Two key players will soon return to the lineup for the Minnesota Wild, center Mikko Koivu and defensemen Jared Spurgeon, but what will come for their replacements who have been given opportunities to shine?
Coach Mike Yeo has plenty of flexibility thanks to forwards like Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle, who could play center or wing. But the return of Koivu and Spurgeon isn’t going to affect just a few players.
The Wild coaches now have to look at the lineup and see who can moved, and who would possibly sit.
“There’s guys that have been taking advantage of opportunities, and we’ve still got a couple more games before we make these decisions,” Yeo said. “So if you’re smart, you recognize that and put a lot into them.”
Coyle has played on the wing when both Koivu and second-line center Mikael Granlund are healthy. Though Coyle has showed the ability to play center with Koivu out, he would have to center the third line — a defensive line — upon Koivu’s return if the Wild are willing to keep him at center.
Rookie Erik Haula has received the biggest opportunity without Koivu in the lineup, he has centered the fourth line for 11 consecutive games. But he also has the ability to play on the wing.
“As a centerman, he’s shown the ability to be in good defensive position and play well in his own zone,” Yeo said. “And what I like is he’s grown through this. He’s still a young kid trying to figure it out, but at the same time we want to make sure that we’re pushing these young guys to get better, and he has so far.”
On the back end, Spurgeon’s return will mean one of the Wild’s current six defensemen will sit. Before Spurgeon got hurt, Nate Prosser was the clear seventh defenseman and sat out a majority of games.
But Prosser has filled in well in Spurgeon’s absence and showed he can play in a top-four role.
“That’s completely out of my control,” Prosser said of a possible role change. “We’ve just got to continue to keep it simple and do what we’ve been doing.”
But these players have a few games to continue to impress Yeo. Koivu and Spurgeon aren’t expected to return until February 4th when the Wild end the current road trip they’re on, which means the final two games of this trip will be crucial for players on the fence.
And Yeo knows the final decision won’t be easy.
“Somebody is going to have to come out of the lineup, and they’re going to be tough decisions,” Yeo said. “But when you have those tough decisions, that’s good because it means a lot of guys are doing the right thing out there.”