The Minnesota Wild have been a significant victim to COVID-19. With around a dozen players on the NHL’s protocol list for the past couple of weeks and seven games postponed, they are finally making their triumphant return to action against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
While six players remain on the list as of Monday night, head coach Dean Evason has had to shuffle the lineup to fit in some new players and make new roles for the others fresh out of quarantine.
We cannot know for certain what the lineup is going to look like when the puck drops in the Staples Center, but we do know what lines Evason has created during the short practice time on the journey back to full health.
I can say in confidence that most Wild fans are parading through the streets of St. Paul after reading this tweet. After going through a grueling 11 games to start the season, where at times it would appear that this team forgot how to control a puck, this is the sort of lineup that we have been craving.
The first thing that immediately stood out to me was Jordan Greenway on the opposite line of Kirill Kaprizov. It has been a trend throughout the modern era of the NHL, a bigger, more physical player on the wing of an all-offensive player. Someone to go and forecheck and get those pucks to the dude that will put it in the back of the net. At times in his rookie season, Kaprizov has been stuck without anyone to really do that for him and he has been able to create some solo chances, but that takes him out of the offensive area of the play.
My eyes darting through the forward lines, my heart sings for Joel Eriksson as the Wild’s top center coming out of the pause. While he was earning promotions in the early games, it was uncertain if Evason still believed that would be his role as Minnesota returned to play. Well thank you, his elite defensive ability and his team-leading five goals is enough evidence for him to stick there—between the reliable Zach Parise and a Kevin Fiala that started to find his footing offensively just before the Wild’s streak of postponed games.
By far the decision that made me go “oh Dean, you bad man,” was placing rookie defenseman Calen Addison—making his NHL debut no less—next to Ryan Suter on the top pairing on the blue line. An offensively-capable player like Addison has filled a role the Wild have not had in quite some time and giving him enough runway and ice to make the plays that he’s capable of doing is perfect.
At the beginning of the season, the Wild were heralded with the label as one of the deepest forward groups in the league—that’s what happens when you have four middle-six lines—and it appears Minnesota will continue that trend as they ease Mats Zuccarello back from a long-term injury. Making his season debut on the fourth line with some depth forwards, the Lizard Man can provide some much-needed offense from the bottom-six and it will be interesting to see the spotlight grow brighter as he’s the sole provider of offense on his line.
This game might turn ugly with some key players missing for Minnesota, but it has the makings of a complete team effort that stuns some casual observers with the talent the Wild possess deeper down in their lineup. If not, we at least get to see some significant milestones for young players and our favorite team play hockey again.