Second-line center Mikael Granlund, who missed the past five games because of a head injury, returned to practice Saturday with the hope of returning for Game 1 of the playoffs this week.
“He looked pretty good, didn’t he?” coach Mike Yeo said. “Obviously he’s trying to accelerate things in a hurry. He wants to get back in the lineup and he looks good. But obviously we’ll be smart about this, too.
“This was a good first step. The next step will be a matter of him getting into some contact drills and the battle part of our practices.”
Granlund has been working out all week and began skating Friday. Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher talked last week about how Granlund, who has a history of concussions, may need to adjust the way he plays the game.
The last two times he got hurt, it was Granlund who initiated the check.
“Obviously you want to try to be smart on the ice,” Granlund said. “Things happen. … You just have to be ready for everything and be smart on the ice. I still want to keep my compete. That’s why I think I’m here and that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
Granlund, in his second season, is the Wild’s fifth- leading scorer with 41 points. If he returns, he would likely take back his spot between veterans Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville. That would have a trickle-down effect that likely lands Erik Haula back on the fourth line and results in one of Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux, Cody McCormick or Nino Niederreiter being scratched to open the playoffs.
“If you have the opportunity to get a player like Granny back, this would do an awful lot for our group and I don’t think it’ll be a huge adjustment for us,” Yeo said. “You look what it would do for our power play. Lineup-wise, if he’s able to come in and step right into that second-line role, we’re getting stronger there and we’re also getting stronger the rest of the lineup, too.
“I’m not too concerned about it. Until we get the green light that he’s ready to go, though, we’re comfortable with the guys we have.”
Defender coming back
Defenseman Clayton Stoner, who has missed 10 games since spraining an MCL on March 22, will return Sunday against Nashville. Stoner was originally supposed to miss four to six weeks, “but,” he said, “it’s been less than three. My body’s healed up nicely.”
Yeo noted how much the Wild missed Stoner’s physicality last postseason when he missed the final four games of the Chicago series with a concussion.
“The postseason always ramps up physically, so I want the other team to know they have to pay a price to get space around the net,” Stoner said. “I’m going to try to bring that.”
If Stoner plays, either Nate Prosser or Jon Blum would likely come out. Blum, who has played well in Stoner’s absence, isn’t expected to play against Nashville.
“It doesn’t mean necessarily that he won’t be playing [to start the playoffs],” Yeo said. “We know and we’re happy with what he brings. His execution level has been real strong.”
Rupp opens up
Left wing Mike Rupp, suspended for the next four games, talked for the first time since his illegal check to the head of St. Louis’ T.J. Oshie on Thursday. Oshie missed Friday’s game in Dallas.
“I was glad to hear that Oshie is doing well,” Rupp said. “For me, that’s truly the main concern that the player is not seriously injured. … My intent is to finish my hit there and not allow the puck to go in the middle or the player.