Kyle Rau didn’t have any inkling the Wild was about to recall him Monday for the first time this season. But when Iowa Wild coach Tim Army asked both Rau and Luke Kunin to come speak with him, the forward from Eden Prairie realized he was about to get some happy news.
“I kind of figured it out then, when he brought us both in,” Rau said. “It’s always a surprise, but it’s definitely a good surprise.”
As the Wild continues its roster churn, defenseman Nate Prosser and forward J.T. Brown were assigned to Iowa on Monday morning after clearing waivers. That created space to call up Rau, Iowa’s third-leading scorer, and bring back Kunin after a short stint in the AHL. Both were on the ice for a morning practice at Tria Rink before boarding the flight to Buffalo, where the Wild plays Tuesday.
Rau leads Iowa with 14 goals, and his nine power-play goals rank first on the team and tied for sixth in the AHL. He played three regular-season games for the Wild in January 2018, contributing one assist, and later appeared in his first NHL playoff game. The former Gophers forward is swift, fearless and hard-working, assets that could give a spark to a team still seeking the consistency it needs to secure a playoff berth.
“He’s played good for us before,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think we’re a team that can use as much speed as we can get. Both him and [Kunin] will add youth and speed to our lineup.”
Rau said he is “super excited to get going,” as is Kunin. During the Wild’s league-mandated break in late January, Kunin was sent to Iowa so he could continue playing. He scored a goal in the last of his four games there and said he “felt really good” while logging major minutes.
“I like where things are at,” said Kunin, who has a goal and four assists in 21 NHL games this season. “I’ve been creating chances. And I’ve always been told that as long as you’re getting the chances, and you keep working at it and keep shooting, sooner or later they’re going to go in. I’ve just got to keep moving my legs and creating those opportunities.”
Change is hard
Several Wild players said they will miss Prosser and Brown. Prosser, who has played all but one of his 354 NHL games with the Wild, has been a reliable depth defenseman valued for his selflessness and dedication. He played in 15 games this season and helped fill the void left by Matt Dumba’s injury, but the recent acquisition of defensemen Brad Hunt and Anthony Bitetto pushed Prosser down the depth chart.
Forward Jason Zucker said it’s always tough to lose anyone, especially well-liked players such as Prosser, Brown and Nino Niederreiter, who was traded to Carolina on Jan. 17. But he believes the addition of new faces can be helpful, and he appreciates that Wild General Manager Paul Fenton is willing to make changes.
“It creates a bit of an inner competition within the team, and I think that’s a good thing for us,” Zucker said. “[The roster moves] show Paul is engaged in doing his part, making sure he’s getting this team in the position it needs to be in from his end. And from that point, it’s just up to the players to play hockey.”
• Boudreau did not have an update on the status of Pontus Aberg. The winger left Friday’s game at Dallas — his fifth with the Wild since he was acquired from Anaheim on Jan. 16 — because of a lower-body injury. The Wild put him on injured reserve Monday, retroactive to Feb. 1.
“He’s not on the ice yet,” Boudreau said. “It could be a week, it could be two weeks. We could come back from Buffalo, and they could say he’s fine. We’ll play it by ear.”
• Bitetto will likely make his Wild debut this week. He has not played in either of the two games since the Wild claimed him off waivers from Nashville. He has logged 18 games this season, with his most recent appearance on Jan. 4. Boudreau said he expects Bitetto will get into the lineup this week, when the Wild plays four games in six days.