Zach Parise skated hard as part of a new line at Wild practice Wednesday. During full-contact drills, he battled and bumped. When the team practiced the power play, he took his place with the first unit.
All of this leads to the conclusion that Parise — out the past 14 games because of a fractured foot — is set to return Thursday against Chicago at Xcel Energy Center, right?
Just not officially.
Whether being cautious or coy, Parise estimated his chances of returning Thursday at “50-50.’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo was similarly noncommittal. “It’s how he feels,” Yeo said. “Conditioning is going to be something we have to see where we feel that’s at. Also the battle, the pain, is there anything there? If he feels good to go, then obviously he’s in.”
Wade through that and you get the feeling Parise’s return is far more likely than 50-50.
Parise has two full practices with the team under his belt, and it figures the Wild would like to have him in the lineup for a home game against the high-powered Blackhawks. Add in the fact that the Wild embarks on a difficult road swing to San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado and Calgary, and Parise’s return Thursday seems likely.
That is likely why Yeo had shuffled his lines at Wednesday’s practice, changes that showed Yeo and his staff had giving them a lot of thought.
Parise worked on a line with center Charlie Coyle and winger Nino Niederreiter. Mikael Granlund centered Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville. Kyle Brodziak was between Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine, and Eric Haula centered Jason Zucker and either Stephane Veilleux or Torrey Mitchell.
These lines were a mild surprise. With Mikko Koivu out after ankle surgery, some thought the Wild would take a look at Granlund and Parise together. Instead, Yeo put Parise with Coyle, which also broke up the line of Coyle-Zucker-Heatley that had been productive of late.
“We know he’s had chemistry with Charlie,” Yeo said of Parise. Also, Yeo said, Coyle and Niederreiter have shown a spark of chemistry in the small amount of time they’ve spent on the ice together in recent games. Yeo also wanted to put two bigger players on the ice with Parise should he play.
As a result, all the lines were tweaked, with Zucker moving to the fourth line.
Assuming, of course, that Parise is ready.
“I felt good,” he said after the workout. “We’ll see how it responds this afternoon. But I liked how it felt today.”
Parise said he was past the point of worrying about reinjuring his left foot, admitted that his conditioning might not be 100 percent. “The only way you can really condition for hockey is skating and getting involved in some contact,” he said. “When you’ve been away from it for a while, it’s tough. But I felt like today, with a little bumping, it was good. Hopefully [Thursday] it will be even better. … It still can get sore after skating and stuff like that. But as long as I feel it’s not preventing me from doing anything on the ice, as long as I don’t feel that, I feel I can play.”
So it appears no official word will come until after Thursday’s morning skate.
But even if Parise does play, Yeo said it will be key to temper expectations, at least at the start.
“When he comes back, obviously we’re going to expect great things from him,” Yeo said. “But, at the same time, we have to recognize he’s been off for a long time. It takes some time to get the timing back. … I think we need to give him a fair chance to get into the game, get comfortable.”