If coach Mike Yeo had his way, he wouldn’t have a revolving door ushering forwards in and out of the right side of the Wild’s top line.
But with Charlie Coyle having missed 12 of the past 13 games because of a knee injury and the second line of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville shatterproof right now, this is something first-liners Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu might have to continue to deal with at least until Coyle returns.
With no practice Monday, it’s uncertain which number the coach will draw from his baseball cap to skate alongside Nos. 11 and 9 … at least at the start of Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames.
It could be No. 17, Torrey Mitchell, who spent most the second and third periods of Sunday’s shutout victory over New Jersey elevated to the top line. Or, Yeo could opt to revert to No. 14, Justin Fontaine, who has been slotted up and down the lineup all season long.
“I kind of would like somebody to jump up and just take it for good, but that said, when guys have gone up, they’ve responded and they’ve done the job,” Yeo said after Sunday’s 4-0 victory.
Pominville began the season on the first line. Niederreiter also has seen action there. Lately, it’s mostly been Fontaine, a valuable player because he can slot up and down the lineup. Fontaine has played on the first, third and fourth lines this season.
“We do have more moving parts this season and more guys capable of playing on different lines and being effective,” Yeo said.
One of those guys is Mitchell, signed as a free agent in 2012 because he envisioned being a third-liner in Minnesota. But three days later, Parise was signed, and when Pierre-Marc Bouchard was healthy to start last season after the lockout, Mitchell was planted on the fourth line.
That has been his role again much of this season despite his ability to skate, be reliable defensively and flash skill at times. He scored his first goal of the season Sunday, although that could hardly be considered creative.
He crashed the net and had a Parise rebound carom in off him. Of course, that’s why Yeo put him there in the first place. Yeo felt in a game against the muck-it-up Devils, Parise and Koivu needed a more “straight-line” forward than Fontaine.
“Every forward on the team wants to play with those two guys,” Mitchell said of his promotion to the Parise-Koivu duet. “Who knows how long it lasts, but it was fun for a couple periods, that’s for sure.”
Mitchell has seen enough to know that he can’t come to the rink Tuesday thinking he’s now the Wild’s first-line right winger. He started Sunday’s game on the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak line and only because struggling Dany Heatley was being sent a conspicuous message with a fourth-line demotion.
Yet, Mitchell shows up daily and doesn’t mope regardless of role.
“I don’t want to say I’m used to it,” Mitchell said. “I’m mature enough as a professional just to, whenever my number is called, be ready.”
Mitchell is in a weird situation. It’s clear Yeo has faith in him because he’s often quick to elevate Mitchell’s status. It’s clear Yeo respects him. Yet, Mitchell is trapped behind other wingers.
“He is a team-first guy and will do whatever it takes for his teammates,” Yeo said. “He never ever is going to turn around and say ‘What’s in it for me?’ He just wants to help the team. It’s hard to put into words how valuable that is.”