DENVER – After missing 13 games, Jared Spurgeon is closing in on a return from a foot injury.
The Wild defenseman skated with teammates for the first time Thursday since blocking a shot against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 2. Spurgeon then absorbed contact afterward with a few of the extra players and strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson.
Not only did Mike Yeo say Spurgeon looked good, the coach said there’s a possibility that after a good practice Friday, Spurgeon could return Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.
“It was nice to be out there with the rest of the guys and get the pace of the game back,” Spurgeon told reporters after the morning skate. “It’s been a long time.”
If Spurgeon doesn’t return Saturday, he definitely wants to play next week against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators. Those are the Wild’s final two games before a 20-day break for the Winter Olympics.
“If I don’t get in before, that’s about two months that I haven’t played,” Spurgeon said. “With the game picking up toward the playoffs, it rises up another level. You don’t want to be behind the 8-ball coming back after the Olympic break.”
The Wild was 8-3-1 without Spurgeon before Thursday’s game against Colorado.
“When they’re doing well, it’s a bit easier to watch,” he said. “It makes you want to come back that much faster, but at the same time, it allows you to make sure everything’s healed up properly.”
When Spurgeon returns, it’ll be interesting who Yeo chooses to come out of the lineup. In 12 games before Thursday, Nate Prosser assumed Spurgeon’s role and was plus-8 with two game-winning goals and two assists, so the candidates might be veterans Keith Ballard or Clayton Stoner.
Captain Mikko Koivu, who has missed 12 games following ankle surgery, started to get some light contact Thursday. He appears close to ramping it up but hasn’t skated with teammates yet.
“We don’t want to rush anybody back,” Yeo said. “With Mikko, we have to see how this progresses. … Once he can get on the ice with the group, then we’ll be able to determine if he can actually get into a game before the [Olympic] break.”
Rugged winger Mike Rupp played a third consecutive game Thursday after being scratched in 11 consecutive games and 19 of the previous 22.
That meant speedy youngster Jason Zucker sat for a third consecutive game.
Yeo said Rupp’s physical presence and ability to stand up for teammates is the reason. He said it allows Stoner, one of the few Wild players who will routinely drop the gloves, to focus on playing defense and not “taking on the heavyweight of the other team.” Of course, Stoner fought Cody McLeod less than six minutes into Thursday’s game.
“It’s like having your big brother with you,” Yeo said of Rupp. “You feel a little bit stronger. … Everybody plays a little bit bigger.”
Rupp took a double minor in the third period of Tuesday’s victory at Anaheim because he went after Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa, who earlier nailed Jason Pominville with a high hit. Yeo respected Rupp’s decision because he feels opponents need to understand they can’t take liberties with the Wild’s skilled players.
Zucker and center Erik Haula will likely spend the Olympic break playing for AHL Iowa.
“It’s important for those kids to keep playing,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Their minutes up here aren’t what their minutes would be down there. We need them now and I’m sure we’re going to need them later, too, so it’s important they keep developing.”
Besides veteran Stephane Veilleux, the other candidate who could go to Iowa during the Olympics is goalie Darcy Kuemper.
“We’ll see what makes sense,” Fletcher said.