He crashed the crease, battled along the boards and then resumed his post in front of the net.
Basically, Zach Parise looked like Zach Parise.
“I feel ready,” he said.
Parise is set to make his season debut Tuesday when the Wild plays host to the Florida Panthers, his first NHL action in more than eight months after a herniated disc and subsequent back surgery stalled the winger’s return.
And with the Wild still seeking consistency as it begins the second half of the season this week, adding a top-six fixture certainly could provide a much-needed boost.
“I’m really excited,” Parise said. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I’m glad it’s finally here. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m glad to get a chance to play.”
This will be Parise’s first appearance with the Wild since Game 5 of last year’s first-round playoff series vs. the St. Louis Blues April 22.
He played through the back issue in 2016-17 but experienced a setback leading up to training camp. The 33-year-old was an infrequent participant in practice before ultimately deciding to undergo microdiscectomy surgery Oct. 24 with the recovery time pegged at eight to 10 weeks.
The procedure alleviated pressure on a nerve that was causing Parise leg pain and weakness, and he felt immediate relief.
“I was never worried that I wouldn’t be playing again,” said Parise, who expects to feel nervous Tuesday but isn’t worried about reinjuring himself. “I was very comfortable that I would be playing again and playing again this year. From the people that I had spoken with that had had the surgery as well, guys that had played, I was comfortable and confident that everything would be fine.”
After letting the wound heal, Parise began to work on his mobility. By the end of November, he was back on the ice. Midway through last month, he rejoined the Wild in practice.
And just last week, Parise went on a conditioning assignment to Iowa of the American Hockey League and skated 15 minutes, 26 seconds while tallying an assist.
“More tired from the drive home than anything really,” Parise said. “The game itself, I didn’t feel sore or overly fatigued or anything. So I think that was a good sign.”
Still, Parise envisions a debut in the 40th game of the season to be challenging — as does Bruce Boudreau, who is eager to watch Parise’s transition. The Wild coach doesn’t anticipate Parise to log heavy minutes in Game No. 1, nor are expectations for him to be a “lifesaver,” Boudreau said.
But getting a perennial scorer like Parise, who had 19 goals and finished with 42 points last season, back in the mix is always helpful. During Monday’s session, Parise skated on a line with center Charlie Coyle and winger Chris Stewart.
“He’s going to take some time to get up to full speed, I suspect,” Boudreau said. “If he gets up there quicker, then that’s awesome.”
To be able to activate Parise from long-term injured reserve, the Wild placed winger Zack Mitchell on waivers. If he clears, he will be assigned to Iowa on Tuesday.
Parise’s addition doesn’t put the Wild at full strength; winger Nino Niederreiter, who suffered a lower-body injury Dec.22 that put him in a boot, didn’t practice Monday but is expected to skate Tuesday.
“If he practices Wednesday with us and feels all right after that, then he’ll probably play Thursday,” said Boudreau, who doesn’t like multiple players to make their returns in the same game.
So for now, the spotlight is on Parise.
In the midst of a 13-year, $98 million contract, Parise has been positioned as a cornerstone of the Wild’s pursuit of a breakthrough — success that culminates in a championship.
Getting him back on the ice now should help the group realize its potential this season.
“I’m hoping to be able to contribute right away,” he said. “I know it won’t be easy and going to need a little bit of patience. But I’m hoping to be able to contribute right away and help out with these guys that have been playing well. I just want to help them out. Each one of us wants to get this going and keep going in the right direction to climb the standings.”