Center Nick Bonino is not the first player you think of on this year's Wild team. If we're being honest, he might not even be the 10th.
But there might not be one player on the Wild team who is a better fit or symbolic match than Bonino: an overachieving former sixth-round draft pick who is set to play his 100th career NHL playoff game Tuesday night against Vegas for an overachieving team that can use all the playoff experience it can get.
I asked him if he remembers his first playoff appearance a decade ago with Anaheim. As it turns out, Bonino's memory is as solid as his game.
"I do remember. That year I think I played 26 games in November and December and then I was sent down and I didn't get called up until the playoffs. I played Games 2, 3, 4 and 5. I think we played Nashville, actually, with Anaheim. Back then I wasn't playing too much. I was more an energy, checking (player). Just kind of getting a taste of the playoffs," Bonino said on Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast. "I think I've learned over the years really how hard it is to win, how long the playoffs are, the toll it takes on your body — mentally and physically. ... It's pretty crazy to be playing my 100th game."
Though Bonino is hardly the only Wild player with extensive postseason experience — Ryan Suter has logged 82 playoff games, for instance — some of the most important players on the roster are far less-seasoned. Rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov, of course, made his NHL playoff debut on Sunday.
"My message mostly is just emotionally that's where games are won and lost with your team," Bonino said. "Just staying focused, whether it's a first period like we had (Sunday) where we looked a little bit maybe like we had 'plane legs' but we got awesome goaltending and came into the locker room and just completely turned the page. Came out and played ... two great periods and then won in overtime."
Bonino's teams are 55-44 in his 99 career playoff games to date.
Wild general manager Bill Guerin was an assistant GM in Pittsburgh when Bonino was there as part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams. On draft night in October, he acquired Bonino plus the No. 37 and No. 70 picks from Nashville for Luke Kunin and the 101st pick — an under-the-radar move that has tilted toward the Wild as Bonino had 10 goals and 16 assists while playing in all but one of 56 regular season games.
"When we won the Cup (against) Nashville in '17, he couldn't play in the last game because he broke his leg blocking a shot," Guerin said after he traded for Bonino. "Those are the type of things that we need to move forward, and he brings all those intangibles along with offensive capability."
Marc-Andre Fleury helped Pittsburgh win both of those Stanley Cups and matched Wild goalie Cam Talbot save-for-save until Joel Eriksson Ek's goal gave the Wild a 1-0 win in the opener.
"He's annoying. So many good saves (Sunday) night," Bonino said with a smile. "When you play with him, he talks a lot on the ice. Anytime someone makes a block, he's cheering and going, 'Woo!' and he's happy. I loved it when I was playing for it, but now it's killing me."
Bonino marveled at Fleury's streak of playing in the postseason for the 15th consecutive year — 11 with the Penguins and four with the Golden Knights — but Bonino's own streak is almost as impressive: nine consecutive trips to the playoffs, done with five different teams (Anaheim, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Minnesota).
That journey has taught him what it takes to win this time of year.
"You need confidence. Teams that win are the teams that execute confident plays — aren't just chipping it out and chasing it all game," Bonino said. "Everything is magnified in the playoffs. Mistakes are magnified. Faceoffs. Blocked shots. Getting pucks in. Everything is magnified. Everything is more important. They can cost you games. You make a mistake in Game 7 of the regular season, it might not hurt you. In the playoffs, everything can come back to bite you."