Defenseman Ryan Suter once again led the Minnesota Wild in ice time last year with an average of 28:35 per game. Ideally, Bruce Boudreau would like to see that average drop for the 31-year-old.
“That’s going to be something I see as we go, but me and Scott Stevens have had many conversations on this,” the new head coach of the Wild said during an appearance on Toronto’s SiriusXMNHL Friday afternoon. “In a perfect world, we think the defense is really strong and there’s no need for him to play 29 minutes. We think if we could get him down to 23 ½, 24 minutes, there would be no pacing of his game and he’d be able to play a little bit more all-out all the time. That’s what we’re counting on. But again, if we’re in a situation where we need to play him, we’re going to play him. But we’re hoping right now it’s between 23 and 25 minutes, actually, a game that he only has to play.”
Fans across the league are curious to see how Eric Staal will fare with a change of scenery, and in an interview last week on Minneapolis’s KFAN 100.3, Boudreau was quite optimistic.
“Maybe I’m out in left field, but I think Eric is going to have a great year,” Boudreau predicted. “I think there’s been circumstances for the last two years that haven’t been well, but I am pretty sure that he is really excited about coming to Minny, and he is really excited about playing. He’s going to start off with Zach, and probably Charlie Coyle on the right. Eric and Charlie are big men. Zach works harder than anybody around. I think it’s going to be a highly successful line. At least I’m hoping it will be.”
In Friday’s hit on SiriusXMNHL, Boudreau offered more insight on Staal and on how he plans on getting the 31-year-old forward going with the Wild.
“When I was in Washington, every time we played Carolina, the No. 1 key on the board before the game was ‘Stop Eric Staal and we’re going to win the game.’ Sometimes we were successful and sometimes we weren’t,” recalled Boudreau.
“But I think the last couple of years have been a little difficult for him, in that his team was losing. They hadn’t made the playoffs. They were a growing team. The young kids were playing more, to develop. He was put in a little bit different role. Sometimes he was playing left wing. I think that took its toll on him, quite frankly.
“I really think he’s going to have a good year. We’re going to start him between Parise and Coyle. He’s going to be the big fish in the middle. The No. 1 center. If he can do what he’s supposed to be doing – he’s not too old yet – I think he can get back to where he was.
“In my conversations with him, he’s excited. He’s training hard. He’s really looking forward to the season. I’m looking forward to seeing him and if he’s the No. 1 guy that he was in Carolina, I think it’ll make our team an awful lot better.”
An Achilles Heel for the Wild in recent seasons has been the team falling into a swoon for a period of time and losing a lot of games, so how will Boudreau handle a group that hasn’t always dealt with adversity in the best ways?
“It’s going to be an experience for me because one of the things that I’ve been fortunate enough is my teams have never gone into a swoon,” said Boudreau. “I don’t know the particular reason why it happens or why they can’t get out of it, but I know it’s happened in the past. I’m pretty observant to that fact. But we will not let it happen again. I know it’s easy to say, but I think confidence has a lot to do with it.
“The other thing I think that has a lot to do with it is sometimes your size. Minnesota has been relatively small in NHL standards for the last couple of years. So it’s usually January or February when this sort of thing happens. I was always wondering to myself whether it was because they get worn down a little bit. The addition of Chris Stewart, the addition of Eric Staal and whomever else may come down the road here I think is going to help us in that respect.”
Boudreau also confirmed that Zach Parise, recovering from a lower-back injury, is still planning on playing in next month’s World Cup of Hockey.
“Yes, that’s the plan. And every time I’ve talked to him, he’s said he’s feeling great and ready to play,” said Boudreau. “Obviously he’s a huge component of our club. It’ll be real interesting to watch him in the World Cup. I know he’s been skating and training all of the time. When do they go to camp – the beginning of next month for the World Cup He said he’s going to be ready for that.
“I can only go on what he says, and hopefully everything is good with him.”
Source: SiriusXMNHL/ Transcript: Nichols