Some questions with Puck Gone Wild’s Danny Lambert
Winger Chris Stewart has been a huge factor in the Wild’s fourth line becoming one of the best in the NHL. Tell us something about him and where coach Bruce Boudreau is using him now.
DL: Stewart is a ‘do whatever the team needs’ kind of player. When he was signed this summer, Bruce Boudreau said Stewart “makes everybody else bigger on the team”, implying that he’s a great teammate that helps others play the best game they can. Not to mention Stewie is a talented scorer – he’s got 11 goals while only averaging 11 minutes a game, and he’s a former 28-goal scorer.
As for where Boudreau is using him right now, the thing to remember is that Bruce is the king of line shuffling. Stewart is that player he knows he can put up or down the lineup for a spark if needed. On the fourth line in his usual spot he’s certainly the catalyst and makes that line successful and relevant.
Which player has been the most pleasant surprise this season, and why?
DL: Eric Staal. He’s fallen off a bit since the New Year, but his first half of the season was a big reason why the Wild are where they are. Moreover, no one expected him to do that. The consensus was that he was nowhere near the player he was, and even with his slow-down he’s got a good shot at 20+ goals and 60 points.
On the other hand, who has been the biggest disappointment, and why?
DL: Marco Scandella. This is a player who was once thought to be a very solid defender, who has really struggled this season. He’s made a lot of mental mistakes that has him struggling to stay positive in plus/minus when the rest of the team is crushing that category with five players in the top ten in the NHL. He’s really taken a step back and looks like he could be unprotected for expansion and possibly traded in the offseason.
Veterans Martin Hanzal and Ryan White came over from Arizona just before the trade deadline. How are they doing?
DL: Hanzal is doing about fair-to-middling since heading over from Arizona. He’s got three assists in five games and is a minus-2. He makes the Wild stronger up the middle for sure, but I’d like to see him really contribute on the scoresheet a bit more.
Ryan White has been awesome. He’s the scrappy, gritty, funny personality that seems to have a lot of intangibles that make this team better. Scoresheet-wise he had a great first two games with two goals and an assist, but has been quiet since then. But I’m fine with that because he wasn’t brought in for scoring – he was brought in for those intangibles and grit, and he’s certainly bringing that to the team.
Wild prospects Kirill Kaprisov (Russia), Joel Eriksson Ek (Sweden), Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway (both USA) all had monster performances at the recent World Junior Championships. Which of them are most intriguing with the highest potential to make it to The Show?
DL: Eriksson Ek will be a star in the NHL, he’s got a strong two-way game and great instincts already. The decision to send him back to Sweden was hard for the Wild because he had such strong success at the NHL-level, netting two goals and three assists in nine games this season. Ultimately though it came down to letting the 20- year-old maturate a tad more, with the eye on next season where he will most likely take an opening-day spot on the third or fourth line.