One day after the Wild “stepped up” and acquired three-time 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson and center Cody McCormick from Buffalo, Zach Parise could sense the excitement.
“You could feel it in the locker room before practice and on the ice during practice,” Parise said after Moulson, McCormick and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov skated for the first time with their new Wild teammates Thursday. “All of us are excited. Any time there’s a move made to improve your team like this, it just shows they have confidence in you. But now it’s up to us to respond. We have to deliver.”
And that’s exactly what coach Mike Yeo told his players moments after welcoming Moulson, McCormick and Bryzgalov.
“Now the work starts,” said Yeo, his team set to begin a stretch of 20 games in 37 days Saturday in Dallas.
Yeo unveiled his new lines for the first time Thursday. On paper, they look deep.
Two lines remain intact: Mikael Granlund centering Parise and Jason Pominville, and Kyle Brodziak between Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter. Moulson takes Dany Heatley’s spot on the second line with center Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle; Heatley, a 12-year veteran who has scored 372 goals in 849 games, dropped to the fourth line with Erik Haula and McCormick. Justin Fontaine, tied for third on the team with 12 goals, looks like the odd guy out, at least Saturday.
Yeo talked to Heatley before practice about his fourth-line role and said he was “awesome.”
“I know that we’re going to count on him down the stretch,” Yeo said. “This is a guy who’s elevated his play lately. He’s been scoring a lot of big goals for us, and he wants to be a part of this group.”
The Wild, like all teams, assuredly will run into injuries or underperforming players and lines needing tinkering. If so, Yeo will have options.
“When you can mix and match like Mike will be able to do, it’s a powerful thing,” Cooke said.
The same could be said for the power-play units. In Thursday’s practice, the forward units consisted of Parise, Granlund and Heatley and Moulson, Koivu and Coyle with the pointmen, Ryan Suter and Pominville and Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon, interchanging.
“If you have two strong units, then you’re a much more dangerous team to play against, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Yeo said.
Bryzgalov, obtained from Edmonton on Tuesday, is expected to start Sunday’s home game against St. Louis. Moulson and McCormick got on an early-morning flight Thursday in Tampa, where the Sabres were playing, and arrived in Minnesota in time for practice.
Moulson, knowing he was all but certain to be traded during the road trip, packed as much as he possibly could into two suitcases. His wife will ship the rest of his clothes.
“He’s a scorer. He’s a finisher,” said Parise, who played against Moulson, a former New York Islander, often during his tenure with division rival New Jersey. “Those type of guys are hard to find. He’s got a great knack for scoring goals and getting to the front of the net and getting his stick on a lot of stuff.”
Moulson enjoyed his first day with new linemates Koivu and Coyle: “They’re great hockey players. I’m sure once we get to know each other, we’ll be clicking.”
McCormick, familiar with the Wild because of his days playing in Colorado, was also excited.
“It’s a high compete level in that dressing room, and they bring it on the ice,” McCormick said. “My game is a lot of grit, a lot of body contact. I like to play an in-your-face kind of style.”
Wednesday’s moves were a show of faith by management that it believes the Wild, 14-4-2 in 2014, not only can make the playoffs, but also do something special once it gets there.
It also — on paper — made the Wild a more formidable opponent.
“This is another strong move to put us to another level, we believe,” Yeo said. “This is a great opportunity for us, but the work has to be put in. We’ve got to work now to build chemistry, we’ve got to work to make sure that we got everybody in the right roles, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re working to continue to build as a team.”