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Vanek, Feeling Good, Off To A Quick Start For Wild

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Last season, his first on the Minnesota Wild, Thomas Vanek scored his third goal in game number 26 of the season.

Goal number three this season was scored Thursday night against the Blue Jackets, 20 games quicker, in what's continued to be a fast start for Vanek.

"We saw his goal last night. He's a pretty skilled guy," Charlie Coyle said on Friday. "He can find you with the puck, he's creative; he's pretty smart."

Vanek scored his 300th goal against the Arizona Coyotes a week prior, and is now sitting on 301 career goals. He has twice hit the 40-goal plateau for a single-season in his career, and for the sixth time has scored at least three goals in his first six games of a season.

In each of the five previous seasons Vanek got off to that start, he scored at least 26 goals.

"I feel good. Obviously I got some stuff fixed this summer," Vanek said. "Even though with that I had somewhat of a shorter summer, but it was a good summer because I could work out … and feel healthy."

Vanek said he spent time in the offseason working with power skating coach Diane Ness. Though he's a player who at times has made a living in front of the net—as evidenced by his deflection goal against the Blue Jackets—he can be effective from the outside as well.

With his body right, his mind, and game, have followed.

"When you're hurt, you're constantly thinking of how to compensate in a different way, and how to play the game a little differently," Vanek said. "Your mind is a little bit freer (when you're healthy), and you can play the game, and think the game."

His first goal of the season was a game-tying goal and the third of four in a stretch of 5:07 in the Wild's furious season-opening comeback win against the Colorado Avalanche.

At the end of a 55-second shift, his second-longest of the game, Vanek idled in the neutral zone, electing to stay out instead of going for a line change as the play unfolded. He then sped below the blue line, found a soft spot, and gave Mikael Granlund a target for a cross-ice pass before stopping and shooting the puck off the post and in.

"You look at what he's done so far this year, and I'd say it's been a big difference compared to the start of the year last year," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Obviously everything was new last year, but that aside, 5-on-5, his play has been very strong."

Vanek has played in 86 games for the Wild. Over that time, he's become more comfortable, as most players do, with his teammates, his coaches, and the systems.

"What always helps is even though I knew a lot of the guys going into last year, it's nice coming into camp knowing the staff and everyone real well," Vanek said. "The comfort factor was nice, too."

Coyle has been Vanek's most-common linemate by far since Vanek joined the Wild. Over a third of Vanek's even-strength minutes last season were played with Coyle. Vanek has watched Coyle evolve as the two have grown their on-ice relationship.

"The game is determined by your center, and [Charlie] has taken huge strides from last year to this year," Vanek said. "The center, to me, is the toughest position. When he can play strong, and big, and open up ice down the middle, it makes the game easier for his wingers."

The analogue of what Vanek described was his second goal of the season, career goal number 300.

Vanek accepted an outlet pass in the neutral zone that looked to create a one-on-one. But Coyle and his 6-foot-3, 223 pound frame hustled up ice, occupying the center lane and giving Vanek time and space to toe-drag and pick out a top corner.

"We've created some chemistry last year and into this year, and we still have a ways to go I think," Coyle said. "We can improve every day. For the most part, we're doing all right, and we're still looking for more, and we'll just keep building that game every game."

In some ways it was a fitting 300th goal for Vanek. It had appeared he reached the milestone five days earlier when he flung a puck from behind the goal line toward St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen, but a scoring change awarded the goal to Coyle.

"He'll just get two standing ovations though, so I think he'll take it," Coyle joked after hearing the goal had been switched to him.

Like Coyle, Vanek also thinks the on-ice product is only improving.

"I always look at it as a line, if you can have a pair that know each other well, the third guy can find a way to complement," Vanek said. "If you can have all three guys on the same page that's usually a different level. We're close; last game was better than our games before."

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