The Wild has run into significant injuries up front, yet in the past four games the team has called up three forwards who either barely played or didn’t play at all.
The Iowa Wild, an American Hockey League affiliate, is struggling for the third consecutive season, and the lack of skill there is finally being felt on the big club.
Tyler Graovac has missed all but one game for the Wild and is expected to miss at least another month after abdominal surgery. Both Zach Parise and Justin Fontaine are out because of sprained knee ligaments.
In dire need of reinforcements, the Wild hasn’t been able to turn to any sure-thing prospects or players. Part of the problem is the Baby Wild has its share of injuries. Center Zac Dalpe is out indefinitely after hip surgery; and Michael Keranen, Grayson Downing and Ruslan Fedotenko just returned from injuries.
In the past week, the Wild has called up Christoph Bertschy twice and Kurtis Gabriel and Brett Bulmer once. Bertschy averaged 7½ minutes in two games, Gabriel played less than three and Bulmer didn’t even play Saturday. Bulmer went back to Des Moines on Sunday, and the team will have to recall a forward — possibly Keranen — by Tuesday.
Wild coach Mike Yeo basically said it would be easy to increase the ice time of other forwards because “those guys haven’t exactly been playing 15 minutes for us.”
Yeo said the ideal thing “would be to have somebody come up and be so good and prove they really deserve to be here full time. I don’t think that we’re quite there yet. I think the guys have come up and have done a nice job, but they’re young kids that still need to build their game.
“They’ve filled in admirably, but they’re not ready [to be full-time NHLers] yet. They have to make sure that they’re … playing the game the right way and building it and make sure they’re working for their next chance.”
The Iowa Wild has won three — one in regulation — of 17 games this season after a league-worst 53-loss, 50-point season last year and Western Conference-worst 67 points two years ago.
The Wild fired coach Kurt Kleinendorst early last season and GM Jim Mill in June, yet nothing’s changed. Iowa, a team without any top prospects up front or in goal and only Gustav Olofsson (three assists, minus-9) and Mike Reilly (five points, minus-17) on the blue line, has scored 29 goals and allowed 56.
“I would like to see those players win more,” Yeo said. “The system is the same as what we’re playing here. I know that they’re very well-coached. I know that [John Torchetti] is a great coach, I know the system works. It worked for us [when I coached Houston] in the American League, it works for us in the NHL, but at some point you’ve got to find a way to win hockey games.”
Brent Flahr, the Wild’s assistant GM who has taken on Mill’s role, said the amount of injuries coupled with the fact that Graovac and Jordan Schroeder haven’t been down there has created “a disaster up front.”
Schroeder said Iowa is a team that’s not going to outskill teams.
“You have to beat them with hard work, and that’s all it comes down to — you have to want to win more than the other team,” he said. “It’s finding that edge of winning. You almost have to command it. And that’s teaching those young guys how to do those things.”
Iowa should gain an influx of players in the next few years. Forward Pavel Jenys should play there next season, and there’s a chance Reid Duke and Chase Lang do, too. Winger Mario Lucia and defenseman Nick Seeler are expected to sign, and so could forward Alex Tuch, defenseman Carson Soucy and maybe Adam Gil- mour, unless he opts to become a free agent. The Boston College forward should find opportunity in Minnesota because of its lack of center depth.
“They play hard and have been in almost every game, but you almost have to play perfect,” Flahr said. “They don’t have the ability to score goals, so when they fall behind, they cheat a little bit, get away from their game and it goes the other way.”