With Marcus Foligno breaking his face, Nino Niederreiter spraining the “high part” of his ankle, and Charlie Coyle heading to LTIR with a broken leg, the injury bug has appeared more like a tick and is digging into the Minnesota roster.
Boudreau is probably having nightmares about putting pencil to paper and making scratches to his roster. As for fans, there are a lot of new faces that took the ice last weekend and will probably do so again this weekend as Minnesota takes on Winnipeg Friday night.
Last Saturday’s 5-4 OT loss to Columbus really put a damper on the home opener for the Minnesota Wild. This isn’t to say that there weren’t high points. The #FreeKunin crowd finally got their first look at the future of the franchise. Boudreau’s fourth line was made up entirely of AHLers, dubbed “the Iowa Line” of Landon Ferraro (75 NHL GP), Zack Mitchell (11 NHL GP), and Christoph Bertschy (8 NHL GP).
After talking with Lalonde at Iowa’s morning skate, one where all four were present on a paper transaction assignment, he expects three to four guys to be called up yet again before Iowa takes on the Jets’ AHL-affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, on Friday.
If you don’t already know who Luke Kunin is by now, then I’ve let you down in prospect coverage and Hockey Wilderness has let you down in our Top 25 Under 25. It’s not you, it’s us.
As for the other three, they had a combined 94 NHL games played going into last Saturday, so those previously mentioned NHL GP are bumped up by one game each. If one or more of those names are making your eyes glaze over, it’s time for an introduction/re-visiting of each.
Landon Ferraro #41- Left Wing
When you hear Landon Ferraro, you’ll either think “Ferrari” or “is that Ray’s kid?” The latter is true, and former is just an auto-correct error. The 26-year-old joined the Minnesota organization this summer as a part of GM Chuck Fletcher’s slew of “depth signings” when the Free Agency clock struck the golden hour on July 1st, singing a two year, $1.4 million deal.
Last season, Ferraro tore his ACL in early December while playing for the Chicago Wolves in the St. Louis Blues organization; a season where a call-up seemed inevitable as he had 15 points (7G/8A) through 22 games played. With that season and the previous two seasons hanging on one-year deals, an “all clear” diagnosis came as both a relief and another opportunity.
After camp this summer, he was assigned to Iowa. In his first three games with the new organization, he’s been a regular top-6 forward. A regular line of Ferraro-O’Reilly-Kunin made up Lalonde’s top unit prior to Kunin’s call-up before Iowa’s 3-0 win over the Ontario Reign. That same night, he had an assist on the Pat Cannone goal that ended up being the game winner in the second period. Ferraro also has a short-handed assist to his credit, earned on opening night in a 5-2 loss to Milwaukee.
Up to this point, his NHL career has been made up of fourth line, grinder minutes. Only fitting that his first NHL goal since March 1st, 2016 was a grinder-esque goal:
Zack Mitchell #59 - Center
This one should at least sound familiar. Undrafted out of Guelph (OHL) Mitchell signed an ELC with Minnesota on March 5th, 2014 towards the end of his final junior-level season in which he amassed 83 points (31G/52A) in 67 games. Before commanding the middle of that fourth line last Saturday, the Orangeville, Ont., native played all eleven of his NHL games last season to the tune of 0 points.
If you’re watching that .gif of Ferraro’s goal above, he was given a gift of a turnover in the neutral zone which he turned into a good zone entry pass (though almost offside) for his first NHL point via an apple for Ferraro. The result was also a momentum-gaining, game-tying goal in the final five minutes of second period.
Mitchell is also getting a different look for Minnesota than he was in Iowa to start the season. For Lalonde, he was a third line, left-winger on, my favorite, Mitchell-Kloos-Mayhew line that tallied points in back-to-back games to start the season. In three games for the Baby Wild, Mitchell had one point in the form of an assist on Brennan Menell’s first professional goal.
He did play his fourth line minutes as a center in Minnesota last season, but the fact that he hadn’t been practicing the position at all this season shows a lot of resilience. Mitchell is a player you can count on to do whatever he needs to get on the ice. In a game where Minnesota gave up five goals, but the fourth line was a +1, grinders gonna grind.
Christoph Bertschy #47 - Right Wing
The player on this line with the least amount of NHL experience is Fribourg, Switzerland-native, Christoph Bertschy. Bertschy had an assist on a Tyler Graovac goal against the Dallas Stars in his first game of the 2016-17 season, but it counts as his only point through his first nine NHL contests.
Watching his game on Friday night against Ontario, prior to his call up, the best way to describe him would be der Wilder (the Wild Man). He was everywhere, skating hard, trying to make plays happen both offensively and defensively. Tenacious is a better word than desperate, but there was a definite edge in his game considering that there were going to be call-ups afterwards, and he had zero points going into the night as a top-6 winger for Lalonde.
However, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t the Ontario Reign. He committed a slashing penalty early on against a streaking Artemi Panarin, and a holding penalty later on defenseman Seth Jones; the second half of a very productive Blue Jackets pairing with Zach Werenski.
Maybe he was exhausted from the night before and having to travel on short notice. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Boudreau’s PK unit was able to keep Columbus off the board in both situations, and his line was able to get a goal and end the night on the plus against a Blue Jackets onslaught that ended with five goals. A natural center, he is also adjusting to playing the wing.
After a much needed week of rest, the Wild (1-1-2, 4 pts) will travel to Winnipeg to take on the Jets (3-3-0, 6 pts) on Friday night.