Chris Stewart has been setting the bar high this season for the Wild, but not just on the ice where he leads the team in points. The locker room must also meet the forward’s expectations.
“He’s always razzing everyone to not be cheap,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “He likes style, and he can razz guys if you don’t wear nice clothes. … So whatever you wear around him, you’ve got to make sure it’s nice.”
Foligno experienced this firsthand both as a teammate of Stewart with the Buffalo Sabres from 2013-15, and again with the Wild after signing his $11.5 million deal ahead of this season.
“I let him know: It’s the national league, so there’s a certain standard,” Stewart said. “When he got his new contract there, I wasn’t happy with his travel bag. I kind of think he had to switch it up.”
Stewart, a 10-year NHL veteran with exactly 600 games spanned across five teams, can push his teammates to up their on- and off-ice games because he holds himself to the same lofty criteria. While he admitted that defenseman Matt Dumba is probably the best-dressed player on the team, Stewart does have the point streak to maintain Thursday night when the Wild plays in Chicago.
Through the season’s first two games, Stewart has two goals and an assist. The 29-year-old had almost as many fights (10) last season as goals (13), so the hot start is quite welcome.
“The first one’s always the toughest to get,” Stewart said. “I’ve gone some years probably 16, 17 games without getting that first goal. So getting that first one out of the way is kind of just, put it to rest there. But I’m not going to be a guy on this team who’s leading in the offensive department, and I know that. So I think anything I get’s a bonus. But I’m definitely glad to contribute offensively.”
While he has 152 goals in the league, the third-line winger is more well-known for sticking up for his teammates in games than scoring in them. But coach Bruce Boudreau said Stewart’s “very good offensive IQ” was never in question.
“He’s got great vision,” Boudreau said. “From the top of the circles in, he’s very dangerous. His defensive part of the game is getting better. It’s probably been the one thing that’s kept him back a little bit from playing more.
‘‘But he’s getting better at it, and he works at it. We’re hoping his start continues. It’s a good start for him.”
Winger Tyler Ennis, who assisted on one of Stewart’s goals this season, and was also a former teammate in Buffalo, said Stewart’s early-season scoring isn’t surprising considering the Wild depth.
“He’s going to get good matchups when you have players as good as Chris playing on the bottom six,” Ennis said. “He’s going to be able to outperform the other team’s bottom six.”
Foligno echoed that, saying Stewart is a “great skater” for his 6-2, 239-pound size who “gets loose” and has great hands to boot.
“The goal in Carolina [on Saturday] is something I’ve seen before where he’s just beat guys wide,” Foligno said. “And I think defenses don’t give him the respect that he should have out there.”
But Stewart definitely has that admiration in the Wild locker room. Boudreau called him a “great leader” that “every one of the players” would say they want on the team.
For example, Stewart said he’s been trying to break 20-year-old linemate Joel Eriksson Ek out of his shell, trying to ease him into being more vocal by talking to him every day.
“He’s good at making sure everyone’s ready to go for the game. He’s very vocal. He’s fun. He’s energetic, and he’s a big part of this team,” Ennis said of Stewart.
“He’s funny. He talks to everybody in the room, talks to everybody like they’re his closest friend. He’s just a really good teammate.”