ST. LOUIS – The revolving door that was the Wild’s third pairing on defense has finally stopped spinning.
After regular rotation last season — and throughout coach Bruce Boudreau’s tenure — the team has solidified a top six that it has relied on every game in 2018-19, stability that has emerged as a strength of the Wild’s through the first month of the schedule.
“We have the confidence in all six when they go on [the ice] that they can play in any position or in any part of the game,” Boudreau said.
While the first two pairings feature familiar faces in Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon, free-agent addition Greg Pateryn and rookie Nick Seeler have locked down the other unit.
This has left Nate Prosser as the odd man out, and on Friday Prosser went on a conditioning stint to the minors. The plan is for him to play two games with Iowa of the American Hockey League and then rejoin the Wild.
“Hockey players want to play hockey,” Boudreau said. “I talk to Nate all the time. It’s tough sitting out. He understands, and he gets it. But nothing beats being in the lineup and playing. So you can practice all day long, but it’s not the same thing.”
Prosser has appeared in just one game with the Wild this season, skating just 3 minutes, 3 seconds against Arizona on Oct. 16.
The team dressed seven defensemen that day since team captain Mikko Koivu was away for the birth of his child.
Being an extra isn’t a new role for Prosser, who has been praised for having the right demeanor to handle the unique situation, but Boudreau acknowledged it’s still a challenge to be idle.
“He wants to play,” Boudreau said. “It probably drives him nuts that he’s not playing. But at the same time, he’s a really good human being so he masks it well.”
The effectiveness of the Pateryn-Seeler duo is what seems to have boxed Prosser out of minutes.
Signed to a three-year, $6.75 million contract, Pateryn has added grit and a right shot to the third unit, which the Wild wanted. And Seeler’s physical style has also helped the two develop a hard-nosed, shutdown style.
“We’re reading each other well,” Seeler said. “I think we’re supporting each other, too. It’s been a really good start to the year.”
And the opportunity to keep getting familiar with each other is stoking the pairing’s rhythm.
“You’re able to build chemistry a little bit easier and stack games on top of each other and just take strides forward,” Pateryn said.
Veteran Wild forward Matt Hendricks was not in the lineup Saturday against St. Louis, but he has been given the green light to resume playing after missing six games because of a lower-body injury.
“I’m feeling good,” Hendricks said. “I’m feeling strong and ready to get back out here.”
Hendricks was injured during the first period Oct. 16, struggling to get off the ice after Coyotes winger Brendan Perlini fell on Hendricks’ left leg.
“It’s a scary part of the game, for sure,” Hendricks said. “You don’t know how long that one was going to be. Luckily, though, I got lucky.”
When Hendricks does return to game action, likely during the upcoming stretch of road games in California, Boudreau expects Hendricks to be the same player he was before getting hurt — a stout penalty killer who supplies the team with energy.
“He knows how to play the game,” Boudreau said. “He might be a little older in the tooth but at the same time, he’s a really good presence in the room and on the bench when he is playing. He’s a positive player.”
Aside from meeting face-to-face with prized Russian prospect Kirill Kaprizov in Russia, Wild General Manager Paul Fenton will also use his trip to Europe to scope out free agents at the Karjala Tournament in Finland.
“Try to just get a visual on some of the guys we’ve identified and see if there’s anything there that makes sense for us in the future,” Fenton said.