Center Victor Rask has roved up and down the lineup since the Wild acquired him in a trade last month, but his latest move put him at an entirely new position — left wing.
“I just want to get him more minutes,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s the kind of guy who has to play to be successful. Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re playing six minutes a night, and he’s not used to playing that amount. I hope he’s seeing this as a really good opportunity and takes advantage of it.”
Rask filled out the third line next to center Joel Eriksson Ek and right winger Luke Kunin on Tuesday against the Flyers at Xcel Energy Center, a change that shifted Eric Fehr to center on the fourth unit. Matt Hendricks, making his first appearance since Feb. 5, and winger Marcus Foligno worked alongside Fehr.
But Rask and Hendricks didn’t stay in their respective spots for long.
Rask logged only three minutes, taking eight shifts before leaving in the second period after stepping on a puck in the first. Hendricks didn’t return after he collided with the Flyers’ Nolan Patrick in the middle frame.
Boudreau didn’t have an update on either player after the game.
Over the weekend, Rask anchored the fourth line — an assignment that coincided with a drop in ice time.
After logging at least 13 minutes in his first seven games with the Wild, Rask played 7:15 Saturday in a 4-2 victory over the Devils and 7:25 during a 2-1 loss to the Islanders on Sunday.
Through those nine games, Rask chipped in two points; he had an assist in his debut Jan.19 against the Blue Jackets after being added two days earlier from the Hurricanes in a swap for winger Nino Niederreiter, and he scored Feb. 2 against the Blackhawks — a slow start for a player the Wild brought in to help beef up its depth at center. Rask is under contract for the next three seasons at an annual cap hit of $4 million.
“Some guys take longer to get used to [a new team] when you’ve been in one organization your whole life, and you come into the middle of a pennant-race type thing,” Boudreau said. “It’s a little more difficult, I think. We’d love him to be better. We’d love him to be more [offensively involved]. But I think when you’re going to judge him is next year.”
Two days after he helped the Wild beat New Jersey by scoring and adding an assist, Foligno was credited with an assist on Kunin’s third-period goal to tie his career high with three points in that game — further emphasizing just how much Foligno has settled in with the Wild since he arrived after a trade from the Sabres in the summer of 2017.
Not only has he supplied the team with energy, secondary scoring and penalty killing, but Foligno also seems to have found his voice in the locker room — sounding off after the team’s recent letdown in a 4-1 loss to the Oilers.
“I think it takes time,” Foligno said. “We didn’t know each other much coming over in the trade last season, and [Boudreau’s] got his guys from the season before. It’s just feeling each other out. We had talks; we had plenty of talks. I remember being scratched a couple times last year, and that kind of sits in your head a little bit over the summer.
“I think the way I ended the season and my playoffs last year, I just wanted more of a role, more of an opportunity to help this team win. And I think he saw that. Penalty killing’s gone well [since] the beginning of the season. My physical play has been up now. That’s something I’ve grown into. I’m 27. There’s a lot of things to learn in this league. I’m still learning. But I think right now consistently I feel pretty confident about my game.”
Amid that growth, it’s no surprise Foligno has become more vocal — another sign he’s carved out a niche with the team on and off the ice.
“The more you contribute, the more you can talk,” Boudreau said. “And if you’re not playing well, you have a tendency to keep really quiet. I think he’s speaking up in the room these days.”
Joe Mauer was celebrated by the Wild on Tuesday, with players warming up wearing No. 7 sweaters with Twins logos, jerseys that will be autographed and auctioned for Crescent Cove, a local organization which offers care and support to children and young adults with a shortened life expectancy.
Mauer, who retired following last season after 15 years with the Twins organization, also took part in a ceremonial puck drop the day before pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
“It’s a little different for me when I see those guys out on the field,” said Mauer, who plans to go to camp as a fan in March. “We’ll go down there and vacation … but I’ll be at the ballpark, checking up on some of the guys.”
Basketball was Mauer’s winter sport growing up, but he said, “I found a love for hockey as I got older … I probably shouldn’t say this, but even when I was training in the offseason, I would always have one day for skating, for cardio, just something different to get the body going. I loved being outdoors and just going out on the pond behind the house and getting a good workout going.”
Winger Pontus Aberg remains on injured reserve because of a lower-body injury, but he’s started to skate. “He’s still not ready to participate in practice,” Boudreau said.