Jonas Brodin broke his finger Jan. 17, so the Wild knew the smooth-skating defenseman would miss four or five weeks.
That tough news also gave the brass the opportunity to reward Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson with chances to play in Minnesota. With a deep blue line, it has been frustrating for Reilly and Olofsson, who can't crack the lineup consistently.
So, on Jan. 18, the Iowa Wild played host to Grand Rapids. General Manager Chuck Fletcher drove to Des Moines to decide which of his left-shot blue line prospects would get the first chance.
"Goose [Olofsson] struggled that night," Iowa coach Derek Lalonde said. "There were things in his game that kind of crept in all year. He had a couple bad defensive reads, he had four or five slow decisions on puck transitions. Mike certainly outplayed him that night and it was probably an easy decision for Chuck.
"I brought Goose in the office the very next morning and had five or six clips to show from the previous night. I did very little talking. Goose took complete ownership in his game, where he was at, how disappointed he was in himself. And for me, it was a huge step in his maturity."
Lalonde has known Olofsson for five years. The Swedish-born, Colorado-raised defenseman played for him in 2012-13 with Green Bay of the USHL. Olofsson was so impressive that the Wild took the very raw, mobile player 46th overall in the 2013 draft.
"Goose has always been easy to coach, always wanted coaching, but it was almost like a light bulb went off in my office," Lalonde said. "From that point on, he dug his heels in, and every game before and after, we'd have a chat, sometimes for just two seconds. He was playing extremely well, making very little mistakes. We had a consistency count. After the second good game, I'd say, 'Hey, Goose, that's two in a row.' He then put together a third and a fourth and fifth good game in a row. So, when the Wild called him up [Feb. 8], he was a consistent hockey player."
Olofsson, 22, has played five games since being recalled. Teammates joke how much he looks and plays like his countryman Brodin.
"It's true," said Olofsson's defense partner, Nate Prosser. "He's a good skater like Brods, and he makes good, safe decisions out of the D-zone and gets the puck up into our forwards' hands. He's also showing some poise on the power play."
Olofsson says he is feeling more comfortable every day around his "welcoming teammates." Olofsson spent a year at Colorado College, where Prosser played four years, so he has relied on the Wild's second-longest tenured player to take care of him on and off the ice.
Prosser, always positive, has convinced Olofsson, as well, that if there's no play, don't force-feed things at the NHL level or circle back in the defensive zone. It's a tendency Reilly has had trouble kicking.
"If there's no play, get it hard off the glass and into the neutral zone. There's nothing wrong with that," Prosser said.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau likes what he sees, and he told Olofsson point-blank that he is not getting taken out of the lineup if he makes mistakes. Of course, Brodin is likely to return to the Wild's lineup Tuesday against Chicago, and Olofsson will likely return to Iowa, at least temporarily.
But it's believed part of the reason the Wild is giving Olofsson and Reilly looks is to see if the coaching staff feels comfortable enough with either if, by chance, a trade involving Marco Scandella comes to fruition before the March 1 trade deadline.
Scandella has a $4 million cap hit, and with restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund eventually having to be re-signed, something's going to have to give cap-wise for the Wild to be able to afford both with a potentially flat salary cap next season.
"Depth on defense in this league [is valuable]," Boudreau said. "It's hard to find four real good ones, let alone having a guy come up from your minor league program and be really solid in that role."
Olofsson, oft-injured, suffered a knee injury the first period of the Traverse City prospect tournament in September. This setback came as he was coming off his second consecutive season-ending shoulder injury.
"He was really discouraged, like, 'Here we go again,' " Lalonde said. "He missed the entire NHL camp, and [Wild assistant coach] Scott Stevens had never seen him, never got a feel for him.
"It's one thing for Bruce and Scott to listen to us … but it's another thing to coach and experience a guy.
"Now that they've seen a little more body of work, just talking to Scott Sunday, he was really excited at where Goose is, and he's excited about [Reilly], too."