Other than his Wild sweater changing from No. 44 to 7, free-agent pickup Chris Stewart walked around Xcel Energy Center looking and feeling quite at home Thursday.
After doing a couple of Christmas carols for the game-ops staff and shooting some memes for the social media folks, Stewart couldn’t get over how little has changed since his cup of coffee with the Wild as a trade-deadline acquisition two seasons ago.
“Everyone knows each other. It’s a close-knit group,” Stewart said as players reported to training camp. “It’s like I never left.”
Stewart, 28, entering his ninth season in the NHL, spent last season playing for Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim. The new Wild coach endorsed the Wild bringing him back on a modest two-year, $2.3 million contract minutes after Eric Staal signed as a free agent July 1.
Stewart could start the season on the fourth line as Boudreau felt Stewart, who twice in his career had 28-goal seasons, proved to him last season that he’d never cause a stink playing such a role.
“He could go up and down your lineup. He’d play fourth line some games and then he’d play with [Ryan] Getzlaf and [David] Perron the next night,” Boudreau said. “Whether he played seven minutes a night or 13 minutes a night, he was always active on the bench and he stood up for his teammates.”
Stewart is not returning to simply accept a fourth-line role. His objective is to push his teammates and bring some internal competition. During his 28 games previously with the Wild, he showed quality flashes on a line with Mikko Koivu.
“My goal is to win a Stanley Cup. For this team, there’s no time like the present,” Stewart said. “We’re a veteran hockey team. We’re a team that has been on the cusp the last couple years. But I don’t think it’s been good enough.
“They brought me back because they know I can play hockey and internal completion just drives everyone to be better.”
World Cup players return
The United States’ Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and Finland’s Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula return from the World Cup on Friday and won’t practice until Monday.
“They’ve had training camp since Sept. 4, so they’re in shape,” Boudreau said. “The married guys have been away from their family for a long time, so we want to give them a little time to get back united and have some fun because training camp; you don’t see a lot of your family in that either. We want to make sure they’re well rested and ready to go when they come back.”
• Boudreau said he can tell players are still trying to figure him out, like, “What’s this guy like? He seems to be smiling a little bit too much or he’s joking around with me, is he really joking or is he sarcastic?’ I think it takes a little bit of time for the guys to get to know you.” When asked how long it has taken previous teams to get to know him, Boudreau deadpanned, “Well, I think it’s worked pretty well … until Game 7.” Boudreau is 1-7 all-time in career Game 7s.
• Unsigned veteran free agent Tomas Fleischmann, who played for Boudreau in Hershey, Washington and Anaheim, said he agreed to a tryout with the Wild “because of Bruce. I know what type of game he plays. My agent said it would be the best fit.”
• Assistant GM Brent Flahr said defenseman Gustav Olofsson (knee) and forward Sam Anas (concussion) will be cleared for camp after the weekend.