PITTSBURGH – Defenseman Greg Pateryn knew exactly what the Wild expected of him when he signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract to join the team as a free agent last summer.
“They wanted me to eat minutes, be reliable and just be a good, solid presence — be good in any situation,” he said.
Pateryn has fulfilled that role almost exclusively on the third defensive pairing, but now that he’s been promoted to the second unit because of Matt Dumba’s upper-body injury, he has a chance to showcase that impact amid more responsibility.
“You gotta be ready to jump in any situation,” Pateryn said. “I think being able to do that is a valuable asset of mine.”
The 28-year-old skated a season-high 21 minutes, 5 seconds Thursday in the 2-1 loss to the Penguins, his 200th career game and only the second time he’s worked alongside Jonas Brodin since the blue-line shake-up instigated by Dumba’s injury.
This change plants a tougher matchup in front of Pateryn, as underscored by Pittsburgh’s clinching goal when Pateryn’s turnover behind the net landed right on Penguins top-line winger Jake Guentzel’s stick. Guentzel then passed in front to winger Bryan Rust, who sent the puck by goalie Devan Dubnyk 8:12 into the third period.
“Guy just picked off the puck and made a good play,” Pateryn said.
Despite the switch, Pateryn has approached the assignment the same way he tackled shifts when he partnered with Nick Seeler lower on the depth chart.
“You need a pair that’s going to be out there and just be able to take some of those harder minutes away from [the top-four defensemen],” Pateryn explained. “I think it’s something we pride ourselves on, and I think we did a pretty good job of it. But I think there’s always room to improve and move forward.”
Pursuing that evolution isn’t new for Pateryn. He parlayed a midseason trade from the Montreal Canadiens to the Dallas Stars in 2017 into his first regular gig in the NHL, appearing in a career-high 73 games last season with the Stars — a body of work that preceded a long-term commitment by the Wild.
“Overall, it’s been pretty good,” Pateryn said of his time with the team. “I’m very happy.”
A return to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh brings back the memory of a 4-2 Game 5 loss to the Sharks during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final for Wild center Eric Fehr, but that’s not all he recalls.
He also remembers he and his then-Penguins teammates ultimately prevailed to snag the trophy with a 3-1 victory in Game 6.
“It just kind of it makes all the ups and downs, all the negatives a little more worthwhile knowing that you’ve been able to win it all,” Fehr said. “That’s obviously the goal as a hockey player, and that’s the reason I still play today. It just kind of makes the tougher times a little better.”
Although this experience is part of Fehr’s history, it’s not a lesson he can necessarily relate to his Wild teammates. But it can show up in how he prepares and carries himself on the ice.
“You don’t really want to be the guy talking about the past,” Fehr said. “… It just helps maybe with your confidence level a little bit just knowing that you’ve been there, especially once you get to the playoffs and the games get a little more intense. You can just kind of remember the past times.”
Near the top
Fehr’s arrival after signing a one-year, $1 million contract in the summer hasn’t just added another leader to the team.
He’s also helped refurbish a middle-of-the-pack penalty kill into the second-best unit in the league entering action Thursday at 85.7 percent. Before playing the Penguins, the Wild had gone a perfect 13-for-13 over the previous seven games.
“The biggest thing for me is bearing down on the first draw,” said Fehr, who teams up with winger Marcus Foligno when the Wild is shorthanded and had a team-high 43 faceoff wins on the PK. “Oftentimes, we’re starting. It’s important that you get a good start and try to make them work and come up and down the ice.”