TAMPA, FLA. – Center Victor Rask’s assimilation to the Wild’s lineup was put on hold just 10 games into his tenure with the team because of a lower-body injury, but Rask is getting closer to a return to action after rejoining the group in Tampa Bay.
“It could have been way worse than it was,” he said. “Just happy to be back.”
Rask participated in his first skate with the Wild on Thursday morning since he was hurt Feb. 12 against the Philadelphia Flyers when he stepped on a puck — what Rask called “an unlucky bounce” — soon after the Wild acquired him in a trade from the Hurricanes Jan. 17 that sent winger Nino Niederreiter to Carolina.
“You try to look forward,” said Rask, who had a goal and an assist in those 10 games. “This is where I want to be. Find a way back in and keep working hard.”
Back in the Twin Cities, Rask had been on the ice with skating coach Andy Ness, but now he’ll focus on his passing and shooting. Coach Bruce Boudreau anticipates Rask will return to the lineup next week, but Rask isn’t sure when he’ll be ready to go.
“You don’t want to rush it too hard,” Rask said. “But then again, it’s the end of the season right now. Obviously, I want to be in there and fighting. Just going to take it day to day and see how it feels.”
Winger J.T. Brown came back to Tampa after last season to pack up his house following a midseason move to Anaheim after the Ducks claimed him off waivers, but Thursday was his first game at Amalie Arena since leaving the organization that gave him his start in the NHL.
“It’s a little different, maybe a little bit more than a normal game,” said Brown, who visited his favorite restaurant, Datz, Wednesday for a burger that has doughnuts for the buns. “There’s a lot of good memories here.”
Brown returns during one of the more effective stretches for his line this season, as the fourth unit chipped in a goal in both recent games against the Nashville Predators. While he acknowledged being sent to the American Hockey League on Feb. 4 as “different,” Brown tried to use his six-game stint in the minors to improve — a focus that seems to have helped him reacclimate to the Wild.
“We’ve been really good establishing our forecheck,” Brown said of his trio with center Eric Fehr and winger Marcus Foligno. “We’ve been getting a lot of good opportunities by forcing their defensemen to make bad plays with the puck because we’re pressuring them. That’s our key to make sure to get in there and be hard on the forecheck.”
The Wild continued to tinker with its look on defense, subbing in Nick Seeler for Anthony Bitetto against the Lightning, and a rotation could continue with seven blue-liners on the roster.
“It’s hard from night to night to decipher who’s the best six,” Boudreau said. “So they’ll just be some maneuvering around. [Brad] Hunt has played well enough to deserve to be in there every night. Keep the pressure on [and] you play good, you stay in.”
The Wild recognized Larry Hendrickson as the posthumous recipient of the 2018-19 State of Hockey Legacy Award, which honors individuals who have made extraordinary and long-term contributions to hockey in Minnesota.
A native of Minneapolis who attended Washburn High School, Hendrickson helped grow the game of hockey at all levels. He was a former varsity hockey coach, leading Apple Valley to the 1996 state championship, and was the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Minnesota, Minnesota North Stars and 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
Hendrickson also founded the Hendrickson Foundation in 2011 in partnership with USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey to help include children and adults with mental and physical disabilities and military veterans with injuries in the sport.
His family will be presented with the award during the second intermission of Monday’s game against the San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center.