Reintroducing winger Zach Parise to the Wild lineup immediately upgrades the team’s top-nine look — even if it will take time for the 33-year-old to get up to speed after missing the season’s first 39 games because of a herniated disc and subsequent back surgery.
But Parise’s return Tuesday against the Panthers could have another effect — on the other forwards vying for opportunity.
“The inner competition that’s going to be had for ice time should be a lot better,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “By that time, we should have an extra forward. So guys want to play; they don’t want to sit out. Obviously we want to go with the best team we’ve got, so it’s going to be good competition.”
After the team’s health up front was decimated early in the season because of injury, dressing based on merit seemed like a pipe dream when it was a scramble to have enough available forwards on the roster.
Now, though, with winger Nino Niederreiter — the lone injured player — getting closer to being able to suit up, someone will have to be the 13th forward who watches.
And with the offense thirsty for consistent production, perhaps this is just the catalyst to get better contributions.
“I think it never hurts,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We got a deep group in here, and that’s what’s allowed us to compete when we lost guys. But it’s never a bad thing to feel like you have to go out there and play your best every single night in order to keep your spot. Everybody’s a professional in here and done it throughout their career so if it pushes us to be better, then that’s certainly a good thing.”
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson remained in the lineup Tuesday, the first time he’s played for back-to-back games since Dec. 10-12.
“It feels good it’s my turn,” said Olofsson, who logged 13 minutes in Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Predators. “But, yeah, I just try to stay ready and a lot of working out and extra work off the ice. It felt good first game back and hopefully continue to build.”
The 23-year-old had been the odd man out in recent weeks, sharing the left spot on the third pairing with Mike Reilly. Both understand the setup and although it’s tough sitting out, Olofsson said there’s no hard feelings between him and Reilly.
“We both push each other to be better,” Olofsson said. “We’re different players, but we’re both playing for the same spot pretty much. So we’re friends off the ice, too. We’re always cheering each other on.”
Niederreiter missed a fifth consecutive game Tuesday, but he skated in the morning with the team as he continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury suffered Dec. 22 against the Panthers.
Boudreau said Niederreiter probably will practice Wednesday and the team will decide about his availability Thursday against the Sabres.
Wild prospect Jordan Greenway was named to the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team Monday, one of a handful of players with ties to Minnesota named to a roster comprised of mostly pros from European leagues and minor leaguers because NHL players are not participating.
Greenway, drafted in the second round (50th overall) by the Wild in 2015, has seven goals and 17 points through 19 games this season — his third — with Boston University.
“I’m really, really happy for him and happy for the organization to have him playing,” Boudreau said. “He’s earned it. He had a great summer camp here as well this year. He’s somebody that I think once he’s done with school, he’ll be ready to play. As an organization, we couldn’t be happier that they picked him for the Olympic team.”