Ten years ago, Nick Schultz had a baby face like Jared Spurgeon. Ten years ago, Schultz was as wide-eyed as Nate Prosser and walked with an extra hop in his step like Marco Scandella.
These days, Schultz has a bristly face, a receding hairline and is a laid-back, savvy vet.
"He's the old man back there," coach Mike Yeo said, laughing.
As hard as it is to believe, Schultz is the old man of the Wild blue line -- 29 years old but an old man nonetheless as the lone veteran still standing on the youngest blue line in the NHL.
Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche, Schultz, the all-time Wild games played leader, skated in his 700th game. Only 10 NHL defensemen have played more games since Schultz entered the league in 2001-02.
His mother, Carol, attended the game, and hours before, Schultz reflected on his career. He recalled his first NHL game against Edmonton on Oct. 14, 2001, a boxscore that remains framed at home. He recalled his first NHL goal against Florida on Nov. 29, 2001, a game his late father, Robert, attended.
To put Schultz's longevity in perspective, because of a run of injuries, the Wild's other five blue liners -- Spurgeon, Prosser, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim -- have combined to play 202.
"You look around, to be in one spot your whole career, I'm pretty blessed. Couple years left -- hopefully -- on my contract," Schultz said, chuckling at the "hopefully." "I've been fortunate. I enjoy it here, my family enjoys it here."
With Scandella and veteran Marek Zidlicky concussed, veteran Greg Zanon out because of a groin injury and Mike Lundin working toward his debut from a season-long back injury, Schultz's role has become even more valuable because of the inexperienced cast he's surrounded by.
Yeo relies on Schultz in "every key situation, playing against key players, top players, when the game's on the line."
Yeo says it's no coincidence the Wild started playing well when Schultz's game rebounded from a slow start. Schultz missed much of training camp trying to shake off the cobwebs from a season-ending concussion.
"Hopefully I've gotten past the early-season hiccups," Schultz said.
The new guy
Fredheim, 24, couldn't believe when he got the phone call Wednesday that the Wild wanted to tear up his American Hockey League pact and sign him to his first NHL contract, plus have him debut the next night against the Avalanche.
There was no hard negotiation on that one-year deal. He found the line on the contract and "signed it."
Fredheim (pronounced Fred-HAYM), who played four years at Colorado College with Prosser but went unsigned by Vancouver after being drafted by the Canucks in 2005, said his parents, Mark and Trish, attended from Vancouver Island.
"They would have walked here if they had to," he joked.
• Lundin will be activated from injured reserve Friday and head to Houston for a two-game rehab stint Friday and Sunday. To do so, Casey Wellman will have to be reassigned or Zidlicky or Scandella placed on injured reserve. Wellman was recalled for a second consecutive game in case banged up Pierre-Marc Bouchard couldn't play. Wellman was scratched both games.
• Of the three concussed Wild players -- Guillaume Latendresse, Zidlicky and Scandella -- Yeo said, "Marco is probably feeling the best of all of them. He worked out [Wednesday]."
• Zanon, who has missed 12 games, has skated on his own in full gear the past two days.