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How the Iowa Wild helped get the MN Wild into playoffs

Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Seeler skates as time runs out in the team's NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, March 2, 2018, in Denver. The Avalanche won 7-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Seeler skates as time runs out in the team’s NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, March 2, 2018, in Denver. The Avalanche won 7-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

During the drive down I-94 from St. Paul to Chicago, headed to the NHL Draft last June, Bruce Boudreau plopped down next to his good buddy Derek Lalonde on the team bus.

Boudreau, who had just wrapped up his first season as coach of the Minnesota Wild, had some words of wisdom for Lalonde, who was coming off his first season as coach of the Iowa Wild.

“He literally sat down next to me and he looked at me and he said, ‘You’re going to be the worst team in the history of the league,’ ” Lalonde recalled with a chuckle. “And, of course, he was being a little sarcastic when he was saying it. At the same time he knew that we needed to replenish what we had down there.”

Gone was top prospect Alex Tuch, traded to the Vegas Golden Knights during the NHL Expansion Draft.

Gone was minor league journeyman Jordan Schroeder, traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the offseason.

And gone was the blue line combo of Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson, who signed matching two-year, one-way contracts during the offseason to essentially guarantee themselves an NHL roster spot.

While those departures might seem rather inconsequential on the surface, those types of players were key in helping the Iowa Wild field a competitive roster.

“There were a lot of moving parts and our depth took a major hit,” Lalonde said. “Luckily for us, the organization went to work on July 1 and added a lot of guys.”

That meant signing lesser-known players like winger Kyle Rau, center Cal O’Reilly, center Landon Ferraro, defensemen Ryan Murphy and Alex Grant, and goaltender Niklas Svedberg on the opening day of free agency.

“It probably didn’t look too sexy at the time because I know the typical fan out there is into the high-profile, very-expensive, long-term free agent signing,” Lalonde said. “That said, we knew we had to improve our depth, and I think ultimately the big club has been rewarded for it this season.”

As injuries ravaged the Minnesota Wild this season, Iowa Wild players have been key in filling those voids.

Just take a look at the blue line Minnesota will take into its first-round playoff series this week against the Winnipeg Jets.

Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy almost certainly will be in the lineup for Game 1 on Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place, and Murphy has a good chance of cracking the lineup at some point.

Those three combined to play 164 games in Iowa this season, and now they are important parts of Minnesota’s playoff push.

“We have to elevate our game a little bit on the back end,” Seeler said. “We definitely feel that. At the same time it’s important to stay simple and stick with what’s been working for us. We can’t try to do too much.”

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