NASHVILLE – Carson Soucy didn't play the first time the Wild descended on Nashville for its season opener, sitting as the extra defenseman on the roster.
But in the three weeks since that game Oct. 3, the rookie has become a regular — an unexpected development that has helped the Wild's back end persevere despite not being at full strength.
"He's surprised everybody, pleasantly so," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "… It's hard to take Carson out right now."
The Wild hasn't scratched Soucy very often.
After not playing in the first game, Soucy debuted during the next outing in Colorado and rattled off five straight appearances before Nick Seeler subbed in last week at Montreal. But Soucy was right back in action the following game, and he recorded his first career point — an assist — in the 3-0 victory over the Oilers on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
"Any chance you get to play in the NHL is always going to be a blast," Soucy said. "I'm just trying to make the most of it and take it all in."
Soucy and Brad Hunt have turned into a reliable duo for the Wild on the third pairing. Their minutes are well below the 20-plus being averaged by the Wild's top four defenders, but Soucy's plus-5 rating entering action Thursday against the Predators was a team high, an emergence that could tee up a debate for the Wild on how it plans to dole out ice time once Greg Pateryn returns in a few weeks from core muscle surgery.
"Let's worry about that later," Boudreau said.
On the mend
Devan Dubnyk didn't accompany the Wild to Nashville, but the goaltender could be back playing as soon as Saturday, when the team plays host to the Kings.
Dubnyk was injured Tuesday, landing on his back after winger Ryan Donato slid into him.
"Fell on the wrong part of the body, and it hurt," Boudreau said.
Although he didn't make the trip, Dubnyk was "working hard back home," Boudreau said, and he also exercised Wednesday.
"He was feeling a lot better," Boudreau added.
Kaapo Kahkonen, whom the Wild recalled from the American Hockey League on Wednesday on an emergency basis, backed up Alex Stalock on Thursday.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek, who has missed the Wild's past three games because of a lower-body injury after blocking a Shea Weber shot Oct. 17 at Montreal, could also return Saturday.
As for winger Kevin Fiala, he is considered day-to-day because of a lower-body injury. Fiala was moved to injured reserve Wednesday.
Winger Jordan Greenway also didn't play Thursday.
Like Dubnyk, Greenway left Tuesday's game. He exited in the first period after getting leveled by a heavy check from Edmonton's Josh Archibald. Greenway did travel to Nashville but wasn't in the lineup after waking up feeling sick, Boudreau said.
With Greenway sidelined, center Victor Rask returned to the lineup after sitting out the previous three games with a lower-body injury.
Blocking shots has stung the Wild, like in Eriksson Ek's case, but getting in front of the puck has also helped the team get out of sticky situations.
Take the team's game vs. the Canadiens on Sunday.
After winger Ryan Hartman broke his stick in the defensive zone, he stayed in the play and moved to the point to try to plug up a shooting lane — which he successfully did, blocking a shot from Weber before eventually peeling off for the bench.
"The biggest part of hockey is having a good, active stick and making it difficult," Hartman said. "So it is tough, but I think if you can just stay in front of him, hopefully they shoot it and you can block it. That's the best-case scenario."