Minnesota Wild forward Stephane Veilleux has brought the same energy and work ethic to the rink for 499 National Hockey League games. Tonight, the veteran will do it for the 500th time, as the Wild hosts the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.
It’s been a long and winding road for the 33-year-old to attain the milestone. Drafted by the Wild in 2001, Veilleux came into the League during the 2002-03 season, playing in 38 games.
He played his last game with Minnesota on Nov. 11 against the New Jersey Devils. Since the 2011-12 season, he’s bounced like a Ping-Pong ball (editor’s note: he’s really, really good at the paddle game) between the Wild and its American Hockey League affiliates. Regardless of when he’s called upon, the Beauceville, Quebec native always brings a relentless feistiness to the ice.
Reaching the milestone, especially on home ice, has given Veilleux a chance to reflect on his career.
“It goes so fast, but you take a step back and look at some of the success that you’ve had,” Veilleux said. “You feel very fortunate that the work that you put in and actually accomplish that many games. It’s a great feeling personally.
“Hard work pays off. I’m really proud of it, especially to do it for the organization that drafted me.”
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo knows that Veilleux will always bring effort to the lineup. To do it over such a long period of time is a testament to his dedication and love of the game.
“He’s a guy that plays the game where he’s approached his whole career, where if you give him five shifts, if you give him 12 shifts, he’s going to give you everything that he’s got,” Yeo said. “For a guy like that it has to be especially sweet…If he’s played 500 games, you know he’s played 500 games. By that I mean he’s competed hard every night.”
Veilleux will likely be asked to play shorthanded—an area the Wild has been perfect in its last seven games. The team is 17-for-17 on the penalty kill during the stretch. The Panthers have the League’s 27th power play (tied with Minnesota at 15.7 percent), so Minnesota doesn’t want to give its opponents any glimmer of hope on the man advantage.
Yeo said that the Cats actually play a similar style as the Wild. The teams are also facing similar situations in their respective conferences. Both have 59 points and the Panthers currently sit ninth in the East, four points off the Wild Card pace.
Going against an Eastern team—one that’s also desperate for points—brings a challenge upon itself. The Wild doesn’t have the same buildup of hatred against the Panthers like many of its recent Western opponents. The team hasn’t faced an Eastern team since before the All-Star Break. So, the Wild will have to be intrinsically geared up for the test. However, the bench boss said the team has been prepared to play in its recent stretch and the wins have followed, 8-1-2 in its last 11.
“There’s different ways we have to find the motivation,” Yeo said. “More importantly is the focus of how we have to play.”
Veilleux will skate on the fourth line tonight. The club will mix a few things up, including placing Jordan Schroeder on the second line with Thomas Vanek and Mikael Granlund. Yeo said that he’s earned the spot and likes his speed on the wing.
Here’s what the lines will look like tonight:
The club has reassigned defenseman Christian Folin to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. He has recorded six points (1-5=6) in 29 games with Minnesota this season.