Minnesota Wild: Injuries & Scratches Bring Big Changes Saturday

The reeling Minnesota Wild have made some serious lineup changes heading into Saturday, hoping to avoid losing their fourth straight game. A loss to St. Louis on Saturday would put them at 3-10-3 in their last 16 games and probably turn up the temperature on coach Mike Yeo’s seat, despite assertions from GM Chuck Fletcher on Saturday that his job was safe.

A combination of a call-up, an injury and two top players getting scratched is going to mix things up quite a bit.

The Call-Up

The team is calling up 6-foot-5 center Tyler Graovac, giving him his second game of the season.

Graovac made the roster out of camp, but was injured on opening night. That injury kept him from returning for months and once he was healthy on December 13, the team sent him to Iowa. They are likely to have done this no matter what the plan was, since he’d need to get up game speed. It was shortly after that, the Wild acquired Jarret Stoll, effectively blocking his path to the NHL.

Graovac struggled to ignite his scoring in the AHL the way he did last year when he was the team’s leading scorer. But he’s found his touch recently, putting up a goal, two assists, a plus-2 rating and 13 shots over the last three games.

Graovac’s entrance is complicated. After acquiring Stoll, the team has something of a log jam at the NHL level that prevents AHLers from making it long-term unless they force the Wild to make a move. Currently — with the injury we’ll get to — the Wild aren’t carrying any defensive insurance with just six defensemen on the roster. The only way to get someone up from Iowa is to send someone down.

The only player who doesn’t require waivers and isn’t a defenseman: Graovac.

The Injury

Included in Saturday’s melee is news that Jonas Brodin is going to miss a month of play with a broken foot

That’s a blow to the Wild even if he hasn’t been at the top of his game. I’m not trotting out the stats on how he’s played lately because everyone on the team has kind of been a hot mess lately.

This opens up a spot for Christian Folin, only recently recalled from Iowa, to get back onto NHL ice. Like Graovac, he could be a nice injection in the short-term because he’s playing with something to prove.

Brodin’s injury also creates a bit of a mess for the team leading up to the trade deadline. It means that if they are thinking they’ll add offense to improve the team now, it’s going to be very complicated. Trading away a defenseman when you’re already down one is not a great way to improve the current roster.

The Scratches

The team needs to send a message to the lineup and is probably overdue to scratch someone who has spent time inside the top nine with any consistency this season. The forward scratches have largely been limited to Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula and Chris Porter.

Saturday, Yeo will scratch Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek. That’s a statement.

This actually makes sense to some extent, as much as everyone wants to see Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund benched. With the Wild’s lack of center depth (yes, Graovac is a center and Charlie Coyle can play too) Granlund doesn’t make a whole lot of sense getting the ax. Decreased ice time? Yes.

But if we limit the required scratches to two wings, Zucker and Vanek aren’t bad choices. Yeo is attempting to send a message, so Chris Porter, Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula are out as scratches. Benching them doesn’t send a message.

Pominville, though he’s barely been able to put a point on the board through most of the season, has exhibited better possession numbers at even strength than every winger except fro Nino Niederreiter since January 2. That’s a frame of time where positive underlying numbers are hard to find for Minnesota.

There are a lot of people who could probably be used for Yeo’s one veteran, one young player gets scratched night. It’s ultimately quibbling over which terrible metric is the one to produce a scratch out of. Everyone on the Wild has been bad and a shake up is needed.

The only players on offense not worthy of a scratch have been Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. They’ve all played poorly and it’s getting to the point of desperation where Yeo needs to start doing something.

Here’s a statistical comparison of Minnesota Wild wingers since January 2, 2016.

EV Goals EV Points CF%Rel CF60 CA60 ZS%Rel SH TOI PP TOI PPP
Charlie Coyle 4 6 3.80% 48.7 53.4 8.20% 0.4 1.1 1
Chris Porter 1 1 -6.40% 42.1 61.7 -36.80% 1.7 0 0
Erik Haula 0 3 -12.20% 33.9 66.6 -23.50% 1.2 0 0
Jason Pominville 1 1 7.60% 56.8 56.2 20% 0 2.3 1
Jason Zucker 2 3 -4.20% 45.5 62.9 -0.90% 0.5 0.2 0
Nino Niederreiter 0 4 16.60% 55.7 41.4 14.10% 0 1.2 2
Ryan Carter 2 2 -12.60% 27.1 59.6 -51.90% 1.3 0.1 0
Thomas Vanek 1 1 -7.20% 44.7 67.9 12.10% 0.1 2.5 1
Zach Parise 2 2 -1.40% 51.5 65.6 17.50% 0 3.1 1

Minnesota Wild Lines

Here are the lines for Saturday’s game, at least to start the game.

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter-Tyler Graovac-Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter-Jarret Stoll-Erik Haula

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba
Nate Prosser-Christian Folin

What’s Wrong With the Wild pt. I: Everything
What’s Wrong With the Wild pt. II: Shot Quality