While Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund vie for gold, it’s time to get back to work for the Minnesota Wild’s non-Olympians.
Down two defenders due to the absence of Suter and Marco Scandella’s MCL sprain, the Wild are expected to recall Jonathon Blum from Iowa of the American Hockey League. While it’s probably unlikely he’ll receive any game time, at least he’ll complete a third defensive pairing for practices. He’ll also be joined by fourth line role player Jake Dowell.
Top-6 forward Nino Niederreiter will most likely join the team within the next few days after being eliminated along with Team Switzerland by Latvia yesterday in quarterfinal action. Even still, it’s possible he’ll be given a few days to relax and refocus for the final stretch and what the team is hoping will be a deep playoff run.
The big news of the day–not including Granlund’s pure awesomeness against the Russians this morning–is that captain Mikko Koivu has been cleared to practice with the team. Head coach Mike Yeo will probably ease his top center back into the swing of things as Koivu hasn’t played with the club since breaking his ankle in a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals on January 4th. In 44 games prior, Koivu would collect eight goals and 27 assists for 35 points and a negative-4 rating.
The interesting question that needs to be addressed is whether or not Koivu remains on the top line. This is no knock on Koivu whatsoever, so immediately drop any ideas you have about that. This is about the emergence of Granlund and his chemistry with Zach Parise and, more importantly, Jason Pominville. In the 15 games since Koivu’s injury, Granlund has taken upon himself the role of top line center. What’s more, he’s been pretty good at it, scoring two goals and nine assists for 11 points and a plus-1 rating in that span. Even more importantly, Minnesota has gone 9-4-2 in that span. If you’re head coach Mike Yeo, you stick with what’s been working.
If Granlund does stay on the top line, that leaves a still quite deadly second line of Koivu, Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. This line has the potential to be quite nasty both physically and offensively every time they jump the boards. All three players are at least 6’2″ and 200-pounds, are defensively responsible and would compliment each other quite nicely. Koivu is, of course, a very solid two-way playmaker that would provide plenty of scoring opportunities for bruising power forward Coyle and promising young sniper Niederreiter.
In short, this would be a line that has the ability to keep opposing players constantly looking over their shoulders while creating plenty of space for a juicy scoring chance. This is definitely a situation Wild fans should keep their eyes on as the team resumes practicing.
Finally, something to keep that smile on your face going today:
Teemu Selanne from Sochi after today's Finland win:“Playing aside [Mikael Granlund] on the first line is a dream come true for me." #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) February 19, 2014
Oh, how sweet it is.