Zach Parise hasn’t circled a date yet when he might return from a broken foot that has kept him out a dozen games, but the veteran winger continued to ramp things up Thursday.
Andy Ness, his personal skating coach who doubles as the Wild’s part-time skills instructor, spent a half-hour on the ice with Parise before the team’s morning skate.
Ness is the son of Diane Ness, the renowned skating guru who is director at Pro Edge Power.
“I’ve skated with him and Diane for, gosh, I don’t know, over 10 years now, so they know my stride and my skating better than anybody in the world,” Parise said. “I wanted Andy to run me through a lot of the drills we do in the summer and for him to physically see how I look.
“He said he thought I would look a lot worse than I did today, so that’s a good sign.”
Parise felt so comfortable on his left foot, he took part in the Wild’s pregame skate and was the last player to leave the ice.
“Each day you try to do a little more and a little more,” Parise said. “Rest it, ramp it up tomorrow, rest it, ramp it up. That’ll be the game plan for the next while.”
Parise said getting into game shape is a must, so “a couple more days of doing what I’m doing, and then we’ll add bumping and gamelike situations.
“I’m trying to get in a game as soon as I can in a smart and safe way. That’s the best time line I can give you.”
Kuemper gets nod
Despite Niklas Backstrom being 17-1 at home against Edmonton, coach Mike Yeo started rookie Darcy Kuemper for a third consecutive game Thursday against the Oilers.
“It’s hard not to figure out that Kuemps has played well,” Yeo said before the game.
After winning three games in a row, Backstrom gave up three goals on 17 shots in Saturday’s loss to Colorado. He hasn’t started since.
“You want to play every time, but it’s up to the coaches and the training staff to see what’s going on and make a decision,” Backstrom said. “As a player, you try to be ready whenever you get a chance.”
Before winning three of four, Backstrom lost eight in a row. Asked if he feels he has rediscovered a high level, Backstrom said: “I feel good out there. You always want to be better.”
Josh Harding practiced for a third straight day Thursday but missed his eighth consecutive game and 12th of 14 since having his treatment of multiple sclerosis adjusted. Yeo wouldn’t divulge the Wild’s plans for Harding, but when asked if the team may ask Harding to do a conditioning stint in Iowa, Yeo said the Wild would “consider everything.”
Ballard is back
Defenseman Keith Ballard returned to the lineup after being scratched in four straight. In an attempt to make him feel more comfortable, Yeo played the left-shot Ballard on his natural left side and moved left-shot defenseman Clayton Stoner to his off side.
In 19 games before Thursday, Ballard was minus-13.
Until his game improves, Ballard agreed with Yeo’s decision, saying that when he was confident and playing well at the start of the year, “it didn’t matter what side I was on.”
Defenseman Jon Blum was scratched, as was left winger Mike Rupp for an eighth straight game and 16th time in 19 games.
Ballard and Erik Haula, two former Gophers players, plan to attend Friday’s Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium.