Pierre-Marc Bouchard continues to leap over the hurdles needed to clear the finish line.
Sidelined for more than a year because of a concussion, the Wild forward is aiming to be cleared for the Opening Night lineup Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. Bouchard assisted on power-play goals by Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley in Monday night's scrimmage, but most importantly, Bouchard absorbed contact.
"I'm just real encouraged every day that he continues to feel good," coach Mike Yeo said. "This is a guy that hasn't played a lot of hockey in the last couple years. This guy is a very, very good hockey player.
"This is a big step. You get contact in practice, but there was some real contact out there [in the scrimmage]. There were some big hits in that game. Guys were competing hard. If he continues to come out of these, not only does it help put him in a position to get cleared, but I think it helps his confidence, too. We're all very hopeful that he can stay healthy."
Bouchard's final test could come in Wednesday night's scrimmage in front of an anticipated jam-packed Xcel Energy Center. Final rosters must be submitted to the league Friday.
Bouchard originally was hit from behind in Winnipeg in the final minute Dec. 14, 2011. That loss ended a seven-game winning streak and began the Wild's unraveling. Bouchard returned a few games later but never felt completely right until getting dinged for the final time late in a game at Vancouver on Jan. 4, 2012.
Yeo reminded that with Bouchard in the lineup last year, "we're a playoff team."Tapping the power
Monday provided a sneak peek at the Wild's likely two power-play units. The No. 1 unit is the anticipated No. 1 line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Heatley with Ryan Suter and Bouchard manning the points. The No. 2 unit consisted of the anticipated No. 2 line of Matt Cullen, Granlund and Devin Setoguchi with Tom Gilbert and Jared Spurgeon at the points.
"We basically added a full unit, Mikko, Butch, Ryan, Granny and Zach," said Yeo, referring to second-half injuries to Koivu and Bouchard last season and the arrivals of Suter, Granlund and Parise. "That's five new guys to your power play, and those are pretty good ones."
Heatley was encouraged by the first day.
"It was an area last year we could have improved on and wanted to improve on," Heatley said of the Wild's 27th-ranked power play. "It looks good early. Both units moved the puck around, created offense. You need production from both units."In fine form
Speaking of Heatley, he is skating well and in tip-top shape after having knee surgery after last season.
"He looks great, doesn't he?" Yeo said.
"My only focus is to play well," said Heatley, who led the team with 24 goals last season, but it was the lowest full-season output of his career.Help from the farm
Monday's scrimmage featured Houston Aeros players littered through both teams. It was their fourth game in four days after chartering to Minnesota on Monday.
Essentially, they are guinea pigs as the Wild prepares for the season opener.
Yeo met with the Aeros before the game. Certain players, such as Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Johan Larsson, probably deserve a shot to make the team, but in a condensed training camp with every roster spot largely filled, they're not getting a chance.
Yeo explained to the Aeros, "This is not a [fair] training camp. This is not a team evaluation of sorts. This is team preparation and getting ready for Game 1. They're a part of that, and we need them to be part of that."