Carson Soucy earned a surprise spot on the Wild roster this season as a 25-year-old rookie, and a difficult decision looms when veteran defenseman Greg Pateryn is cleared to play.
Pateryn had core muscle surgery at the end of training camp, opening up a spot on the third defensive pair that Soucy claimed. He has played in 17 of 20 games and leads the team in plus-minus (plus-4) as he gains NHL experience.
“Being here, it could be short-lived with the depth we have on D, so I just want to take it game by game and work on my consistency,” said Soucy, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday in an overtime loss to Carolina.
The bubble wrap is off Pateryn, who went through his first full contact practice Monday at Tria Rink before the Wild left for Tuesday’s game at Buffalo.
“He’s going to be in full practice all the time this week and probably we’ll make a decision,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When he gets cleared will probably be Wednesday or Thursday. We’ll see what happens then.”
What could happen is the Wild keeps eight defensemen. Odd man out Nick Seeler has played in only four games, but he would have to clear waivers to be assigned to Iowa of the AHL. Soucy could be sent down without waivers.
Soucy had a cup of coffee with the Wild at the end of the 2017-18 season when Ryan Suter was injured but spent all last season with Iowa after an unimpressive training camp in 2018.
This season, Soucy is making the most of his audition. Even though he describes himself as a “younger guy,” that’s only in-game experience. Defenseman Matt Dumba, for instance, is two days older than Soucy but has played in 342 more NHL games.
“There’s guys in there with a lot of games,” said Soucy, who is paired with 31-year-old Brad Hunt. “I was kind of nervous around them, knowing what they’ve done to get where they’re at. It’s been good to get a little more comfortable.
“There’s learning curves in every game. We’ve got the coaches and the other guys giving pointers, and that’s huge for a young guy.”
Soucy’s goal Saturday, which tied the score 3-3, came when he hopped up in the play and beat Hurricanes goalie James Reimer from the left circle after a nifty pass from Victor Rask.
Soucy’s not much of a goal scorer — he had 12 in 147 games at Minnesota Duluth from 2013 to ’17, and six in 133 games over the past two seasons at Iowa.
“My game is defense,” he laughed. “I had to look at the video a couple of times to see how I got so wide open.”
Boudreau has been comfortable playing his third line of Luke Kunin centering Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway against the opposition’s top two lines. In Saturday’s loss, Eriksson Ek and Greenway both had excellent chances to beat Reimer and win the game but were foiled.
“They’ve got really good energy, they like playing with each other, and they’ve all got pretty good speed,” the Wild coach said. “They’ve been responsible so far ... it’s hard not to like them.
“They like the responsibility [of playing against top lines] and it gives us the opportunity to get [Mikko] Koivu’s line or [Eric] Staal’s line against somebody else, if [Kunin’s line] can do the job. It makes for a good fit if it works out. Now, we’ve only done it on home games … it’s harder to do on the road. But our home record [4-1-2] is what it is for a reason. Get the good matchups, and our guys have risen to the occasion, for the most part.”