By saying extra work with Wild assistant coaches Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette would help Erik Haula’s conditioning, Mike Yeo made a subtle inference a few days ago in Columbus that he was not overly thrilled with the benched center’s fitness.
The Wild coach was asked Friday morning if he’d expand on what he meant.
“It’s something I talked to him about earlier in the year because I noticed right from the start of the year [he was] taking shorter shifts and taking a little longer for him to recover from his shifts,” Yeo said. “Since he’s been a healthy scratch, we’ve had two very, very challenging skates for him. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be right back to where it needs to be. So it’s something that has to continue to be worked on.”
Haula, the former two-time Gophers leading scorer, returned to the Wild’s lineup Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs after being scratched in two consecutive games and three of the past four. He has three goals and an assist in 31 games and is minus-4.
Yeo wanted Haula’s speed to be a factor like it was last year in the playoffs. He wanted him to create turnovers, be solid defensively and make plays.
“More than anything, just the overall compete and battle and urgency in his game,” Yeo said.
Yeo sent Haula a harsh message the past week, particularly with Mikael Granlund sidelined by a broken wrist. But Yeo wanted to give Haula a chance to respond and had him center fellow youngsters Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle against the Maple Leafs. The line was strong in the 3-1 victory, and Haula attempted five shots, had two hits, blocked a shot and won 11 of 16 faceoffs.
Haula said he worked hard with Hendrickson and Brunette on the ice and strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson off it.
He’s trying to put the first 30 games behind him.
He admitted to being ticked at himself for “not being able to play at the level people know you can.”
“I felt good,” Haula said. “I was excited to play. It’s not fun to sit out when you’re healthy and watch the other guys play. I put in the work. Now I just have to find the consistency to play at that level.”
Can’t shake virus
The Wild’s sick bay now includes Brett Sutter. He has gotten the stomach virus that has struck several players the past month, including Jason Zucker, who is close to a return.
Zucker missed his fourth game in a row but might return Saturday in Dallas. Yeo didn’t want to throw Zucker into Friday’s lineup with the benefit of only one practice in eight days.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before,” said Zucker, who lost nine pounds.
With Sutter out, the Wild brought back Tyler Graovac, who was sent back to AHL Iowa for less than 24 hours, for his home debut.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin (head) returned and was reunited with Ryan Suter.
Filling the defensive void
With Keith Ballard injured, it’s believed General Manager Chuck Fletcher is actively shopping for a left defenseman.
Nate Prosser (minus-9), a right-shot defenseman, played another game on the left side. The interesting thing is last season anytime Prosser was scratched, Yeo said it was because he couldn’t play the left side.
While Fletcher has been looking at trades, one stopgap option could be David Schlemko, who was placed on waivers for the second time this season Friday by Arizona.
Schlemko, 27, has nine goals and 50 points in 207 career games and has been in and out of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett’s doghouse this season for struggles in his own zone. Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson are close with Tippett, so they could easily get a scouting report.