ST. PAUL, Minn. — Zach Parise proudly put on his new Minnesota Wild jersey, sporting the No. 11 his dad famously wore with the Minnesota North Stars, and smiled for the cameras alongside friend and now teammate Ryan Suter on Monday.
Parise’s unease of being the center of the hockey world for an entire week in July was easily apparent. He smiled for the cameras in his new sweater, but he seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of Monday’s news conference at the Xcel Energy Center as the two franchise-altering free agents were introduced as members of the Wild.
Through it all, Parise didn’t even notice the “A” stitched onto the front of his new green Minnesota sweater until it was pointed out by a reporter.
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“We probably should have talked to them first,” Wild coach Mike Yeo joked about Parise and Suter each already being given an “A,” meaning they are assistant captains even though they have yet to meet all of their new teammates.
Such is life when you sign matching 13-year, $98 million contracts. Parise and Suter have forever shaped the direction and reputation of the Wild organization. Immediately, the two are assistant captains, with center Mikko Koivu keeping his “C.”
Yeo hadn’t had the opportunity to talk with them about it, but he had done plenty of talking to his team, including Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen, two players who wore the “A” last season. In Yeo’s mind, there was never any question Parise and Suter would end up as assistant captains.
“It really wasn’t much of a question based on the commitment that the team has made to them and they made to the team; likewise with who they are,” Yeo said. “We have so much respect for Cully and Heater. It’s a bit of a different situation here with this type of term, with these two guys coming in right off the bat. But, if these guys weren’t wearing an ‘A,’ they’d be the same leaders for us, and likewise with Cully and Heater. So, from a coaching perspective, it doesn’t mean as much as it does to the players because, again, I’m still going to count on other players to be leaders in their own right.”
Causing alterations to a few jerseys, however, will be one of Parise’s and Suter’s smaller impacts for Minnesota. The two add star power and consistent all-around play to a team that had led the NHL in mid-December last year before injuries took their toll. Parise and Suter offer a “trickle-down” effect on the entire roster.
With more depth, an elated Yeo already has begun penciling in line combinations. Gathering this week for the team’s development camp, Yeo and the other coaches couldn’t keep themselves from dreaming up scenarios.
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it; that’s the fun part,” Yeo said. “It was the first time all us coaches had the chance to be in same room since this has happened, and the first thing that happens is we start drawing up the line combinations, power-play setups and our personnel. Obviously, there’s a lot of time between now and training camp, but that’s what happens with the excitement of it. Just the excitement and the idea of what you can do with adding these two players to your lineup, again the trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the group as well. It’s just really exciting for us.”
And Parise had his own ideas to share about line combinations during Monday’s news conference.
“I don’t want to single anyone out, but you play with a center like Mikko, he’s arguably one of the best two-way centers in the game, I think in my opinion just from playing against him a few times at world championships and things,” Parise said. “I always thought that he and I would play well together.”
“I’m not trying to drop any hints,” Parise added while looking at Yeo. “But I felt like he was the type of player I would play well with. Hopefully we get the opportunity, because I think we play a pretty similar, north-south game.”
Along with changing expectations, Parise and Suter also change the look of Minnesota’s lineup.
Agreeing with Parise, Yeo said he likely would pair Koivu and Parise on the first line. That’s about as far as the coach was willing to go Monday about the potential line combinations, saying he wants to be flexible with the possibilities. Yeo also said if training camp were to start on Monday, Suter would be paired with young defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
With his two newest players in the fold, Yeo told owner Craig Leipold he’s “a better coach overnight.”
“It’s hard to measure (the impact) in a couple of ways, because there’s the on-ice value that each of them bring in their own regard,” Yeo said. “I think that anybody that watches our sport knows what these guys can do and the impact that they can have on your team. But I also like to look at it a little bit deeper and just start thinking about what these guys are going to do for the guys that they’re playing with, what it does for other guys that can maybe be better suited in other roles, slotted at a different position in the lineup. And I think as much as anything else, what this does to how we view ourself as a team. The belief that we have in ourself and what that will do to our motivation level going into next season can’t be overstated.”
Belief, lineups and a few green sweaters are just a few of the areas that Parise and Suter are having monumental effects on the Wild.