TAMPA, Fla. – Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen parlayed an emergency call-up from the minors into a successful start to his NHL career.
Before that, defenseman Carson Soucy scaled the depth chart to lock down a regular role after winning a roster spot in training camp.
And now Nick Seeler is the next player to get a chance to make an unforeseen impact on the Wild since he’ll be shifted from the press box to the ice Thursday when the team continues its three-game road trip against the Lightning after defenseman Jared Spurgeon was sent home because of a hand injury.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” Seeler said. “We’ve been working really hard. Team’s been doing really well, which is fun to be in for a game and be part of it. So I’m excited for the opportunity, and I’m just going to play my game.”
Spurgeon, who was placed on injured reserve, will be out for approximately two weeks because of an upper-body injury, the Wild announced.
He was hurt Tuesday when he blocked an Aleksander Barkov shot in the first period of the 4-2 victory over the Panthers, getting hit on the right glove during the penalty kill. Afterward, Spurgeon stopped holding his stick with his right hand and left the game once Barkov scored seconds later.
“It’s not as daunting as you normally hear,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of Spurgeon’s timeline for recovery.
Captain Mikko Koivu also didn’t finish Tuesday’s game, suffering a lower-body injury. He’s considered day to day. Although he didn’t practice Wednesday, he’s expected to participate in the morning skate Thursday and be evaluated. Without Koivu and Spurgeon, the Wild rolled out new lines and pairings during Wednesday’s session.
Right winger Luke Kunin moved to center, taking Koivu’s spot between wingers Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala, with Boudreau remembering the synergy between Kunin and Parise last season.
Center Victor Rask, who absorbed Koivu’s minutes once he left the game Tuesday, was back on the fourth line next to wingers Ryan Donato and Marcus Foligno — a position he’s worked well in recently. And winger Ryan Hartman joined winger Jordan Greenway and center Joel Eriksson Ek.
On defense, Seeler filled out a third pairing with Brad Hunt, Matt Dumba worked with Ryan Suter on the top unit and Carson Soucy moved to the right to plug the hole next to Jonas Brodin left by Spurgeon.
Soucy, a left shot, has played on the right in the past, and Boudreau wanted Brodin to be on his natural side so he could be at his best. A healthy scratch 24 times, this will be Seeler’s fourth appearance but he took only two shifts in one of those when he dressed as a seventh defenseman.
“I said, ‘Just play. Have fun playing hockey,’ ” Boudreau said. “That’s what it’s all about. Don’t get too caught up. I just told him, ‘What the worst thing that can happen to you? Not getting played anymore?’ Well, he hasn’t been playing much. So just play.”
The Wild still could recall a defenseman from the American Hockey League to give it an extra. Defenseman Greg Pateryn began his conditioning stint with Iowa on Wednesday, and the plan is for him to also play Thursday. But he also could rejoin the Wild in Carolina for the trip finale Saturday if needed.
Regardless, the responsibility to keep a season-high 10-game point streak (7-0-3) alive will be shouldered by the majority that instigated it — which has included players not necessarily forecast to be factors this season.
Soucy served up his first career game-winner Tuesday on a heads-up play that showcased how comfortable he’s feeling in the NHL; he pinched, gloved down a high pass and deposited it in the back of the net.
“You don’t expect him to be there in a 2-2 game,” Boudreau said, “… but he was and that means he’s got a little bit of confidence playing.”
Kahkonen was in net for that victory, setting a franchise record in saves by a rookie with 44 — 36 of which came in a row to close out the game. He’s won both his NHL starts.
“What I like is for the first time in a while, our organization has goaltending depth, young goaltending depth,” Boudreau said, “and that’s a real good sign.”
Now, it’s someone else’s turn to try to mimic these examples and make a difference.
“When you get in, you don’t want to come out,” Seeler said. “So that’s my attitude. I’m not going to try to do too much. I’m just going to play my game, be physical and try to be good in the defensive zone and hopefully run with it.”