There was a time not long ago when Wild forward Victor Rask looked like a prime candidate for a buyout.
He has been in and out of the Wild lineup since the team acquired him in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in January 2019, and with a whopping $4 million cap hit for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 season, many wondered if the Wild would simply cut their losses.
Instead, general manager Bill Guerin stuck with Rask this past offseason, opting to ride out the rest of his contract rather than take on dead money over a longer period of time. It was a financially motivated decision that has worked out better than anyone could have imagined.
Not only has Rask contributed up and down the lineup this season, he has been the team’s most consistent center outside of Joel Eriksson Ek. That has given coach Dean Evason confidence to play the 27-year-old from Sweden big minutes with top-tier players.
“We talked in training camp about how he came in in tremendous shape,” Evason said. “At our exit meeting with him last year, we talked about him getting an opportunity if he put the work in this summer. And he did. He’s taken advantage of every situation he’s been given.”
Especially his current situation. As the man playing between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello the past couple of games, Rask has played a big role in that line’s recent dominance. They had a combined 14 points in wins over the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks the past few days.
“It looks like they have real good chemistry on the ice,” Evason said. “They all have great hands, and they feed off each other. If the three of them play with the pace they did the other night, then their ability to find plays and their creativity will allow them to have scoring opportunities.”
Those scoring opportunities have followed Rask in particular. He has four goals over his past four games and his five goals in 13 games this season trail only Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala for the team lead. Not bad considering Rask had just five goals in 43 games all of last season.
“I haven’t changed much,” Rask said. “Just try to keep going every night and keep working hard.”
That hard work is something his teammates have grown to appreciate over the past couple of seasons. They watched the way Rask conducted himself despite being healthy scratch more often than not. He always showed up to practice the next day, never complained, and patiently waited for his name to be called.
“I think everyone in our locker room knows Rasky just needed an opportunity,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “He just needed to play. He didn’t really get that opportunity last year, and now he’s getting it and we are seeing what he’s doing. I played against him when I was with (the Buffalo Sabres) and he was with the (Carolina Hurricanes). He was a heck of a player. He just needed an opportunity, and right now he’s running with it.”