Chris Stewart

Getty

WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks

Watch Live on NBCSN

PROJECTED LINES

Minnesota Wild

Forwards

Tyler EnnisEric StaalZach Parise

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuJoel Eriksson Ek

Chris StewartCharlie CoyleMikael Granlund

Marcus FolignoMatt CullenDaniel Winnik

Defense

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Jonas BrodinMathew Dumba

Mike ReillyNate Prosser

Starting Goalie: Devan Dubnyk

NHL On NBCSN: Blackhawks, Wild meet in Wednesday Night Rivalry Central Division Clash

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsVinnie Hinostroza

Ryan HartmanNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Patrick Sharp – David Kampf – Alex DeBrincat

Lance BoumaTommy Wingels

Defense

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Gustav ForslingJan Rutta

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Staring Goalie: Anton Forsberg

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild

Getty

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Predators:

Colton Sissons, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris, Craig Smith

Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Pontus Aberg

Miikka Salomaki, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson

Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm

Alexei Emelin, P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber

Startling Goalie: Pekka Rinne

PREVIEW FOR PREDATORS – WILD

Wild:

Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund

Tyler Ennis, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart

Marcus Foligno, Matt Cullen, Zack Mitchell

Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba

Mike Reilly, Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Wild could really use Parise, even if he’s limited

Getty
3 Comments

Look, it’s tough to imagine Zach Parise doing enough to make his contract look any less frightening for the Minnesota Wild.

(/Opens Cap Friendly profile. Shrieks at $7.54 million through 2024-25. Shrieks again.)

It’s also tough to imagine 33-year-old Parise playing like prime-age, forechecking and scoring phenom Parise once he returns from an AHL stint to shake off the rust, as has been reported by Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press.

Ultimately it will take him time to regain whatever form he’s truly capable of, something Parise acknowledges (with a smile, it must be noted).

“These guys have to get ready to play games, and when I’m not on a line, it’s tough to get reps,” Parise said. “So, I think this would probably be the best thing, to go there, practice with them, play a game, and go from there.”

As Parise says, the plan is to see how Thursday’s game with the Iowa Wild (his first AHL work since 2004-05, his lone season with the Albany Devils) and then go from there. The Athletic’s Michael Russo notes that players can opt for 14-day conditioning stints in the AHL, so the door’s open for him to shake off the rust into early 2018.

(Bruce Boudreau notes that he hopes to have Parise back sometime after New Year’s.)

Answering the question of “When?” is interesting enough, but it’s most fascinating to ponder how much of a difference Parise can really make.

Let’s consider a few factors.

Playing in pain

It’s important to remember that precedent only matters so much. Parise is 33, a tough time for snipers, and that rust factor cannot be ignored.

That said, it’s worth noting that Parise elected not to get back surgery during the 2016-17 season before ultimately opting for it in October. Maybe he could generate similar numbers through the remainder of 2017-18, with a cleaner bill of health canceling out some of that discomfort? At least eventually?

If you’re looking at Parise’s numbers as a guy making too much money, you won’t be happy. On the other hand, if you picture this type of scorer added to a Wild group that could use the extra punch and balance, it’s a sunnier picture:

Parise: 19 goals, 42 points in 69 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to about 23 goals and 50 points.

With all the (understandable) hand-wringing over his contract being discussed, it’s easy to forget that even a diminished Parise can still help a team win games.

How to use him?

While Eric Staal continues his career renaissance in Minnesota and others have been contributing, there have also been some struggles, particularly for the likes of Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. Adding a smart, 20-goal-ish player to the mix could really bring things together.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars, the Wild figured to line up Staal with Charlie Coyle and Tyler Ennis, Koivu with Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund, and Joel Eriksson Ek with Daniel Winnik and Chris Stewart.

One could picture a more balanced attack with Parise in many situations, but particularly taking the spot of either Ennis or Winnik. By Natural Stat Trick’s linemate listings, Parise’s most common linemates were Staal (by far) and then Coyle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Boudreau would go in that direction.

(It might be wise to ease Parise in, really, which could mean starting off a little lower in the lineup.)

Down, but not out

Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Wild were out of the West’s playoff picture, but in reasonable distance of the final wild card. With a home-and-home against the Nashville Predators on Friday and Saturday after tonight’s Stars skirmish, Boudreau’s early January proclamation seems most reasonable, though not set in stone.

Here’s what the next few weeks look like:

Wed, Dec 27 vs Dallas
Fri, Dec 29 vs Nashville
Sat, Dec 30 @ Nashville
Mon, Jan 2 vs Florida
Wed, Jan 4 vs Buffalo
Fri, Jan 6 @ Colorado
Mon, Jan 9 vs Calgary
Tue, Jan 10 @ Chicago

Maybe the Wild would want Parise to play one of those home-and-home games against the Predators, or perhaps they’d go a safer route and wait until January.

The broader goal might be to get him up to speed by that away date against the Blackhawks. After that, the Wild will enjoy a four-game homestand, which is the sort of opportunity that could help them strengthen their position in the West’s bubble.

***

Yes, it’s true that this is a pretty modest situation for Parise; many in the Wild organization probably expected these questions and considerations to surface closer to, say, 2020.

The reality is harsher than such daydreams, but at least he’s still in a position to help Minnesota, and the Wild can use all the help they can get.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wild get key weapon back in Nino Niederreiter

Getty
3 Comments

The Minnesota Wild have been on an upward trend lately, with three wins in four games. Even so, their 4-3-2 record tells the fuller story that Bruce Boudreau’s bunch haven’t always been able to navigate some significant injury challenges early in 2017-18.

On the bright side, they’re calling in a key reinforcement on Tuesday, as Nino Niederreiter has been activated from injured reserve before tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

The 25-year-old hasn’t appeared in a game for the Wild since Oct. 12. Even with that in mind, this must be an antsy time for “El Niño,” who has yet to score his first point in 2017-18 after signing a five-year, $26.25 million contract during the summer.

MORE: Niederreiter expects the Wild to break through in the playoffs

Even with Charlie Coyle sidelined and Zach Parise dealing with some disturbing back problems, Niederreiter suddenly gives the Wild some balance on offense. These were their lines earlier today:

Nino Niederreiter – Eric StaalLuke Kunin

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund

Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkChris Stewart

Tyler EnnisMatt CullenDaniel Winnik

Not bad, and you can imagine that group climbing to explosive with Coyle and (ideally) a semi-healthy Parise in the mix.

Niederreiter was already showing some promise early in his Minnesota career (three straight 20+ goal seasons), but 2016-17 seemed to signal a breakthrough to another level. The Swiss-born winger generated career-highs in goals (25), assists (32), and points (57), while also continuing to be a fancy stats darling with outstanding possession numbers.

Maybe the Wild lack outright superstars, but players such as Niederreiter are difference-makers at forward, and you can bet that he’s been sorely missed.

Considering the firepower on hand for the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild could really use the boost, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the two teams traded blows in a fun affair.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Kings climb to top spot

Getty
10 Comments

When we last checked in with our Power Rankings we were trying to make sense of the early season standings, and in a lot of ways we still kind of are. The first month is a little crazy sometimes and this season is no exception (New Jersey in first place? Vegas with wins in eight of its first nine games? Edmonton stinks again?).

One of the more surprising results last time was the fast start by the Los Angeles Kings.

Two weeks later, it has not stopped.

What is perhaps most surprising about it is the fact they are currently seventh in the league in goals scored with largely the same roster that has been near the bottom of the league over the past couple of seasons. Also surprising: They have done it while getting just six games from Jeff Carter, one of their best, most consistent and most important offensive players.

Anze Kopitar, a seemingly reborn Dustin Brown and Adrian Kempe (already with six goals) are helping to pace the offense for a Kings team that is 9-1-1 to open the season.

They are the new top team in our Power Rankings.

Have a look at the rest of the rankings as we get ready to move into the second month of the NHL season.

1. Los Angeles Kings — It took Dustin Brown 24 games to record his 11th point last season. He has 11 in 11 games as of Monday.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are the two most dominating offensive players in the NHL right now. It is still early, but it is very clear that the 2016-17 season was the fluke for the Lightning.

3. St. Louis Blues — Vladimir Tarasenko gets all of the headlines (rightfully so) but Jaden Schwartz has been the straw stirring the drink this season for the Blues. Where would they be without him?

4. New Jersey Devils — A trio of rookies (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt) has the Devils at the top of the Metropolitan Division for the time being and gives their fans a lot of hope for the future.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets — The offense still probably has another level it can get to but Sergei Bobrovsky is following up his second Vezina Trophy with another stellar start to the season with a .938 save percentage.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — Is their success sustainable? Probably not! But it is a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now. We know they can win at home. Now we get to see what happens when they have to play a few road games.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — Still the most exciting team in the league. They will score more than any team in the league … and they will give up more than just about anybody.

8. Ottawa Senators — If you are going to lose, lose in overtime when you can collect points and that is exactly what Ottawa has done this season. With only one regulation loss this season the Senators have managed to collect point in 10 of their first 11 games.

9. Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, and given their roster they still might end up there when all is said and done. But with wins and five of their past six, including four in a row into Monday, they are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL so far.

10. New York Islanders — In his past four games heading into Monday John Tavares has seven goals and 10 total points, including a pair of hat tricks. Consider his slow start officially over.

11. Anaheim Ducks — If he stays healthy John Gibson can be a top-tier goaltender in the NHL for a long time. He has been downright dominant in his past five starts.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins still don’t look great, they still have some depth issues and they have won just one game in regulation in more than two weeks. They have been absolutely blown out three times this month. Not encouraging.

13. Chicago Blackhawks — After scoring 15 goals in their first two games the Blackhawks have managed to score only 23 in the 10 games that have followed. There were depth concerns at the start of the season. Maybe they are starting to show now.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers wanted to see Sean Couturier take a step forward this season offensively and he has given them exactly that, averaging more than a point-per-game through the first 11. Put that production with his defensive game and you have one heck of a top-line center.

15. Winnipeg Jets — On paper this is still a pretty talented team that just needs to get some consistent goaltending. So far Conor Hellebuyck has given them that in his starts. How long that continues will determine how far the Jets are able to go this season.

16. Calgary Flames — This has the look of a breakout season for Johnny Gaudreau. Not only is he pacing the Flames with 15 points in 12 games but he is also sporting a dominating 55 percent Corsi mark. He is doing it all.

17. Minnesota Wild — The Wild are hanging around at the start of the season thanks to the stunning offensive performance of … *checks papers* … Chris Stewart? Well that is unexpected. After scoring just 13 goals in 79 games a year ago Stewart already has six in his first nine games this season. He has always been a streaky scorer and the Wild are getting one of those hot streaks at the right time.

18. Washington Capitals — It hasn’t been the offense that has been hurt by the offseason departures of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, it is the defense that has been the problem. Entering the week the Capitals are 26th in the league in goals against and 25th in shots against.

19. Nashville Predators — Pekka Rinne has been a question mark in recent seasons but so far this season he has been the Predators’ best, most valuable player. They somehow have six wins while getting just one combined goal from Ryan Johansen and P.K Subban.

20. Boston Bruins — With seven goals in his first nine games Brad Marchand has scored 83 goals since the start of the 2015-16 season. That is the fifth best mark in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.

21. San Jose Sharks — After winning just three of their first four games the Sharks have won four out of their past six games, including a wildly successful five-game road trip.

22. Dallas Stars — So far this Stars season is going about as should have been expected. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are carrying the offense and everything else is just kind of … average. Against playoff teams from a year ago they are only 1-3-0 so far this season.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Here is a story you have almost certainly heard before: Goaltending has been an early season problem in Carolina. In his first taste as an everyday starter Scott Darling has an .897 save percentage.

24. Colorado Avalanche — Another team that has been hit by a sharp dose of reality after an early season surge. That 7-0 loss to an expansion team is going to leave a mark.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They are still better than their record indicates but the lack of secondary scoring is going to be a real problem. Maybe trading Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for Adam Larsson and Ryan Strome wasn’t the best idea.

26. Florida Panthers — They have four players at the top of the lineup all averaging a point-per-game but things are not going well defensively or in net where Roberto Luongo remains sidelined.

27. Detroit Red Wings — A fast start has quickly turned into disappointment thanks to a six-game losing streak. This is more of what should have been expected from this team.

28. Montreal Canadiens — It has been the perfect storm of chaos in Montreal so far this season. A bad start, some off ice drama, the captain has just three goals (zero assists) in his first 11 games.

29. New York Rangers — At this point it is not quite clear if the defense is still an issue or poor goaltending performances are still clouding things. Either way, the Rangers probably did not expect to be near the bottom of the standings at any point this season. This team should not be this bad.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jason Pominville has played well in his return to Buffalo and Jack Eichel is great. Everything else is lousy.

31. Arizona Coyotes — You really do not need to say anything when you look at the standings to see 0-10-1.