An outsider would be hard-pressed to pick out Zack Mitchell as the recent call-up as the winger skated Tuesday during the Wild’s practice at Xcel Energy Center.
That’s because the Iowa Wild’s leading scorer has swagger, and the NHL team wants in on it.
“Even just today in the little things we were doing in practice, you could see that,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Because he’s had success down there, the confidence of making little sauce passes and going top shelf, and he was doing that, and he felt good about it. So I, mean, I think it’ll be interesting to see him play tomorrow.”
Ahead of the Wild’s game at Buffalo on Wednesday, the team recalled Mitchell and reassigned forwards Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin on Tuesday.
Kunin, 19, was the Wild’s first-round pick (15th overall) in 2016. Injuries early this season forced him into the Wild’s lineup, where he scored two goals and added two assists in 17 games. Eriksson Ek, 20, was the Wild’s first-round pick (20th overall) in 2015. He has a goal and two assists in 20 games.
“To me, the difference in them from Day 1, especially Joel, you could see that he wasn’t skating like he was. Like, he was looking around to do things,” Boudreau said. “And Kunin, when he got the puck, he wasn’t himself. This is all a confidence issue, I think. So they did great penalty killing. They did great in the defensive role. They didn’t get scored on. But I mean, I think there’s more in those guys than that. So that’s why I thought the move was good.
“I don’t think they’re going to be down there for a year. They’ll play three or four games this week and see how it works out.”
Boudreau said gaining that self-assurance shouldn’t be too hard when the two bring their NHL-level speed and skill to the American Hockey League. It should also help that the coach anticipates the pair gaining power play experience and playing 22 or 23 minutes a game.
The switch is also a recognition of the AHL team’s recent five-game winning streak to put it above .500.
“Iowa has struggled for the last four or five years, I think it’s safe to say, so now they’re on a little bit of a roll,” Boudreau said. “It’s important to show those guys that we not only care, but we reward people for doing good work.”
Mitchell has five goals and 11 assists in 11 games with Iowa and scored a goal and an assist with the Wild earlier this season.
“Yeah, it’s completely different, especially when you go from playing, I played penalty kill and power play down there,” Mitchell said. “But at the same time, I’m still excited to be up here. Any time you have to go out on the ice, you’ve just got to, even if you’re not [skating] for a while, you’ve just got to find it sometimes.”
Return to Buffalo
For Tyler Ennis, the odd part about returning to Buffalo won’t be walking into KeyBank Center’s visiting team locker room.
“Probably weirder just to stay in a hotel than a house,” the winger said.
Both Ennis and winger Marcus Foligno played their entire careers in Buffalo before this summer’s trade to the Wild. That’s eight seasons for 28-year-old Ennis and six for 26-year-old Foligno. Ennis was a first-round pick for the Sabres in 2008 while the team took Foligno in the fourth round a year later. Foligno was also born in Buffalo where his father, Mike Foligno, played from 1981-1990.
“It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be a lot more fun. I think it’s going to be weird at first,” Foligno said of the comeback. “Be nice to see some familiar faces. A lot of good friendships with some of those teammates I had there last year and lot of good people in that organization. But just got to make sure we go there and get two points and make it sweeter.”
Foligno said he has about 10 friends coming to the game while Ennis said he had a dinner planned Wednesday to see some buddies, too.
“I probably thought about it more in the summer when the trade happened and stuff,” Ennis said of his emotions heading back to where he started his career for the first time. “Now it’s kind of, I’m used to everything now. Everything’s sunk it. It’ll probably a little strange, but it’ll be nice to see some staff and some of the guys. It’ll be a fun night.”