Wild put Ryan Hartman back on the top line. Will it help generate some offense?
Hartman spent most of last season as the Wild’s No. 1 center and finished with a career-high 34 goals.
DALLAS — It’s no secret that Ryan Hartman has had a tough go of it this season. A shoulder injury kept him off the ice for an extended period of time, then shortly after returning to the Minnesota Wild lineup, he was benched by coach Dean Evason for taking too many penalties.
To make matters worse for Hartman, it seems like opposing teams score every time he’s in the penalty box.
It happened again in Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Not even a minute after Hartman got called for tripping, Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun found the back of the net.
“Yeah,” Hartman said before carefully choosing his words. “It doesn’t feel great.”
As frustrating as this season has been, though, Hartman got a boost at Tuesday’s practice when he was elevated to the top line to play between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. He spent most of last season as the Wild’s No. 1 center, and finished with a career-high 34 goals, which included 33 goals at even strength.
“Hopefully we can try to rekindle some of that stuff,” Hartman said. “I plan on trying to keep it simple.”
That means shooting the puck when he has it on his stick, then going to the net and getting the heck out of the way when Kaprizov and Zuccarello are creating offense.
“Just try to give them space to do their thing,” Hartman said. “They don’t need me to help with that stuff.”
This move has been a long time coming considering the Wild’s struggles to score 5 on 5 as of late.
They entered Tuesday’s practice ranked No. 28 in the league this season with 85 goals at even strength. That’s a shockingly low output considering the Wild finished ranked No. 3 in the league last season with 208 goals at even strength.
“Obviously internally we’ve talked about it,” Evason said. “We need to score some goals.”
If practice was any indication, the lines for Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Stars will feature Hartman centering Kaprizov and Zuccarello; Sam Steel centering Matt Boldy and Freddy Gaudreau; Joel Eriksson Ek centering Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno; and Connor Dewar centering Brandon Duhaime and Ryan Reaves.
The shakeup was designed to reinvigorate the Wild in the immediate future.
“We need to get a lot of people going, right?” Evason said. “We need to get the team going as far as scoring goals.”
Hartman isn’t taking this opportunity for granted. He started this season on the top line before being replaced by Steel for the past couple of months. Now that Hartman is back between Kaprizov and Zuccarello, he wants to be a spark plug.
“I think we are hard to play against and we defend really well,” Hartman said. “We’re just not scoring right now. We need to find that scoring touch again. That starts with shooting the puck and getting in front of the goalie’s eyes.”
That said, Evason made it clear that it’s on everyone to pick up the slack, not just the top line of Hartman, Kaprizov and Zuccarello.
“It’s not three guys that’s going to get us out of not scoring,” Evason said. “It’s going to be the entire group, and we’re looking forward to seeing that start tomorrow.”
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