ST. PAUL -- After playing their last game with a skeleton crew that looked a lot like their minor-league team from Des Moines, the Minnesota Wild got some reinforcements for Tuesday’s practice at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul. And more help could be on the way by the weekend.

It appears top center Joel Eriksson Ek is getting very close to returning from an upper-body injury suffered during a Dec. 20 contest against the Dallas Stars. He skated between Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno at practice and there’s a chance he could be ready for Friday’s home game against Anaheim.

“We asked him to not have any contact (at practice) — and probably the first thing he did was get involved contact-wise,” coach Dean Evason said with a laugh. “He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. He looked good, for sure. We’ll see how he progresses this week.”

Asked if he’s prepared to declare Eriksson Ek active for the game this weekend, Evason replied, “Are we penciling him in? No. Would we like to? Yes.”

Still, the fact that Eriksson Ek practiced for the first time in nearly a month was a good sign. As was the fact that Greenway officially exited COVID protocol. If the Greenway-Eriksson Ek-Foligno line is indeed ready to go, it would give the Wild a big boost against the Ducks.

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It also sounds like star winger Kirill Kaprizov could be back sooner rather than later after suffering an upper-body injury in last Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Bruins in Boston. That’s a relief for Wild fans considering Kaprizov looked pretty banged up after taking a dangerous hit from Bruins winger Trent Frederic. He left the game favoring his right shoulder and did not return.

Asked about getting some players back for Tuesday’s practice, Evason unprovoked mentioned that Kaprizov could “possibly” be ready as soon as this weekend. Take that with a grain of salt, though, as Evason tends to voice optimism whenever it comes to injuries.

Nonetheless, the Wild appear to be on the mend after playing without nearly half of their lineup regulars in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals.

“This a lot,” Evason said when asked if he’s ever been a part of this many injuries at once. “Everybody in the league is going through it. We’re just going about our business and trying to have success when we get into a hockey game.”

Other injuries

While the Wild got some players back for Tuesday’s practice, they still were without Kaprizov (upper body), captain Jared Spurgeon (lower body), star defenseman Jonas Brodin (upper body), No. 1 goaltender Cam Talbot (lower body), and depth winger Nick Bjugstad (upper body) due to injuries. They were also without veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski and rookie winger Brandon Duhaime as both players are still in COVID protocol.

It sounds like Spurgeon and Talbot could be close to returning to practice. They skated on their own ahead of Tuesday’s practice and will rejoin the team whenever they get clearance from head trainer John Worley.

“Every day we come to the rink and John tells us who’s available and we try to piece it together,” Evason said. “Just a day-to-day thing. We’ll see how they progress.”

Minnesota Wild center Marco Rossi skates during warmups before a game against the Boston Bruins Jan. 6, 2022, at the TD Garden in Boston. Rossi was sent down to the AHL's Iowa Wild on Tuesday, Jan. 11, after the return of Joel Eriksson Ek.
Brian Fluharty / USA Today Sports
Minnesota Wild center Marco Rossi skates during warmups before a game against the Boston Bruins Jan. 6, 2022, at the TD Garden in Boston. Rossi was sent down to the AHL's Iowa Wild on Tuesday, Jan. 11, after the return of Joel Eriksson Ek. Brian Fluharty / USA Today Sports

Rossi sent down

After playing two games last week, top prospect Marco Rossi has been sent back to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. It’s nothing personal. Just a numbers game with Eriksson Ek close to returning to the lineup.

“If our numbers weren’t good down the center ice position then absolutely we have full confidence that he can play,” Evason said. “We’ve seen that he can play. In two games against some very veteran-laden teams, he conducted himself very well. He played power play. We had him out in overtime. We feel real good about where his development is right now.”

Briefly

After signing as a depth piece this past offseason, veteran defenseman Jon Merrill has agreed to a 3-year, $3.6 million contract extension ($1.2 average annual value) that will keep him with the Wild through the 2024-25 season. He has 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 33 games this season