LAS VEGAS – Wild captain Mikko Koivu didn’t just make an early exit from an optional practice Monday in Las Vegas.
The center also left the trip, getting sent back to the Twin Cities to receive treatment on a lower-body injury that has sidelined him for seven games after he was hurt Dec. 3 in Florida.
“I wouldn’t [call it a] setback,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It just wasn’t cooperating.”
Koivu’s absence means the Wild will close out this road swing, which wraps up Thursday in Arizona, without two of its regular centers. Joel Eriksson Ek was placed on injured reserve Monday because of an upper-body injury he suffered Saturday after getting hit by Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier. Another top-nine fixture was also missing Tuesday. Winger Jason Zucker, who grew up in Las Vegas, sat out because of a lower-body injury that Boudreau said was related to the Brent Seabrook slapshot that hit Zucker during a 5-3 loss Sunday in Chicago.
Although the dump-in attempt knocked Zucker down and he had to be helped off the ice, Zucker quickly returned to action and finished the game.
“That’s the way our team has been all year, scratching and clawing and guys have been hurt and played the rest of the game,” Boudreau said. “It’s part of the character of the group.”
Amid these injuries, the Wild recalled centers Nico Sturm and Luke Johnson from the American Hockey League Monday on an emergency basis, and both were added to the lineup that faced Vegas.
Sturm centered Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman, while Johnson worked between Ryan Donato and Luke Kunin.
Jordan Greenway joined Eric Staal and Mats Zuccarello, and Rask played alongside Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala.
This was Sturm’s first appearance this season with the Wild after his second call-up; when he was returned to the AHL Dec. 9, he was expected to play the next day for Iowa but was unable to after tweaking his back at the morning skate.
“Just how it goes sometimes,” he said.
As for Johnson, he made his Wild debut Tuesday after signing a two-year contract with the team in July.
Johnson, who played briefly for the Blackhawks in 2018-19, logged just 10 games with Iowa after suffering a lower-body injury before the season opener.
“It was tough getting injured right away during training camp,” Johnson said. “But I’m feeling good now and ready to go.”
Johnson is from Grand Forks. N.D., and played three seasons at the University of North Dakota, including the national championship season of 2015-16. His dad, Steve, previously coached the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist while also capturing a national title when he played at UND in the 1980s.
“I was kind of born into it and fell in love with it right away,” Johnson said of the sport. “Grand Forks [is a] great place to grow up for a young hockey player. There’s so much ice, so many resources around you, so [I’m] definitely proud to be from there.”
Dubnyk suits up
Goalie Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock, the first time Dubnyk had suited up for a game since Nov. 19 in Buffalo.
The next day, Dubnyk left the team and was away off and on before making this trip while his wife, Jenn, deals with a medical situation.
With Dubnyk available, the Wild returned Kaapo Kahkonen to the minors Monday — concluding a successful stint for the rookie in the NHL in which he went 3-1-1 with a .913 save percentage and 2.96 goals-against average.
“I think he’s going to go back to Iowa with a tremendous amount of confidence and say, ‘I can play up here,’ ” Boudreau said.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon skated again Tuesday morning but remained out with a hand injury.