RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s not the same Wild team that he left behind two months ago.
Gone are other former longtime forwards such as Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, departures that signaled a new direction for the organization as it welcomed new — and younger— faces.
But the jersey is familiar, the one he tugged on for nearly six years.
And that’s why Hurricanes winger Nino Niederreiter’s reunion with the Wild on Saturday at PNC Arena was emotional for the 26-year-old.
“Overall, I had a terrific six years over there,” he said. “Made a lot of great friends, and it’s now just a new chapter.”
Niederreiter’s exit was the first of three major changes for the Wild leading up to the NHL trade deadline this season. He was shipped to the Hurricanes Jan. 17 in exchange for center Victor Rask before Coyle and Granlund were traded in February.
The Hurricanes acknowledged Rask’s return with a welcome-back message on the video board during the first period.
At the time, the trade was billed as a fresh start for both players, and while Rask’s transition was slowed by injury, Niederreiter has thrived since moving to Carolina.
In his first 27 games, he accumulated 12 goals and 24 points — eclipsing the nine-goal, 23-point output he had in 46 appearances with the Wild. Niederreiter wasn’t sure about the exact catalyst for his uptick in production but figured it could be because of a change of scenery or more trust from the Carolina coaching staff.
He started Saturday’s game on the top line next to center and Hurricanes leading scorer Sebastian Aho. Before he was traded from the Wild, Niederreiter had been roving around the lineup and was occasionally slotted on the fourth line.
“You just always want to do great,” Niederreiter said. “You want to help the team team win. I’m glad it’s been working out very well.”
And the Hurricanes have responded well to the addition, too.
They were out of the playoffs when the trade went down but have climbed into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference as one of the strongest second-half teams in the NHL.
“Trades happen,” Niederreiter said. “Sometimes things go well. Sometimes they don’t. For me, fortunately enough, it went well.”
Lots to celebrate
The Hurricanes’ improvement has caught the attention of the hockey world, in part because of their elaborate postgame celebrations on home ice, another experience that’s made Niederreiter’s arrival in Carolina an enjoyable one.
Dubbed the Storm Surge, the Hurricanes have jumped into the glass, played a game of limbo and even involved former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield in a boxing match.
“It was definitely different,” Niederreiter said. “I’ve obviously never been a part of it coming here. Even now, I still have to figure out exactly what I have to do. It’s always something, and sometimes you’re lost. [But] sometimes you know exactly what you have to do. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Winger Zach Parise missed Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury.
Parise was hobbled Friday after getting clipped by Capitals winger Tom Wilson in the third period, falling to the ice and moving slowly back to the bench. But Parise continued to play, setting up center Luke Kunin’s go-ahead goal later in the period in the 2-1 Wild win in Washington.
This was just the third time Parise has sat out this season. He was most recently idle March 2 against the Calgary Flames after blocking a shot with his foot the previous game.
Without Parise, the Wild dressed winger Pontus Aberg. Defenseman Nick Seeler was the Wild’s lone healthy skater scratch, his second straight absence.