When former Wild General Manager Paul Fenton traded Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for Victor Rask nearly two years ago, he mentioned Rask's age (25), potential upside and ability to play center as selling points.
"If he comes in and he scores and takes that next step," Fenton said on Jan. 17, 2019, "then it really looks like a good trade."
So far, that hasn't happened. Rask has seven goals and nine assists in 66 games for the Wild, and he found himself sitting in the press box 26 times in 69 games in the 2019-20 season. He did not see the ice in the team's preliminary round series against Vancouver. That's not ideal for a player who carries a $4 million salary cap hit for this season and next.
Hope, as always, springs eternal during training camp, and Rask has been manning the fourth-line center spot between wingers Ryan Hartman and Nico Sturm. It's a trio that Dean Evason likes, and Rask's work has caught the coach's attention.
"We actually thought Victor was arguably one of the best or the best player in Game 1 of our intrasquad game," Evason said of Friday's scrimmage. "That line, it's got a lot of different elements to it. It's got skill. It's got speed. It's got grit. And Raskie's done a really good job of distributing the puck."
Rask just wants to earn his way to a consistent spot in the lineup — "There's no fun sitting in the stands," he said — and a solid training camp has produced confidence.
"I'm feeling pretty good this training camp and put in a lot of time this summer," said Rask, who spent the offseason in his native Sweden.
Rask sees his role and that of his linemates as bringing "just a hard game, I guess.
''Obviously, you want to play very responsible in the defensive zone but also contribute offense."
The effectiveness of Rask's line will be determined starting with the season opener Thursday night in Los Angeles. Evason expects good things.
"We all feel very comfortable when they're on the ice," he said.
Cuts made, waivers cleared
The Wild reduced its training camp roster to 31 players by assigning 10 players to Iowa of the AHL. They are forwards Mitchell Chaffee, Joseph Cramarossa, Connor Dewar, Brandon Duhaime, Gabriel Dumont and Mason Shaw; defenseman Calen Addison and Ian McCoshen; and goalies Dereck Baribeau and Hunter Jones.
The 10 players the Wild placed on waivers Sunday cleared waivers Monday. They are forwards Gerald Mayhew, Kyle Rau, Luke Johnson, Cramarossa and Dumont; defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Louie Belpedio, Dakota Mermis and McCoshen; and goalie Andrew Hammond.
The team will assign four to six players to its taxi squad — new to the NHL this season to provide COVID-19 flexibility — and must trim its active roster to the 23-man limit by 4 p.m. Tuesday. If a team has fewer than three goalies on its active roster, it must have one on the taxi squad.
The taxi squad is shaping up to include Mayhew, Rau and Johnson at forward, Hammond in goal, and one or two of Bartkowski, Belpedio and Mermis in the mix depending on how many defensemen the NHL club keeps.
"They earned an opportunity to be in our taxi squad, to be on our group, with our group here," Evason said. "We had a very competitive training camp. We were really excited about it and could've went in a couple of different directions."