Matt Cullen didn't have to think long before recalling where he was in December 1997. The Wild center was just embarking on a long NHL career, a 21-year-old Minnesotan learning the pro game in Anaheim.
Saturday night, Cullen skated alongside 19-year-old Luke Kunin, recalled a day earlier from the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa. Kunin — born 37 days after Cullen played his first NHL game — made his own NHL debut in the Wild's home opener against Columbus. While Cullen did his best to make his new linemate comfortable, Kunin gave the veteran forward something valuable, too: a sense of happy nostalgia.
"You instantly feel a lot older when you bring up the young group of guys," the 40-year-old Cullen said with a laugh. "It's actually a lot of fun. It really does help you feel young and help keep the young energy, the excitement. I remember my first game like it was yesterday, still."
When injuries reduced the Wild's already-thin forward corps to eight healthy players, the team recalled four forwards Friday and sent defenseman Mike Reilly to Iowa. After Saturday's 5-4 overtime loss, it reassigned the forwards — Kunin, Landon Ferraro, Zack Mitchell and Christoph Bertschy — to Iowa, a move made for salary-cap purposes as the Wild begin a five-day break from competition. Reilly also was called back up late Saturday.
Picked by the Wild in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft, Kunin played two seasons in college at Wisconsin before signing last spring. He promised to deliver the same qualities that won over Wild management in the first place: bottomless energy, a strong competitive drive and the versatility to play wherever the team wants to use him.
"It was a dream come true,'' said Kunin, who got 13 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time and was minus-1 in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets. "I felt good as the game went on.''
Kunin, who had a goal and an assist in two games with Iowa, was assigned the locker next to Cullen. The newbie said he planned to rely on Cullen for guidance, noting that "he's been in the league forever, and he's won [Stanley] Cups."
Well, maybe not forever. Cullen remembered how he felt during his first game — on Oct. 28, 1997, against Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens — and wished the same magic for Kunin.
"My first shift, I was out against Mats Sundin," Cullen said. "I remember I lost the faceoff, then [Toronto] shot it and almost scored. It was a short shift, but it was fun. I'll never forget it."
With his team depleted by injuries, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau is looking for any bit of good news regarding players' health. That's why he was so happy to reveal three positive developments Saturday.
Mikael Granlund, who has been out since Oct. 6 because of a groin injury, skated Saturday morning. Boudreau said he is sure that Zach Parise (undisclosed injury) will be ready to play Friday at Winnipeg, and Marcus Foligno — who had a bone in his face broken during a fight in Thursday's victory at Chicago — is "potentially ready" for next weekend's back-to-back games at Winnipeg and Calgary.
Foligno will have a medical procedure on the left side of his face Sunday, and Boudreau anticipated he should be able to return quickly by using a cage on his helmet to protect his face. Granlund's return date is uncertain.
Charlie Coyle (broken right fibula) will need six to eight weeks to recover, and Nino Niederreiter (high left ankle sprain) is expected to miss at least three weeks.
Boudreau noted that the timing of the injuries lessens the sting a little. The Wild have a five-day break from competition beginning Sunday and has only six games in the first 19 days of the season.
"Right now, our schedule is so light," the coach said. "[Injuries are] going to happen to everybody at some point in the year. This is the time you want it to happen."
• Coyle, Niederreiter and Foligno all attended and were in suits on the bench for pregame introductions.
• Coyle's injury ends his franchise-record streak of consecutive regular-season games at 316. Defenseman Ryan Suter holds the Wild's longest active streak at 168 games.