COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Wild shelled out $98 million to sign Zach Parise away from New Jersey in 2012, banking on the net-crashing winger to grind out points and deliver on their 13-year investment.
Twice he has led the team in regular-season scoring. However, injuries have stunted his production the past two seasons and raised questions about his long-term viability as the top-paid forward on the team.
Fully recovered from October 2017 back surgery, Parise is back on top for Minnesota, leading the pack with 12 goals and 22 points after scoring in Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets.
“It’s a place we hoped he’d get back to,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “His strength is around the net, so now that he’s feeling healthy it’s good that he gets there. He’s on that pace for 25-30-plus. Hopefully he can keep it up.”
Actually, Parise is on pace for 39 goals and 72 points, which would be his most productive season among the seven he has been in Minnesota. He had 33 goals and 62 points in 2014-15, the last time he led the Wild in scoring. The past two injury-riddled seasons, he averaged only 17 goals and 33 points.
Parise’s most productive season with the Devils was 2008-09, when he scored a career-high 45 goals among 94 points. He eclipsed 30 goals five of the six seasons he played in New Jersey, helping lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 — one month before he signed a record free-agent contract with his hometown team.
Parise, 34, is reaching an age where he might start regressing. Instead he has been “reborn,” according to Boudreau.
“He’s been almost self-remade in that the work ethic that he had got him to where he was in the first place (has) sort of reborn him,” he said. “Because a guy with less of a work ethic probably wouldn’t have got to this stage.”
PATERYN BEATS BUG
Defenseman Greg Pateryn returned to the lineup against Columbus after missing Tuesday’s loss to Arizona because of illness. He did not practice Wednesday, but did fly on the team charter.
After Thursday’s morning skate, he declared himself healed from whatever bug waylaid him.
“It kind of snuck up on me … (and) just progressively got a little worse,” he said. “I was able to get it out of my system in a day, which was nice. Got my energy back; looking forward to getting back in.”
That left Nate Prosser the odd-man out again on the blue line, which is nothing new for the 10-year veteran. Because the Wild’s defense corps has played so well and remained relatively healthy, there is no regular spot for Prosser in the lineup.
“I understand what position I’m in,” he said. “I understand my calling and where I’m at on this team. When I do get the chance, I want to step in and be that mistake-free guy that I can be. I was able to do that (Tuesday) night.”
Prosser suited up for just the second time this season against the Coyotes, playing an even 11:44 on the third pairing with Nick Seeler. It had been 16 games since Prosser last played Oct. 16 against Nashville. That was as the seventh defenseman where he only logged 3:03 of ice time.
Veteran center Matt Hendricks is in a similar position. He has only played eight games and was set to be scratched Thursday for the fifth straight game.
“That’s why you love having a guy like Nate around, and Hendy around,” Boudreau said. “They work their butt off every practice to push the team, and when they get the call, they’re ready.”
Prosser said he was able to knock off the rust against the Coyotes fairly early.
“I actually felt pretty good. It took a shift or two to get involved and get my timing and focus back to game form,” he said. “But it was a good game for me.”
Columbus’ John Tortorella coached his 1,200th career game Thursday night, becoming the 18th NHL head coach to reach that milestone. He won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has also coached Vancouver and the New York Rangers.
“He’s 1,200 tonight?” Boudreau mused. “He’s had a tremendous career. Two Jack Adams (Awards) and a Stanley Cup in there. It’s good for him.”
Meanwhile, Boudreau was set to coach his 869th game Thursday against the Blue Jackets. Asked if would make it to 1,200, he quipped:
“If they keep hiring me, I’ll see it.”