Before he came to the Wild, defenseman Brad Hunt had little experience playing forward. “Just a couple of times in the American League,’’ he said. “But nothing for an extended period of time.’’
That didn’t stop Wild coach Bruce Boudreau from trying him in a new spot. The former Bemidji State defenseman has looked perfectly comfortable filling in as a fourth-line winger, something he’s done a few times since the Wild acquired him from Vegas on Jan. 21. During Thursday’s practice at Tria Rink, Hunt was back in his usual position, as the Wild prepared for Saturday’s game at Calgary.
Boudreau said Hunt’s versatility has been particularly valuable as the team deals with a series of injuries to its forward corps. Hunt has been an asset on the power play, scoring the Wild’s first goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory at Winnipeg on a perfectly timed shot. After netting seven goals in his first 91 NHL games, he has three goals in his first 11 games with the Wild, all on the power play.
“Basically, with him, it’s confidence,’’ Boudreau said. “He’s been a minor league guy all his life. He’d come up and play in more of a panic situation, where it’s ‘I’ve got to play good, or I’m done.’ He’s a little more relaxed right now, and he’s doing a lot of good things.’’
Hunt, 30, said it hasn’t been hard to move between positions. He studies video and watches other players, and he credited the Wild’s coaching staff for making sure he’s well prepared. His approach, he said, is to keep an open mind and work to get better every day.
“You get in a little bit of a groove, and you start to feel really good,’’ Hunt said. “Something that’s kept me around throughout my career is being able to take whatever’s thrown at me and go with it and come to the rink with a positive attitude all the time. I think that goes a long way.’’
With yet another new player added to the Wild roster this week, Boudreau opted to keep two of his tried-and-true lines together in Winnipeg. He didn’t want to use four brand-new combinations, so he allowed the trios centered by Eric Staal and Eric Fehr to remain intact.
As much as he’d like to maintain that kind of stability, Boudreau doesn’t expect things to work out that way. He plans to take a fluid approach to his forward combinations, with the goal of creating groups that capitalize on whichever players are hot at any particular time.
The Wild is integrating six new players who have come on board in the past six weeks. With forward Zach Parise skipping Thursday’s practice to rest, Ryan Donato joined Luke Kunin and Kevin Fiala on the second line, and Marcus Foligno moved up to the third line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Pontus Aberg.
“I’ve got to believe the way this is going, it’s going to be different stuff every night,’’ Boudreau said. “Whoever’s going well will play combination-wise, rather than having one line stick together. We’ll try to keep it as is, but that depends on how good we go.’’
Parise’s absence fueled speculation that he was injured in Tuesday’s game, but Boudreau quickly shot that down. He said Parise will return to practice Friday.
“I don’t want everybody to fly off the handle here,’’ Boudreau said. “It’s just a maintenance day. He plays hard, he gets some bruises. Sometimes, he needs a little longer.’’
Parise hobbled off the ice Tuesday after getting hit in the foot by a shot taken by the Jets’ Jacob Trouba from the right point in the first period. He did not miss a shift and assisted on Eriksson Ek’s game-winning goal with 61 seconds left.
Defenseman Greg Pateryn missed practice to be with his wife, Stefani, who gave birth to daughter Sunny Sea on Wednesday night. It’s the second baby for a Wild defenseman this week. Jared Spurgeon’s new daughter, Myer Elizabeth, was born Monday.
The Wild has welcomed an abundance of newborns this season. Fehr, Mikko Koivu and J.T. Brown have new sons at home, and former forward Mikael Granlund — who was traded to Nashville on Monday while his fiancée was in labor — became a first-time father with the birth of a son on Tuesday.
Boudreau said two more players in the Wild organization still are awaiting births, then corrected himself. “Actually, it’s three,’’ he said. “I found out Brad Hunt’s wife is pregnant, too. So, uh, wow.’’
Pateryn is expected to return to practice Friday.