The elation that Tyler Graovac had when he made the Wild out of training camp has come to a standstill after news Tuesday that the rookie center will miss at least a couple of weeks because of a strained groin.
As the Wild prepares to begin a three-game road trip Thursday at Arizona, coach Mike Yeo said Graovac, who missed Saturday's home opener, won't accompany the team on the trip and that Charlie Coyle will remain at center for the time being.
Graovac's spot in the lineup will be filled by Justin Fontaine, who is expected to make his season debut against the Coyotes on the right side of Thomas Vanek and Coyle.
Fontaine missed the first two games because of an oblique injury.
"It's a tough break [for Graovac]. It's a tough break for us, too," Yeo said. "He was playing well, and we liked the way the lines were working."
Following a strong preseason, Coyle has played well the first two games of the season. After playing right wing last week at Colorado, Coyle scored twice in Saturday's victory against St. Louis.
The Wild continues to use Coyle in all roles and at multiple positions, and Yeo said, "It looks like it's paying off."
Fontaine, 27, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, scored 13 goals as a rookie two years ago and last season had 31 points in 71 games. The former Minnesota Duluth national champion has bounced around the lineup and also been in and out of the lineup the past few years.
But Yeo trusts him in all situations, uses him in a penalty-kill role and wants him to be more of a consistent threat this season.
"We're hoping he takes a step," Yeo said recently. "He took a step last year. He found himself on the score sheet more, he found himself in more important roles, whether it was moving up in the lineup and playing with more skilled players like Thomas Vanek or whether it was the [penalty-kill] role.
"He's a smart player, and we know he has the ability to continue to grow. It's a big year for him. I'd like to see him push and show that he's a lot more than just a third-slash-fourth-line guy. I'd like to see him demand more."
Fontaine is excited to be healthy after the disappointment of "training so hard this summer to get ready and then to get hurt in the second exhibition game. This is a big year for the team, for everyone, not just me, and I just want to keep growing."
As for Graovac, it's up in the air whether he returns right to the Wild's lineup when healthy or if he'll need to play games for Iowa of the AHL.
"There's going to be a period of time where we're going to have to get him back in shape and get have him game ready," Yeo said. "We'll see when he starts skating."
Down to 12 healthy forwards, Yeo didn't know yet if the Wild would call up an extra forward for the road trip. Right winger Jordan Schroeder and center Zac Dalpe would be the logical options, but Dalpe is injured.
Fourth line expectations
Yeo wants more from the Chris Porter-Erik Haula-Ryan Carter fourth line. He said the line has spent too much time in its own end. He wants more forechecking and time in the offensive zone.
"They have to be that kind of line for us," said Yeo, adding that they should have a "work ethic and battle level that shouldn't be matched."
Left winger Jason Zucker, who didn't practice Sunday, returned to practice Tuesday.