Since joining the Wild on the ice for training camp, defenseman Ryan Suter has been able to prepare for a return to action after suffering a severe ankle injury last season.
He’s absorbed contact in drills and taken reps on the power play.
But what practice hasn’t provided is the reassurance that Suter will emerge from his first game unscathed — a reality that prompted both sides to reverse course on their original plan to sit Suter for the preseason by inserting him into the lineup Wednesday during a 4-3 victory over the Jets at Xcel Energy Center.
“It felt like just another training camp, preseason game, and that was my goal — to be in good enough shape to be in a preseason game or the first game of the season,” Suter said. “I felt fine.”
Team personnel approached Suter last week with the audible, and he agreed — explaining he was “getting sick of practicing” and felt well enough to play.
“I just feel bad for these guys,” Suter said. “They are grinding it out, and I’m practicing and I’m in here early and out of here before they get done. I think it’s good to play just to be around the guys.”
While he hasn’t looked out of place on the ice, Suter has been spotted limping after sessions. But he said his right ankle (Suter broke his talus and the outside of his right fibula after he was hit into the boards March 31) has responded better than he imagined.
“I thought it would be a lot worse,” he said. “You guys see me limping around now. That’s after icing, so it stiffens up. It’s way harder to walk than it is to skate.”
Suter logged 21 minutes, 22 seconds against the Jets and acknowledged that he held back a few times when retrieving pucks, but he chalked that up to it being the preseason rather than his ankle.
“He was moving well,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “Obviously, he’s so smart out there. Had some great chances. I’m sure it was a little strange for him getting back out there, but it’s good news.”
After the Wild opened the scoring 4:36 into the first on a redirection by center Eric Staal, Winnipeg tied it on a one-timer from defenseman Nelson Nogier with 2:53 left in the period.
A Kristian Vesalainen power-play goal at 8:49 of the second made it 2-1 before Wild defenseman Greg Pateryn tied it 5:20 later.
With 11 seconds left in the frame, the Jets converted again — this time on a carom off defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in front. But a Jason Zucker backhander off the rush on the power play at 6:42 of the third tied it again, setting up the game-winner from defenseman Jared Spurgeon on a wraparound with 4:49 to go.
Dubnyk finished with 27 saves, while Laurent Brossoit had 24.
With Suter back on the ice, the Wild utilized a lineup Wednesday that was extremely close to the look it likely will debut next week in the season opener against the Avalanche.
The only regular who didn’t suit up was center Eric Fehr, who has a spot on the fourth line. In Fehr’s absence, the Wild slotted veteran Matt Hendricks up the middle and the game could help the Wild decide who nabs the 12th forward spot once the regular season begins — Hendricks or J.T. Brown.
“Eric has played four games, and we’ve thought Eric has been as good a forward as we’ve had in all four games,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s more looking at these guys to see who warrants probably the start next week.”
Despite being idle, winger Matt Read’s audition isn’t over and there’s still a chance he could work his way onto the roster.
Read has scored a goal in each of his past two games, and his three points were tied for the most on the team entering action Wednesday. The Wild’s preseason schedule wraps up Friday with a visit to Colorado.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to play Friday,” said Boudreau. “And the thing with Matt Read, we’ve watched him for 10 years [in the NHL with the Flyers]. So it’s not like we don’t know him. He’s done really good. He’s making decisions tough for the people upstairs.”
Forward Luke Kunin, who continues to recover from a torn ACL, is “doing better,” Boudreau said, and will be evaluated next Tuesday.
Defenseman Gustav Olofsson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Wild’s first preseason game, has been skating this week.