Two days before the Wild’s season opener, Carson Soucy still didn’t see his name in the locker room at Tria Rink. The Wild defenseman dressed for Tuesday’s practice at a stall with a generic team nameplate, while his personalized one was being made.
He didn’t mind waiting. Soucy’s name was visible in the place that really mattered, on the Wild’s 23-man roster. After spending all of last season in the minors, the former Minnesota Duluth blueliner will be the Wild’s seventh defenseman when the season begins Thursday at Nashville.
Soucy’s status was solidified by an injury to veteran Greg Pateryn, who underwent bilateral core muscle repair surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia and will be out for about six weeks but is expected to make a full recovery.
But coach Bruce Boudreau said the 6-5, 211-pound Soucy impressed him, too, with a training camp performance that was significantly better than his underwhelming showing in 2018.
“Last year at this time, we went, ‘Holy schmoes, what happened to him?’ ’’ Boudreau said of Soucy. “Because he had a really terrible camp, quite frankly, after having played four games the previous year in the playoffs for us. We expected a lot from him, and we didn’t get it.
“This year, we didn’t know what to expect. And he came in and he was aggressive, and he moved the puck well, and he defended well. So it was all good.’’
After his disappointing 2018 camp, Soucy wasn’t discouraged. A fifth-round pick by the Wild in the 2013 NHL draft, he returned to the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa and used his plentiful ice time to develop his game and remained patient.
At the end of last season, Soucy said, Wild officials urged him to push hard for a roster spot this fall. That stuck in his mind all summer, and he was well-prepared for his latest chance.
“Everyone goes through their struggles and their time in the minors,’’ said Soucy, 25. “You’re still playing in a good league [in Iowa]. You’re still just working to get better.
“It was a shorter summer since we made the playoffs in Iowa. I just tried to be a little more confident and work on my game. When you’re skating a lot, you get that confidence, and that translated a little more to the [preseason] games this year.’’
Soucy played 147 games over four seasons with UMD, ending his college career in 2017 with a loss to Denver in the NCAA championship game. His NHL debut came a year later, when he appeared in three regular-season games and four first-round playoff games.
Boudreau called it “a tough battle’’ to win the spot as the Wild’s extra defenseman, with Soucy and Louie Belpedio the final two candidates. Each got ample opportunities, playing in five of the Wild’s six preseason games. In the end, Boudreau said, he had to choose between keeping Soucy for his size or Belpedio for his righthanded shot.
Soucy was plus-3 with one assist and eight penalty minutes in preseason play. He also caught Boudreau’s attention with his improved composure on the ice.
While his size helped him make the roster, Soucy knows that alone won’t keep him in the NHL. He will continue to hone his skating skills and aim to be a consistent physical presence in every game.
“The game is getting so fast, and being a bigger guy, you’ve got to be able to move,’’ he said. “So I just try to keep working on my skating and try to keep my speed up. Then, just strength, too. That physical part of it is where I’m going to find my spot in the lineup, and I’ve got to utilize it.’’
Boudreau said that if Pateryn had not been injured, Soucy might not have made a roster projected to have seven defensemen. Regardless of the circumstances, Soucy got an upgraded uniform number this week — swapping his old 60 for 21 — and the locker nameplate is in the works. Boudreau also suggested there could be more opportunities to come.
“There’s a good chance he’s going to see action,’’ Boudreau said. “If he plays well, anything can happen.’’