DENVER – When he's a winger, Ryan Hartman can go two or three shifts without the puck finding him.
But now that he's hopping over the boards as a center, Hartman is finding the puck as the playmaker on his line, and that's magnifying the vision and offensive skills he can bring to the Wild.
"As a winger, sometimes you're caught standing at the blue line and waiting for the play to come," Hartman said. "As a center, you're going to the play at all times and kind of driving the play. I've enjoyed being around the puck a lot more."
Coach Dean Evason moved Hartman to the middle last Thursday at Anaheim, and he has started at the position every game since.
Hartman has set up four goals since the change; add in a first-period goal when he was still on the wing Feb. 18 against the Ducks and a third-period goal in Wednesday's 6-2 victory over Colorado, and he has had his most productive stretch of the season on this trip.
His point streak stands at a career-high four games (six points).
"I love the speed that he's got through the middle of the ice," Wild forward Zach Parise said, "and I didn't know until playing with him and seeing, I didn't know how good of a passer he was."
Typically a right winger for the Wild, Hartman played center with the U.S. National Development Team growing up and for Chicago after the Blackhawks drafted him in the first round, 30th overall, in 2013.
Although he's been known for his gritty style as a secondary scorer and penalty killer since signing with the Wild in 2019, Hartman is showing he has the tools to spark more offense.
"You have a role on certain teams, and sometimes that role is different depending on the time of the year," he said. "Sometimes you're asked to do certain things. I definitely have that. I know in myself what I can do. I've done it at the AHL level. I've done it at the NHL level. I've done it in juniors. I feel comfortable with the puck.
"At center, I have the puck a lot more and it drives my confidence. I get a lot more touches and am more comfortable when I do get them."
Kahkonen starts again
Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen made a fifth consecutive start Wednesday, a career high for the rookie.
Cam Talbot remained the backup, and he still hasn't started a game since getting cleared from the NHL's COVID protocols last week.
"Cam did not say he's not ready," Evason said. "It was just a group decision that Kahkonen plays [Wednesday], and we'll evaluate as we always do going forward."
Back in Colorado
The last time the Wild was in Denver, it got shut down by the NHL at the beginning of a COVID-19 outbreak; its matchup Wednesday with the Avalanche was a makeup game for the Feb. 4 contest that was pushed back when the Wild's season was suspended.
"It was different to be back here, for sure, after everything that's went down," Evason said.
Although the league has postponed another game inside the West Division — a Thursday date between San Jose and Vegas after the Sharks' Tomas Hertl entered the protocols on Wednesday — the NHL has had fewer players unavailable as February has progressed. At one point this month, 59 players were on the COVID list. "Hopefully it can continue trending in the right direction," Evason said.
Wild forward Marcus Johansson missed a third straight game because of an upper-body injury.
"Just a real good opportunity to get him healed right up before we get him back in the lineup as opposed to having something keep continually going sideways on him," Evason said. "It's definitely day-to-day, for sure."