EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Individuals can seize moments, but it’s depth that tends to spur longevity in the postseason.
The Wild isn’t an exception, not when it has to prevail in a best-of-five showdown with Vancouver before it can begin the usual four-round trek to the Stanley Cup in Edmonton next month when the NHL returns with a 24-team postseason tournament.
And if the Wild is to get on a lengthy playoffs run, it’ll need its supporting players to make just as much of an impact as the headliners at the top of its lineup. Here are three forwards to watch:
Joel Eriksson Ek
The center is poised to get the toughest assignment in the Wild’s series against the Canucks by matching up against high-flying center and the reigning rookie of the year Elias Pettersson.
So far in training camp, Pettersson has worked with J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, and any combination would be a handful to contain.
But out of everyone on the Wild, Eriksson Ek looks most suited for the challenge.
“He’s pretty annoying to play against,” Zach Parise said. “He’s a big guy. He’s responsible. He’s got an edge to him that can get under the opponent’s skin.
“He does that to a lot of guys in practice even, so he’s hard to play against.”
Eriksson Ek has skated with Parise and Luke Kunin for most of camp, but he and Kunin were reunited with Jordan Greenway for the start of Thursday’s scrimmage at Tria Rink before Eriksson Ek left the session.
Eriksson Ek was also “unavailable” Friday, coach Dean Evason said on a video conference call, but he will make the trip to Edmonton on Sunday.
If/when Eriksson Ek returns, the Wild has flexibility in who to pair him with, and he could also be a force on the penalty kill.
“Ek is going to be a very important part,” Evason said. “We’re gonna use him in a lot of different situations.”
And even though he’s a defensive specialist, don’t be surprised to see Eriksson Ek also strive to create chances offensively.
In the regular season, he had a career-best eight goals, 21 assists and 29 points in 62 games.
“We’re just going to try to force turnovers and get the puck behind their ‘D’ and work from there,” Eriksson Ek said earlier this week.
“… Our strength is in the forecheck and get pucks around the net and take second opportunities on the puck.”
After arriving in February from Pittsburgh as part of the Jason Zucker trade, Galchenyuk really started to settle in with the Wild right before the pause in the season.
He had two goals and an assist in the last three games the Wild played, and his statement performance came in Vancouver on Feb. 19 when he scored the equalizer late in the third period before serving up the shootout winner in a 4-3 victory over the Canucks.
“I work hard,” said Galchenyuk, who is on a line with Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello. “I stay after practice and I knew sooner or later with the right opportunity, with the right minutes, I was going to start chipping in offensively. I was heating up more and more, and that momentum I’m going to try to bring in the playoffs.”
Where Galchenyuk could really shine is in the faceoff circle. Since he joined the Wild, he’s won 50% of his draws.
“When you see a guy winning faceoffs as clean as he has and as aggressively as he has, it means he’s committed,” Evason said. “He’s sticking his nose in there, and he’s ready to go.”
The best line in Thursday’s scrimmage in Evason’s eyes was the team’s fourth line featuring captain Mikko Koivu and wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman.
That’s an encouraging development since everyone chipping in is key to the Wild’s success.
“They created almost every time they were on the ice,” Evason said. “They defended hard.”
That’s going to be the trio’s focus and a role that Hartman could thrive in under the brighter spotlight in the postseason.
Not only does he have enough grit to his game to be a defensive agitator and withstand the physical rigors of playoff hockey, but he can also help with secondary scoring.
Actually, this line was one of the most productive for the Wild going into the break with Hartman tallying six points in the final eight games.
“We trust each other,” Hartman said. “We’ve built some chemistry throughout the year.
“Hopefully we continue that against Vancouver.”