When you're in Jordan Schroeder's position, every day feels like a tryout. Same for Sean Bergenheim and Erik Haula, same for even Kyle Brodziak and maybe soon Ryan Carter.
In the past few weeks, opposing coaches like Washington's Barry Trotz and Calgary's Bob Hartley have raved about the Wild's depth. But while a logjam of forwards might be a luxury for the Wild, it makes for an agonizing situation for many of the Wild's so-called depth players.
Brodziak's upper-body injury enabled Schroeder, scratched in eight consecutive games, to play for a third consecutive game Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. Carter's return Saturday after missing 23 games because of a separated shoulder forced Bergenheim out of the lineup for the first time since being dealt to the Wild in February.
Brodziak might be ready to return by Thursday's game against the New York Rangers. If he's put right back into the lineup, who comes out, especially with Schroeder impressing again? And as if things weren't complex enough, the surplus could be added to this week.
Matt Cooke, out since Feb. 1 because of a sports hernia, said he hopes to start practicing this week.
"I don't want to paint the picture that we have a short leash with everybody, but certainly we have a lot of guys that we're going to be looking to get some games and an opportunity," coach Mike Yeo said. "Our goal is to make the playoffs and we've got a lot of work to do, but if we do make the playoffs, this is almost a bit of a showcase for guys as far as what our lineup is going to be going forward.
"So every game is meaningful, every shift is meaningful right now."
Bergenheim, who has one goal, no assists and is minus-5 in 15 games with the Wild, was the lineup casualty Saturday. Carter, a physical forward and strong penalty killer, played for the first time since Feb. 9. "I've got fresh legs," he joked.
Schroeder has seven points in 21 games, is plus-8 and has 47 shots. During his string of healthy scratches, Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson had Schroeder attend penalty-kill meetings so he could add this element once he returned.
The past three games, Schroeder has killed penalties. It gives him another way to stay in the lineup.
"If they know I can be responsible and they can count on you to block that shot and make the right play, it's always an added bonus," Schroeder said.
Because Schroeder has been such a threat with his speed and skill, this penalty-killing rile could potentially make Haula an odd guy out if Yeo plans to reinsert Brodziak once healthy.
"It's not always ideal to break a guy in this time of year," Yeo said. "We've kind of approached it similar in how we handled [Jason Zucker] at the start of the year. Likewise with [Justin Fontaine, who has been playing the penalty kill lately]. We're trying to incorporate these guys a little more. If we can give them an increased role, it helps them to stay in the game."
For the past six weeks, Cooke has been working with longtime local skating guru Diane Ness at Highland Park Arena.
"It's helped a lot," Cooke said. "It's more about training my skating muscles without moving into a range that's uncomfortable. I've been able to build my quad muscles and my glute muscles without hurting the area that was trying to heal."
Cooke is hoping to return in time to get some regular-season games before the playoffs.
•Friday, Thomas Vanek became one of three active NHLers who scored 20 goals in their first 10 NHL seasons. The others were Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin.
"It was a struggle early on, but I stayed positive all year long and tried helping out my teammates," said Vanek, who had one goal at Thanksgiving.
•Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, a Wild fourth-round draft pick in 2014, scored a goal in an SM-Liiga playoff game Saturday.
•Defenseman Christian Folin, scratched in five straight games and nine of the past 11, was reassigned to AHL Iowa to play some games.