SEATTLE — When he’s not scoring goals for the Minnesota Wild as arguably the best bargain in the NHL, Ryan Hartman is changing positions at the drop of a hat.
Whatever the team needs. That’s always been his mentality.
It’s been put to the test throughout Hartman’s tenure in the Twin Cities, to say the least, as he’s lined up at each of the three forward positions, sometimes in the same week.
A month into this season Hartman has been a center in the top six with playmakers Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello by his side, as well as a winger in the bottom six with grinders like Nico Sturm and Brandon Duhaime.
And in Saturday’s game against the Seattle Kraken, coach Dean Evason has Hartman back at center between Jordan Greenway and Rem Pitlick.
“He’s what our hockey club is supposed to be about,” Evason said. “Who cares where guys play? Just play the same way. He does that. He goes about his business and leads in that department. There’s not one time he asks where he’s playing. He sees it and goes and does it.
In theory, Hartman centering Greenway and Pitlick will give the Wild a gritty line capable of making skillful plays at a moment’s notice.
“We are excited about the little tweaks in our lines,” Evason said. “It’s good to have that versatility. We have a lot of guys like that.”
Merrill stands out
A few weeks ago, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before top prospect Calen Addison carved out a spot on the blue line.
That hasn’t been the case. Not with veteran Jon Merrill holding down the fort quite nicely.
He’s been so good alongside fellow defenseman Dmitry Kulikov this season, and with the way he’s contributing both offensively and defensively, it doesn’t make sense to take Merrill out of the lineup any time soon.
“We have really liked, not only the way he’s played on the ice, the way he’s conducted himself off the ice,” Evason said. “He’s fit into our team concept.”
Asked what specifically Merrill has brought to the table, Evason replied, “He’s gritty. He’s got some bite. He plays the game hard.”
Toss in a few goals here and there, like Merrill has, and there’s not much more than Wild can ask out of him.
Putting in the work
It’s no secret the Wild have some very skilled players on their roster, and while Evason is constantly reminding his team not to get too cute on the ice, he encourages that type of creativity if the time is right.
“The game is supposed to be scoring more goals than them,” Evason said. “If we’ve got skill, which we do, we need to make pretty plays. That’s awesome. We do not stifle our group in that department whatsoever. To get to the areas to do that, though, we’ve got to put the work in first, then show our skill from there.
“When our group does that, we give ourselves a chance. When we don’t, we don’t give ourselves a chance.”