Based on what he heard from his friend and former neighbor Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek felt sure he would fit in well with the Wild when he signed as a free agent last summer. And when Vanek struggled early this season, Pominville felt sure his longtime Buffalo Sabres teammate would turn things around.
The two wingers had been reliable scorers during eight seasons together in Buffalo. With Vanek on a late-season roll and Pominville continuing his quiet production, they are maintaining that pattern in their first season as teammates with the Wild. Both reached the 50-point mark this week, and they are the second- and third-leading scorers on a team whose offense has dramatically improved since mid-January.
Since the All-Star break, Vanek is second on the Wild with 12 goals and has 22 points. Pominville (52 points) had 17 goals and 34 assists this season and reached 50 points for the eighth time in his 10 NHL seasons.
“I’m not a flashy player, but I’m usually able to put up numbers on a consistent basis,’’ said Pominville, acquired by the Wild late in the 2012-13 season. “Hopefully, I can keep doing that. And Thomas is giving us what I expected from him.’’
Vanek has flourished since he stopped moving around in the lineup, finding stability at left wing and excellent chemistry with linemates Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine. He has eight goals and four assists in his past 13 games compared to one goal and 10 assists in his first 21 games with the Wild.
“As a line, we’re playing well,’’ Vanek said. “My game is about making plays. [Coyle] is such a big body, and he’s so good at retrieving pucks. Justin brings the speed factor and a little bit of playmaking.
“We’re generating a lot, and I think we keep improving, which is good to see.”
Vanek said the line is working on finishing more of its scoring chances. Wild coach Mike Yeo praised him for getting to the net more often, which the coach said will maximize his opportunities.
“He’s such a dangerous player in that area,’’ Yeo said. “When he’s around the blue paint, he has a knack for not only finding loose pucks there, but getting lost in coverage. He is a very difficult player to contain, and that’s been one of the biggest factors.”
Boost for defense
Defenseman Nate Prosser returned Saturday after missing eight games because of a sprained knee ligament. Yeo was glad to see him back, saying his adaptability and dependability have been vital to the Wild’s resurgence.
“This is maybe as good as I’ve seen him ever play in my time coaching him,’’ Yeo said of Prosser, an Elk River native in his fourth season with the Wild. “That was obviously a huge part of our season, when you’re talking about some of the key defensemen we had out of the lineup and what we were asking him to do: [take] a defensive role going up against top players, the role he had in our penalty kill which was so strong, and doing it all on the left side, which is not his normal position. I think he really helped us get through a tough time.”
• General Manager Chuck Fletcher said that after defenseman Dylan Labbe and center Christoph Bertschy finish their seasons, the Wild will look to sign the prospects. Labbe plays for Shawinigan, and it’s down 3-2 in a Quebec League playoff series to Halifax. Bertschy couldn’t be signed until after the world championships, assuming Switzerland selects him.
• Harvard senior goalie Stephen Michalek, who lost a year because of a schoolwide academic scandal in 2012, has petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility. If it’s not granted, the Wild will look to sign him.
• The Wild met with Notre Dame junior Mario Lucia on Saturday, according to sources. The forward, who scored 21 goals this season, is contemplating whether to sign with the Wild or return to school.
• Defenseman Gustav Olofsson, who has missed most of Iowa’s season because of a shoulder injury, has begun practicing with contact.
Staff writer Michael Russo contributed to this report.