DALLAS – One area the Wild might look to improve before the March 1 trade deadline is fourth-line center.
Tyler Graovac entered Tuesday’s game against the Stars with three goals and no assists in 37 games and one point in the previous 28 games. He was scratched Saturday against Anaheim, then returned the next night against Nashville and lost a faceoff that led to Nashville’s tying goal.
Asked Tuesday morning if he’s comfortable with the fourth-line center spot if Graovac’s play doesn’t markedly improve, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau paused five seconds before saying, “Hmm, Let’s hope it improves. Let’s hope it gets better.”
Boudreau continued: “It’s not my call. We have who we have and we play who we play. If we need players at different positions, I’m sure we’re going to look at it and see what has to happen. It’s not just him. It’s every spot.”
The free-agent rental market at center isn’t exorbitant. Arizona’s Martin Hanzal is the big name available, but the Coyotes are looking for a giant price. San Jose traded 28-year-old Tommy Wingels to Ottawa on Tuesday.
The Wild’s depth is strong at most positions, but not at center largely because Zac Dalpe tore a meniscus in his right knee in October. He underwent surgery but hasn’t played for AHL Iowa since Jan. 7. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Dalpe is at least a couple of weeks from returning.
“It should be better with rest, then strengthening it,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully he feels he can really push off and stop and start and turn. He’s played pretty good games for us, but he just has had such a string of bad luck.”
Other depth players who can play center include Jordan Schroeder, Pat Cannone, Zack Mitchell and injured Grayson Downing.
Asked if he’ll have to secure the position at the deadline, Fletcher said, “It remains to be seen. We’re built a certain way. I think we need scoring from our fourth line, so to get a fourth-line center certainly could be an area.
“We just have to make sure we keep our identity intact. We’ve got to make sure we have four lines that can score in this game to be successful.”
Tuch, Olofsson in plans
Fletcher plans to give at least two other youngsters looks before the trade deadline — power winger Alex Tuch and defenseman Gustav Olofsson.
“Our depth is being tested pretty good right now with [defenseman Jonas] Brodin hurt,” Fletcher said. “Mike Reilly’s getting a shot, and I think Olofsson can play games as well.”
Tuch, who has eight goals and 18 points in 32 games for Iowa, hurt a shoulder, then aggravated the injury in his first game back. So his progression has been slowed, but he’s expected to return Wednesday or Friday.
“At some point we have to see where he’s at,” Fletcher said. “He’s a 6-foot-4 guy with skill that’s led our team in all the different metrics in Iowa, whether it’s Corsi, scoring chances or plus-minus.”
• On Feb. 4, all NHL goalies must switch into tighter-fitting pants. Stars coach Lindy Ruff claimed Tuesday not to know anything about that, then deadpanned, “I hope they’re bigger.”
Stars goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have a combined .896 save percentage, which ranks 27th in the NHL ahead of only Colorado, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
• Speaking of one-liners, Boudreau was asked if he has seen Schroeder’s confidence grow: “His confidence has probably gotten better. Look, he’s played 12 or 13 games. Let’s not anoint him yet. Sorry.”
• Defenseman Christian Folin was scratched a second game in a row Tuesday against Dallas. Center Mikko Koivu (illness) returned and winger Christoph Bertschy was scratched.