spurgeon's forthcoming return, coupled with the excitement of the playoffs, has spirits high around the Wild locker room. This team has dealt with injuries all season long, with players missing a total of 151 man games. It's not about to let that suddenly become a factor now.
"It's been a tough stretch for us, losing [Spurgeon and Ryan Suter], and fortunately for us we've had some guys fill in very very well, and we needed that to clinch our spot," said goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "To be able to get [Spurgeon] back, he's a right-handed [Suter] anyway, so we at least got one of them back."
As Gustav Olofsson also nears a return from his upper-body injury, and as Louie Belpedio gains more confidence and experience with the pro game, the Wild has suddenly found itself in an optimistic position defensively.
If this wasn't what it expected at the offset of the season, it's certainly adapted to the surprise.