For Wild’s Victor Rask, a chance to prove he’s ready to contribute
ST. PAUL -- It’s been an inauspicious Minnesota start for Victor Rask, a goal and assist in 10 games with the Wild after being acquired from Carolina for Nino Niederreiter, then a lower-body injury that sidelined him for the next 12 games.
At least the time off hasn’t dropped the center in the depth chart.
Coach Bruce Boudreau has inserted Rask between veteran left wing Zach Parise and newly acquired winger Kevin Fiala for Monday, March 11’s puck drop against San Jose at Xcel Energy Center.
Rask, 25, was part of general manager Paul Fenton’s plan to add more speed to what had been a moribund lineup near the trade deadline. Since going 1-7-2 out of the all-star break, the Wild are 6-1-2 and started the day holding the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot by a point over Arizona.
Boudreau said he wasn’t sure Rask would work well on the No. 2 line with Parise and Fiala, adding, “We’ll find out, right?”
It’s good news for Rask, who has watched fellow newcomers Fiala and Donato, both 22, make an immediate impact with the Wild. Donato has two goals and nine points in nine games with his new team, and Fiala scored two goals against his former team as Minnesota rallied for a point in a 5-4 shootout loss at Nashville on March 5.
“It always sucks to be on the side,” Rask said. “I didn’t think this injury was going to take this long, but it did. I’ve been working hard off the ice, and it’s going to be fun to be back.”
Making matters worse, Niederreiter has been a revelation in Carolina with 10 goals and 11 assists in 22 games.
Boudreau said he told Rask to prove that he’s ready to return.
“I told him yesterday, I said he hasn’t had a lot of success but with 12 games left you can change everybody’s mind, and today’s the start,” the coach said. “So, hopefully he’s ready to play.”
Most teams in a playoff chase would look at a long, late homestand as a blessing. But the Wild haven’t been great at the home this season, 14-13-6 with disappointing recent losses to Anaheim, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
“It’s not how you start but how you finish,” Boudreau said, “and if we can somehow manage to be successful on this home stand, I think it will put us in good stead for the playoffs.”
Monday’s game is the start of five games in nine days at the X. Four of the opponents are either in the playoffs (Sharks, New York Islanders) or battling the Wild for a spot in the West (Colorado, Dallas). The Wild have played better against good teams lately, especially on the road, with wins at Toronto, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay.
“I don’t think I have to tell them too much about tonight other than the pre-scouts and everything else,” Boudreau said. “If we don’t know after 69 games how big these games are, we’re in bigger trouble than we think.
“We’re playing one of the elite teams in the league, and a team that’s playing well and has a reason to play well. It’s going to be a great test for us, and a great test at home.”