With a back issue keeping Zach Parise out for at least the Wild’s first two games, the team officially added veteran winger Daniel Winnik to the fold Wednesday.
Winnik, 32, signed a one-year, $660,000 contract, taking a significant pay cut after making $2.25 million last season with the Washington Capitals. The lower amount helped the Wild squeeze under the $75 million salary cap.
Winnik skated on the Wild’s fourth line Wednesday with center Matt Cullen and right wing Tyler Ennis. Coach Bruce Boudreau paired Winnik with Cullen on the penalty kill.
After missing all seven preseason games, Parise hoped to practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so he could be ready for Thursday’s opener at Detroit. But the Wild scrapped that plan earlier this week, announcing Parise would miss the Detroit game and Saturday’s game at Carolina before returning to practice next Monday.
This opened a spot for Winnik, a 6-2, 210-pound Toronto native, who was on a professional tryout with the Wild. He notched one point (an assist) and 15 shots on goal during five preseason games. Last season, Winnik scored a career-high 12 goals for the Capitals, including three game winners.
Winnik played for Boudreau for two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks earlier in his career.
When the Wild invited Winnik to training camp, Boudreau said, “I firmly believe we got the best free-agent tryout guy out there.”
Boudreau added: “I think we were in the top five in Anaheim [killing penalties] when he was there, and I think he was a mainstay with it. He’s a smart hockey player. He’s not going to score you 30 [goals], but he does all the other stuff real well.”
After 25 consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Red Wings missed the cut last season, going 33-36-13 for 79 points.
That was their final season at Joe Louis Arena, and Thursday, they will christen Little Caesars Arena.
“Well, they’re tremendously quick, and it’s been a trait of Detroit’s for a lot of years,” Boudreau said. “Secondly, anytime you open a new building with a history that they have, I mean, the team is going to be jacked up pretty high. So we need to be ready right off the get-go.”
The Red Wings went 3-4-1 in the preseason.
“Anytime you’re playing a team that didn’t make the playoffs, they always — the beginning of the year — they think they have something to prove,” Boudreau said. “So they’ll be ready to play, and we just better be ready as well.”
Early road tests
The Wild will play five of six games on the road to start the season, with their only home game in that stretch coming Oct. 14 against Columbus.
“We can’t worry about that,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “Every team plays 41 games at home and on the road. We know it’s going to be a tough challenge going into these buildings, getting home openers and opening new arenas as well. But it’s all about the preparation and making sure we’re ready to go as a team.”
Eriksson Ek excited
Joel Eriksson Ek was on track to make the Wild’s opening night roster last season, but a work visa issue forced him to start with the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa. Eriksson Ek wound up joining the Wild for the fifth game, scoring the team’s only goal that night, and finished with three goals and four assists in 15 NHL games.
This time, Eriksson Ek gets to start the season in the NHL, holding down third-line center duties in between Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart.
“Opening that new building [in Detroit] is going to be a crazy moment of my hockey career,” Eriksson Ek said. “I think it’s going to be a fast-paced game. I think they’re going to come out hard, so we need to push the pace in the game and make sure to be ready.”