After spending most of training camp lower in the lineup, Victor Rask was promoted for the Wild's second-to-last tuneup of the preseason Thursday by getting slotted between wingers Jason Zucker and Kevin Fiala.
But when the team returned to the ice Friday for practice at Tria Rink following a 2-1 win over the Stars in Dallas, Rask subbed in for shifts as an extra — a reassignment that makes it clear where the center currently ranks on the depth chart, and that is outside the top-12 forward group.
"At this moment, I would say that there are four centers ahead of him now that we've seen that [captain Mikko Koivu's knee] is fine and he can play," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It makes it difficult. But this is where you become mentally strong. You wait for your chance, whether it's Sunday in [the] preseason game and you score two or three, or the first chance you get into a game prove that you can't be taken out of the game. That's what it's about."
Acquired last season in a trade that sent Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes, Rask was in position to use camp as a fresh start after an uneven debut.
In 23 games with the Wild, he managed just two goals and one assist and spent a chunk of time sidelined with injury. But since returning, Rask hasn't established a firm footing in the lineup and could end up as the 13th forward. He has three seasons left on a six-year, $24 million contract.
Rask declined to comment Friday.
"He's a guy that's used to getting opportunities and points, and he hasn't been getting that," Boudreau said. "The way last year ended for him, I gotta believe that his confidence is sagging.
"But we have confidence in him, so we're hoping that we show the confidence in him that he shows it in himself."
Three players cut
The Wild got closer to finalizing its opening-day roster, releasing right winger Drew Stafford from his professional tryout and assigning forwards Nico Sturm and Gerald Mayhew to Iowa of the American Hockey League.
Although the Wild liked Stafford, there was no room to keep him; the team is nearing the 50-contract limit, and there are too many players already signed ahead of him on the depth chart.
As for Sturm and Mayhew, both could see ice time with the Wild eventually.
"We thought [Sturm] was great," Boudreau said. "We think he's going to play games here, but we don't want him sitting as a 13th forward him being a rookie. If he goes down and plays 30 games the way he did up here, then he's going to push other people out of a job.
"The same with Gerry. Mayhew was really good in the two games he played. He goes to the net. He's strong, but the depth right there is a tough position."
These moves leave 26 players on the camp roster, but one of those is injured Mason Shaw. He's recovering from a knee injury and will start the season as an injured nonroster player.
That means the Wild would need to make only two more subtractions to get to the 23-man limit, although it could end up being just one if defenseman Greg Pateryn starts the season on injured reserve.
Pateryn is dealing with a lower-body injury and still isn't ready to practice.
"We figured time off is going to be a better healer than to push it," Boudreau said.
Back in action
Fiala is hoping Sunday's exhibition finale at Xcel Energy Center against the Winnipeg Jets will ready him for the regular season after he put one shot on net in 13 minutes, 3 seconds of ice time during his preseason debut Thursday.
"Not that good, but I wasn't expecting anything better," Fiala said.
"First game. It's been a long summer, too, so everybody had a few games already. But I already felt better [Friday], for sure."