The Minnesota Wild sat atop the NHL on Dec. 10th, 2011. It was all downhill from there, as significant injuries not only knocked the Wild off first place but out of the playoffs entirely. Back then, all it took was injuries to strike Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, and Guillaume Latendresse to sink them.
In a strange parallel a decade later, injuries once again threaten Minnesota’s first-place standing in the league. The absences are piling up as players have gotten banged up, broken, and ill. But the Wild are staying afloat, winning their last two games despite the adversity. Why? What’s different?
For starters, look at the depth on that Wild team of yesteryear. Back then, they had to rely on no-name AHL call-ups like Warren Peters, Carson McMillan, Cody Almond, and Brett Bulmer. Trust us; no one has ever had their season saved by someone named Jed Ortmeyer.
Minnesota has a lot of options to handle a rash of injuries. Top prospect debutantes Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy took home the top billing, and rightfully so. Their NHL arrivals were highly anticipated, and they made quite the case to stick around on a longer-term basis. Boldy, in particular, stole the show with a game-winning goal and dazzling puck-handling. He even got promoted to the top line and played over 20 minutes in his second career game. However, the number of unavailable players in the last two games forced Bill Guerin to tap further into the Iowa Wild roster.
Connor Dewar and Kyle Rau were called up this weekend and joined the Rossis and Boldys to fill some holes in the line-up. On Saturday night against the Washington Capitals, a total of nine Minnesota Wild regulars were ruled out. Brandon Duhaime, Jordan Greenway, and Alex Goligoski were in COVID protocol. The injured list was even longer and featured some gigantic names. Joel Eriksson Ek, Kirill Kaprizov, Nick Bjugstad, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Cam Talbot are all part of why the Wild were in first place on Dec. 10th, 2021. Now they were all missing from the line-up.
Rau is no stranger to the Wild roster. Minnesota has called him up several times since he signed with the organization. As Marcus Foligno put it, “Rausy is always steady when he comes up – a little ball of energy.” Saturday was his 27th game with Minnesota across the last four seasons. The Eden Prairie native is no longer an NHL prospect at 29 years old. However, he’s been a great AHL player and an excellent player to call up for a spot start.
Dean Evason limited his minutes because of penalty trouble in the 2nd period. And Rau didn’t see the ice much with the Wild pushing for a game-tying goal in the third. Next to Victor Rask and Rem Pitlick, that line struggled most of the night, taking on the Sprong line early. Still, Rau played on the penalty kill against Alex Ovechkin‘s fearsome power play, and he added a shot on goal.
But if Rau is the cagey minor league vet used to these callups, Dewar is the rookie making only his second stint in the NHL. Dewar, who is Iowa’s “Mr. Responsible,” looked much more comfortable this time around, playing with poise and purpose on the ice. The former Everett Silvertip saw a heavy dose of Ovechkin at 5-on-5 play and dominated the shot share against the superstar. And in Boston, while every line was in jumbles, Dewar was the one player consistently pushing the play at 5-on-5. He was a part of the only two line combinations that controlled most of the expected goals in that game.
Calen Addison was also thrust into action, playing a season-high 15:54. He’s a defenseman fully capable of quarterbacking a power play and got an opportunity to play on the first unit Saturday. The way he moves along the blue line and funnels the puck to the shooters and playmakers is unmatched by any currently healthy Wild defenseman. The power play looked about as good as ever when it came to puck movement. Minnesota got two shots on goal on three unblocked attempts in two minutes on the man advantage.
The recent call-ups are getting thrown into the fire, and they’re rising above the flames. Minnesota should be getting a few guys back into the line-up by the next time they play on Friday. But the front office can breathe a sigh of relief knowing their AHLers can get the job done. They came into a tough situation with the team reeling on a five-game losing streak and missing some major key components to its success. Yet, they worked hard, performed well, and got some momentum for the big club with two wins in a row.
Where the less talented team in 2011-12 couldn’t right the ship as it sank to the bottom of the league, this year’s team has a much better pool of talent to plug any holes that arise. Those wins and several postponements might have been able to keep the ship afloat long enough for Minnesota to get healthy again. It’s one more way in which this year’s Wild team feels much more formidable than ever.
All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com