When asked what he had learned about new Wild forward Ryan White, Bruce Boudreau didn’t miss a beat.
“He needs a haircut and a shave,” the coach quipped.
White’s prodigious hockey hair does stand out. It spills from the back of his helmet, loose and free, setting him apart on a roster mostly stocked with neatly groomed men. That untamed appearance goes hand-in-glove with White’s style on the ice, which was on full display Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to St. Louis.
On a night when his team played rather meekly, White — who was acquired from Arizona in a Feb. 26 trade — roused the Xcel Energy Center crowd with two blistering third-period hits. Moments after he blasted the Blues’ Alexander Steen, he put the hurt on Joel Edmundson. In a scant 10 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time, White showed the edge he plans to add to the Wild, which starts a five-game road trip Thursday at Tampa Bay.
“I just try to work hard and bring a little bit of grit to the lineup,” said White, 28, who is in his eighth NHL season. “The biggest thing for me is being hard on the forecheck, being responsible in my own zone and not trying to do too much. I just want to help out and contribute when I can.
“It’s a pretty veteran group here. It’s been pretty easy to just come in and play.”
Despite White’s modesty, his role will be plenty valuable to a team that hopes to help make a deep playoff run. He lends some bite to the fourth line; Tuesday, he led the Wild with four hits, and his 145 hits this season with the Coyotes and Wild are the most of anyone on the team.
Boudreau couldn’t resist the hair joke, but he quickly got serious in assessing what White brings to the roster. Those out-of-control locks belie a player who possesses discipline as well as physicality, one who prides himself on being a reliable defensive presence. White can chip in on offense, too; he had two goals and an assist in his first two games with the Wild, and his 16 points this season matches his career high.
Earlier this week, Boudreau praised White for his strength along the boards in Sunday’s victory over San Jose, a skill the coach said will be important as the season heats up down the stretch.
“I’ve learned he is responsible,” Boudreau said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
His new teammates rave about him, too. White made a fine first impression in a potentially fraught situation, joining an established and successful roster. He came to the Wild in a trade that also included center Martin Hanzal, who played on the third line Tuesday.
Erik Haula, who skated alongside White on the fourth line against the Blues, said the forward is “energetic and fun.” Charlie Coyle noted that White is secure in his identity and doesn’t try to overplay his hand.
“He knows what he’s good at,” Coyle said. “He knows his role and plays it well, and that’s huge for us. It gives us much more depth.
“Coming into a new team halfway through the season, that’s got to be tough. But we’ve got a good group of guys who are very welcoming. And we see what [White and Hanzal] have accomplished in their careers. We’re lucky to have them.”
White’s 70 penalty minutes this season are second most on the Wild roster, behind Chris Stewart’s 79. He said it has been easy to fit in with an organization that is helping him navigate his first in-season NHL move. His fiancée, Sarah Zetariuk, is packing up their home in Arizona, and he hopes they can get settled into a new place once the Wild returns from its eight-day road trip.
Minnesota already feels comfortable and familiar to him. White’s first NHL goal came at Xcel Energy Center in 2011, and he added an assist and a fight in that game to complete a Gordie Howe hat trick. An outdoorsman who likes fishing and hanging out at the lake, he said Minnesota reminds him of his native Manitoba.
Besides, he pointed out, no one in this hockey-mad state looks twice at his flowing hair — except, perhaps, for his coach.
“People in Minnesota can understand it,” White said, laughing. “I’ve been going with [long hair] the last couple seasons, and I haven’t cut it since. I’m just being myself.
“Coming here, it kind of seems like I got home a little bit early this year. It’s nice to be here. We’re just going to try to enjoy the scenery and have some fun.”