It isn't rare; switching a defenseman to forward or vice versa, but the position switch rarely works despite the Minnesota Wild having one of the more successful swaps in hockey history with Brent Burns. That transition may have been a matter of playstyle, but in Tuesday's game against the Arizona Coyotes, we saw another high-profile Wild prospect make a move, this time from defenseman to forward. But unlike the Burns situation, it was a matter of necessity.
Frederick Gaudreau missed his first game of the season. The reason? COVID protocol.
Head coach Dean Evason and his staff didn't find out until partway through the morning skate on gameday. After pulling him from practice immediately — sparing him a difficult skate at the hands of assistant coach Darby Hendrickson — coaching staff and management were left with what to do with the empty spot on their bench and lineup. Call up someone from the Iowa Wild? Play seven defensemen and hand out some double-duties for the forwards?
"We debated what we were going to do, play seven defensemen? Try [Calen Addison] at forward?" Evason recounted his thought process during his postgame interview. "Ultimately, our decision was that our six defensemen were playing really well. We didn't want to disrupt that, the rotation of them playing. We felt [Addison] is an intelligent player that skates well and has great skill; why can't he play right wing?"
Addison has been stuck between a rock and a hard place for most of the season. Too good for the AHL — with six points in 10 games — and not good enough to justify the risk of disrupting a well-functioning defensive group for the Wild. Addison has played in 10 of the Iowa Wild's 15 games while getting into the lineup for just three Minnesota Wild games, including the win against the Coyotes.
As a defenceman, he's been impressive for the Wild. In the two games he has played, the Wild have outshot the competition 41-17 at even-strength and holding a 73.5 xGF% according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Only one goal scored, offset by one goal scored against them, all in a minuscule 27 minutes of ice time so take the success with a grain of salt. But his success and skill are irrefutable, and it made Evason want to take the risk of playing him at forward.
"[Assistant GM] Chris O'Hearn came in and asked if we wanted to call a guy up," Evason explained. "We said nope. We would like to play him. He's here. He's competed. He's battled. He's been practicing every day. He got rewarded for doing all the right things off the ice."
Addison thought it was a clerical error when he saw the lineup. "I just showed up and my name was listed as third-line right wing. I didn't know if I was gonna be the seventh D, and it was just written up that way. They said, "We changed our plans, and you're gonna go forward."
Surely, with the way kids play youth hockey, he has at least experienced playing forward at some level?
"Never been called a winger ever. I mean, maybe for a game when I was super, super young. Never liked it all." Addison had no complaints though, saying that he "kind of enjoyed it today, not gonna lie."
In just 13:46 of ice time, including 3:40 of powerplay time, Addison fit right in. He didn't produce much with only one shot, but he did lead the team in hits with four in total. Playing alongside mostly Kevin Fiala and Victor Rask, Addison felt prepared to play forward, even without much preparation.
"They showed me a couple of clips of a couple of situations in different zones of the ice," Addison explained. "They said don't think about it too much; you're a skilled hockey player, you're smart. Just do what you do out there and try not to think too much. The guys I was playing with make it a lot easier."
At the end of the night, Addison managed to fit in nicely on the ice. Will the exposure as a forward change the way he plays the game? Addison doesn't seem to think so;
"Whether I'm [defenseman] or forward, the way I play isn't really going to change, to be honest with you. I'm still going to play intense, still going to work hard, still going to make plays with the puck, and I'm still going to defend hard."