After missing yesterday’s practice, Minnesota Wild forward Thomas Vanek joined the team for morning skate before the club tries to pick up ground in the Western Conference tonight against the Calgary Flames. The forward has been dealing with general soreness and will be a game-time decision.
“It got better as the skate went on,” Vanek said. “The way I look at it: if I can deal with the pain and still contribute I’ll play, but if I feel like I can’t help the team then I think it’s better if a different guy plays.”
The 31-year-old is hopeful that he’ll feel good throughout the afternoon and up until puck drop.
With Vanek’s availability in question, the club recalled forward Michael Keranen from the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. He didn’t make it to Calgary in time to join the team for morning skate.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was non-committal when asked if the Keranen would play tonight, but Vanek’s presence will factor in on the decision. However, the team’s bench boss didn’t completely rule out playing Keranen.
“Let’s see how Thomas is first off,” Yeo said. “The fact that we have to make sure Thomas is 100 percent before we put him in the lineup tonight. If [Vanek] were not to play that would leave a lot of things up in the air.”
If the Stockholm, Sweden native does get in the lineup, it will be his first National Hockey League game. He signed with the Wild as a free agent on June 5. In his first year in North America, he has 32 points (9-23=32) in Iowa. He leads the team in assists and is second in points and shots (113).
Yeo has heard good things about his development in his first year in the organization.
“He’s a smart player who plays responsible in both ends, but very crafty when he does get the puck,” Yeo said.
The team’s bench boss said that he liked his offensive game in training camp, but that he needed to learn the North American style of play and adjust to the smaller ice surface. He added that playing well in the defensive zone and away from the puck is important for Keranen, as well as any young developing player.
“The better your game is without the puck, the more opportunities you’re going to have,” Yeo said. “[Keranen] the type of guy we feel that if there is a hole in the top of the lineup then we know he’s capable of playing more of a skill role. But we also know we can add some skill to another line and also have him be the type of guy to play responsibly without the puck.”
Before signing with Minnesota, Keranen was a standout in the Finnish Elite League. Last season, he posted 52 points (17-35=52) and a plus-12 rating in 52 games for Ilves Tampere. That season, he tied for the FEL’s scoring title and was tied for second in assists. He earned the Lasse Oksanen Award, given to the best player during the regular season.
Defenseman Ryan Suter took the morning skate off, but will be in the lineup tonight.
Calgary has been one of the most surprising teams this season, especially late in games. The Flames have an NHL-leading 10 wins this season when trailing after 40 minutes and is coming off another third-period rally against the Boston Bruins on Monday.
Yeo said that the Flames set up the third period with their play throughout the first two periods, setting the game up for the big final push. The Wild’s bench boss said Calgary is tough to play against because it doesn’t give up much offensive opportunity and is a well-conditioned club for the last period.
Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley was also complementary of the Wild. He said the teams play a similar up-tempo style. From Calgary’s perspective, the club is happy with its play of late and the team’s positioning in the standings.
“We’re involved in a great race with [the Wild] and several other teams,” Hartley said. “But we’re not here to make friends.”
The Wild (63 points) and Flames (67 points) are in the thick of the firefight that is the Western Conference. Only five points separates sixth place Vancouver (67 points) from the 11th place Dallas Stars (62 points). Expect another tight game tonight, as each of the last three contests between the clubs being decided by a single goal, with the Wild going 2-0-1 during the stretch. Puck drop is at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey Time and will be broadcast on FOX Sports North and KFAN 100.3 FM.