Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild prepares for Nick Bjugstad and the Florida Panthers; Backstrom concussed

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 15, 2013 - 12:53 PM

Wild and Florida Panthers tonight at the X. Josh Harding vs. Tim Thomas.

Niklas Backstrom is considered day-to-day with what I am told is indeed a concussion. Johan Gustafsson has been recalled to back up Harding tonight as Darcy Kuemper gets some games in for Iowa in case the Wild needs him to start next week.

The Wild plays Tuesday in Montreal and Wednesday in Ottawa, and I’ll have more on the goaltending situation. Coach Mike Yeo says goalie coach Bob Mason says that Backstrom says he was feeling a little better last night.

That’s a lot of hearsay.

Same Wild lines and D pairs tonight, meaning Matt Dumba is the lone healthy scratch again for Minnesota. Yeo said the Wild wasn’t sharp in this morning’s skate and he hopes it doesn’t filter into tonight against a Panthers team that has played well since Kevin Dineen was fired a week ago and is coming off a win over one of the West’s elite, albeit a flu-ridden Anaheim squad.

Jimmy Hayes, acquired in last night’s Kris Versteeg thievery by Chicago, is a gametime decision. He arrived this morning. Hayes is 6-foot-6 and if I remember has had a few good games against the Wild. He has a goal and assist in three games and fought Justin Falk once.

Nick Bjugstad, on the fourth line when we were in Florida last month, will center Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann tonight. That is quite the opportunity in the former Gophers’ first pro game at the X.

“I’ve got to capitalize on it,” Bjugstad said. “Hopefully it works out with them.”

Bjugstad has about 70 friends and family members coming, and his mom made it easy on him by purchasing a group package through the Wild.

Bjugstad is “one of if not our best most consistent forward at this point,” coach Pete Horachek said. “A lot of that comes down to that size that he has. He’s able to do things that other players can’t.”

One of Horachek’s assistants is former Panthers captain Brian Skrudland. He is elevated from his director of player development role, meaning he did what Brad Bombardir does with the Wild. That’s traveling, seeing, talking and helping to mold team prospects. So Skrudland was the guy who often came to Minnesota to chat with Bjugstad and be the liaison between the player and the club.

Now the former center’s behind Bjugstad on the bench.

“He’s been a good mentor ever since I was drafted by Florida,” Bjugstad said. “He’s great vocally and enthusiastic, and brings a lot to the table. He’s played the game, knows the game. He’s been really good at giving me advice.”

I also talked with Panthers assistant John Madden, the former Wild center who lives in Edina. He saw his family last night, but they are in Brainerd tonight at a hockey tournament. His oldest son’s a good one.

Madden landed last week at MSP from a scouting trip in Boston when GM Dale Tallon called and told him he was elevating Madden to assistant coach and firing the coaching staff. Madden scouted almost every Wild home game this season, so that should give Florida some good advance scouting tonight. I’ll have some more quotes from Madden in tomorrow’s Star Tribune.

Not much else going on. I’ve got to get started on my Sunday package. Big game as always in the West. Eighth-place LA is on pace for 107.8 points now compared to the eighth-place Rangers in the East at 82. Wild’s on pace for 112 points, yet is as close to the top of the standings as it is to falling out of the bubble.

Crazy conference the West, which means the Wild must continue to rack up points.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight.

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