SAN JOSE, CALIF. – The Wild's message to Victor Rask after last season was that if he showed up ready to play, he'd get a chance.
Rask took it a step further.
Not only did he report for training camp in what coach Dean Evason described as "tremendous shape," but he's also contributing when he's on the ice, suggesting he's finally settling in with the team after an uneven couple seasons.
"He's taken advantage of every situation he's been given," Evason said. "When you do that, you continually get given those opportunities."
Since getting acquired in a trade with Carolina that sent Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes two years ago, Rask has been in and out of the Wild's lineup.
He had just two goals in 23 games after the trade and 2019-20 wasn't much better, with Rask scoring just five times in 43 games.
This season, however, has been different.
On Saturday in Anaheim, he notched his fourth goal of the season and third in as many games, filling in nicely between wingers Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov, a spot that was initially reserved for Marcus Johansson before Johansson was sidelined because of an upper body injury.
Johannson will also sit out tonight's game in San Jose against the Sharks.
Aside from chipping in offensively, Rask has also boosted the Wild in the faceoff circle — especially on Saturday, his first game back after getting cleared from the NHL's COVID list. Rask won a jaw-dropping 93% of his faceoffs, going 13-for-14.
"We are very excited about his taking advantage when he's had that opportunity," Evason said. "We don't expect him to take a step backward."
After a pair of assists Saturday bumped up his point total on the season to 11, Kaprizov became the fastest among rookies to debut with the Wild to reach 10 points, hitting the mark in only 14 games.
And while the production has been on par with the offensive impact Kaprizov was expected to make, he's still rounding out his game, like figuring out when to be ambitious and when to make the straightforward play.
The Wild is helping him through this process, showing him video examples, and Kaprizov has been receptive to the feedback.
"When you're sitting in front of a computer, and you're pointing or drawing a line, hockey's hockey," Evason explained. "He understands. No question, he understands. When he can be skilled and when he has to be gritty and bear down and get pucks out, he's done a good job of it. It's a fine line. It's a fine line with every player of where and when to do it and where and when to bear down and be a little more simple."
Goalie Cam Talbot will suited up for Monday's game for the first time since clearing the COVID protocols last week.
Evason said Talbot is a possibility to start Wednesday in the road trip finale at Colorado.
Defenseman Carson Soucy also will be back in the lineup against the Sharks, making his return from the COVID list.
"I tried to stickhandle a little bit in the garage," said Soucy, who had a runny nose and sore throat and felt fatigued while in the protocols, "and that was kind of all I got up to."
With the Wild defense back to full strength, the team sent rookie Calen Addison to the minors on Sunday — this after Addison made a sound NHL debut, averaging 18 minutes, 31 seconds in ice time over three games.
"We saw a lot of potential," Evason said. "We saw a lot of great things. He's a young player, and we've talked about it before that hockey players need to play hockey — especially young guys that are a part of our future. He conducted himself very well. We are comfortable if we had to put him in the lineup again."