Brandon Duhaime seems to have skipped a step on his way to skating a regular shift in the NHL.
The 24-year-old Wild winger spent the past two seasons with Iowa of the American Hockey League, cutting his teeth in the pros without setting off any "call me up" alarms. In 87 games over two seasons, he scored only 12 goals.
Based on that production, it seemed as if he would be one of those guys who was frequently on I-35 back and forth from Des Moines to St. Paul as a fill-in when the big club needed a warm body.
But stats can be deceiving. Duhaime was being prepped for a regular role in the Wild lineup, not as a goal scorer, but as a bruising linemate who brought extra speed to an already fast team.
And when coach Dean Evason needed to fill a spot in his forward group for this season, he got just what he expected from Duhaime.
"[Iowa coach] Tim Army had told us, I think it was even the summer before, that this guy was going to play," Evason said. "And when he came in [to training camp], even if we had him penciled in on the wall his first couple days, you were like, 'OK this guy is a pro, this guy is an NHL hockey player.'
"With his size, with his speed, with his skill ... and then his confidence level was high right from the get-go."
Duhaime has played 40 of the team's 42 games, missing two because of COVID, and there has never been a hint he would be returned to Iowa. He has five goals and eight assists playing mostly on the fourth line.
For the next two games, he'll replace Marcus Foligno — suspended by the NHL for kneeing Winnipeg's Adam Lowry after a fight Tuesday night — on the team's intimidating line with center Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway.
"They're killers in all aspects, right?" Duhaime said of the line. "They're on the forecheck, they're hunting everything, they're dominant everywhere, whether it's the forecheck, the offensive zone, scrums ...
"Greeny and Ek can play five on four and still be dominant, so it's not too much pressure to help those guys out."
A fourth-round draft pick in 2016, the 6-2, 200-pound Duhaime has been a continent hopper on his hockey trek, which started at the youth level in Florida, went to junior leagues in the States and Canada, and included three years at Providence. After two years in the minors, he felt he was ready for the big show.
"That was my goal coming in, I wanted to make the team out of camp," he said. "I did a good job over the summer to put myself in that position, and the stars aligned and I made it through."
Defenseman Alex Goligoski, signed as a free agent in the offseason, was impressed.
"I didn't know anything really about him," Goligoski said. "Right away you could tell the speed that he has, and the power he can play with. He's got great skill, got a great shot ... you can tell he's a more mature player coming into the league. He plays a heavy, hard game."
Duhaime hasn't bought a mansion or gained a posse yet — "I had to buy a car, unfortunately. I went my first two years [as a pro] without one, just hitching rides and Ubering," he said, "but I don't know if there was a moment where I said, 'I made it.' "
And does he still fear he might have to take that ride back down I-35?
"I still feel like I have to come in every day and perform just to keep myself around," Duhaime said. "I just want to keep better moving forward."