As always, Bruce Boudreau reserves the right to change his mind. The Wild coach will start Thursday’s season opener at Nashville with the lines he assembled this week, but there’s no telling how long they will last.
The line combinations during Wednesday’s practice at Tria Rink grouped Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Mats Zuccarello on the first line; Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Kevin Fiala on the second. Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway make up the third line; Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Hartman form the fourth. Victor Rask is the extra forward.
“This is what we’re going to stick with, at least for the first 10 minutes of the first period,’’ joked Boudreau, a noted mixologist when it comes to line groupings.
“[Zuccarello and Parise] are our offensive guys, so we thought, let’s put them together.
“And Mikko has proved that his leg is fine, so that’s why he’s up there.’’
Boudreau considered it a happy surprise that Koivu got up to speed so quickly in his return from last February’s surgery to repair the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Though he hoped the Wild captain would be ready to resume his usual role, Boudreau wasn’t sure what to expect.
“That’s a tough surgery to come off, and he’s not 24 anymore,’’ he said. “But you just know how much work he put into it.’’
Koivu, 36, had set a goal to play in the season opener. Because he hadn’t gone through this kind of injury before, he couldn’t say his swift progress surprised him, but he is grateful for it.
“Early on, they told me there’s not really a timeline,’’ Koivu said. “They can say seven, eight, nine months, whatever. But at the end, we’ll see what happens, right?
“The process was good. I really want to thank the training staff here and back in Finland. I was in good hands.
“I’m really happy to be able to play [Thursday] night, and we’ll go from there.’’
Pack a bag
The Wild’s road-heavy early schedule has been a hot topic among fans and media. The team plays six of its first seven games on the road — including the first three — and has nine away games this month, with only four at home. In November, the Wild will travel to both coasts as it plays eight of 13 games on the road.
Boudreau admitted that the schedule is “a little dicey,’’ with many of those games against divisional opponents in raucous arenas.
Wednesday, he told his team that all those road contests would make it even more satisfying to start the season well.
“There’s nothing better than doing things that people don’t expect you to do,’’ he said. “Going on the road in Nashville is not going to be easy.
“I always try to think of it as, at the end, when you do succeed, it’s pretty good when you do it on the road. And on opening night would be pretty cool.’’
The Wild’s top two defensive pairs are locked in. Ryan Suter will play with Matt Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon is teamed with Jonas Brodin.
The third duo, Boudreau said, will be more situational. Brad Hunt, Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy will be mixed and matched, depending on the kind of defensive look the Wild needs for each opponent.
“Between those three, it’s a combination of who we think we can win with best,’’ Boudreau said.
The Wild announced Wednesday that it has expanded the number of practices open to the public at Tria Rink. Spectators will be welcome at 39 of this season’s sessions.
The team is requiring that fans reserve free tickets via the NHL app to attend the practices.
The first open session is Monday at 10:30 a.m.