New Wild players learning, adapting on the fly
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Acclimating to a new team is nothing new for Minnesota Wild defenseman Jordan Leopold. The 12-year NHL veteran has played for eight different teams and been traded midseason five times, including twice this season.
Returning to his native Minnesota this time around has only eased the transition for Leopold.
"It’s been the exact opposite to what I’m used to," Leopold said. "Normally I’m packing my bags and saying goodbye to my kids. This time I packed my bags and I couldn’t get home quick enough."
Leopold has been with the Wild for a week after being acquired before the trade deadline. Along with forward Chris Stewart, Leopold was on the Xcel Energy Center ice Monday taking in his first practice with his new team. Yes, one week into their tenure and the two were having their first practice together Monday.
Trying to fit in new pieces like Leopold, Stewart and Sean Bergenheim has been a practice of learning on the fly for Minnesota. The condensed schedule has forced a crash course of learning the Wild’s systems and adapting to new teammates, lines and roles.
"I wouldn’t say it’s complicated," said Stewart, another veteran of midseason moves. "You just kind of learn as you go. When you’re only playing games, you kind of learn by making mistakes, which is natural. You learn what not to do. The game today with all the technology, the iPads on the bench, it’s really easy to kind of learn on the go."
Bergenheim, acquired on Feb. 24, has played six games with the Wild. Stewart and Leopold will be playing in their fifth game in the span of nine days when Minnesota hosts New Jersey on Tuesday night.
"We haven’t really had any practice," Leopold said. "Even optionals or pregame skates, and those really aren’t anything you work on systems or work on things you work on in a game. I’ve been traded so many times, really 90 percent around the league everybody plays the same way. It’s the other 10 percent where there’s little things that are different between each team and those are the things you have to learn. But as many games as we’ve played since the deadline, it’s been a pretty easy transition."
Stewart and Leopold have downplayed the difficulty in moving midseason. Of course, they have experience. Bergenheim was new to being a trade acquisition in-season. He also had been a healthy scratch for the six previous games with Florida when the Wild traded for his services.
"I didn’t play for a little bit there before I came here," Bergenhim said. "I can obviously feel that. So I just try to work as hard as I can to get back to game shape and feeling comfortable out there. There’s some stuff that I feel better at now system-wise, but then there’s some stuff that the timing is a little bit off and maybe the plays could be better that I made. I’m aware of that and I’m working on it."
Bergenheim immediately drew an assignment on a line with fellow Finn Mikko Koivu when he got to Minnesota. He’s been moved around since and is scoreless with a minus-3 rating in his six games.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo feels Bergenhim might be putting extra pressure on himself.
"I’ll say right now just kind of looking at his game and where he’s been at the last couple games, I can tell that he’s putting some pressure on himself to try to make plays, to try to create something offensively," Yeo said. "And more often than not, for a player like that, you end up losing some of the things you’re good at. So, we just got to make sure that we kind of settle him down a little bit and just get him focused on what he needs to do."
Yeo has liked the impact Stewart has brought and said Stewart’s best game in Minnesota was Sunday’s loss to Colorado where Stewart was involved in a fight in the opening minute and also scored his first goal with the Wild.
Stewart, showing he is still adapting to his new surroundings, went to the opponent’s penalty box after the fight.
"I made a couple trips to the visiting penalty box before, so it was just natural instinct," Stewart said, later adding: The hardest part is just coming in and learning new systems and things like that. Besides that, the transition, they’ve made it really easy on me and my family."
Yeo added: "He had a physical impact in the game right from the start and he’s been bringing that consistently to us. I feel him and Mikko have got some good chemistry together and (Nino Niederreiter) had some flashes and some moments there yesterday. We’ve got to try to find the right mix there on the left side and we’ll give Nino another opportunity tomorrow and hopefully that works."
Leopold has been a valuable addition while Minnesota dealt with injuries to defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Leopold is fitting in just fine in his new surroundings though. He had skated with many of the Wild players during the summer previously and said his first skate with the team after the trade felt like a summer skate.
After Monday’s practice, Leopold spent some time on the ice with his son, who had temporarily acquired a spot in Minnesota’s dressing room next to his dad. Leopold helped his son take off his equipment in Jason Zucker’s temporary stall, even complete with a nametag for the younger Leopold.
"It’s been a busy week," Leopold said. "It’s nice to settle down a little bit. I got a honey-do list about a mile long. Hopefully I can get back to that this week with some home games. It will be nice."
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter