The Minnesota Wild expect to welcome back one of their top young players when they host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night in Saint Paul, Minn.
Wild forward Matt Boldy returned to practice on Wednesday and plans to suit up against the Devils barring any setbacks before the game. The 22-year-old has missed the past seven games because of an upper-body injury that he sustained on Oct. 14 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In two games this season, Boldy has one goal and one assist. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2022-23 with 31 goals and 32 assists in 81 games.
“(Getting injured) the second game of the year obviously stinks,” Boldy said. “You wait all summer. But there’s a lot more hockey to be played.”
Minnesota has struggled without Boldy and other injured players such as forward Frederick Gaudreau and defenseman Jared Spurgeon. The Wild are coming off a winless three-game road trip as they return to home ice.
Gaudreau and Spurgeon, both of whom also are dealing with upper-body injuries, are expected to remain out against New Jersey.
As the Wild look to regroup, the Devils hope to keep their positive momentum going. New Jersey has won two straight games and four of its past five, including a 4-3 win at home against Minnesota on Sunday.
Jesper Bratt scored two goals and had an assist in the Devils’ most recent win against Minnesota, and goaltender Vitek Vanecek turned aside 31 shots.
New Jersey also has thrived thanks to the dominant early-season performance of forward Jack Hughes, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month for October. Hughes leads the league with a whopping 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in his first eight games this season.
Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald has marveled at Hughes’ fast start.
“Physically, you can see a change in body makeup, strength on pucks, the speed, the way he handles the puck at full speed,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s like that stick is part of his limb, the way he uses it. Not many people can say that, can do that.
“Just growing up and maturing, he just turned 18 when he turned pro, when he was drafted. He’s 22 right now. We haven’t even seen the best of Jack Hughes, to be quite honest.”
Minnesota is likely to start Filip Gustavsson in net to try to slow down Hughes and his teammates. Gustavsson is 2-2-1 with a 4.36 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage in five games this season.
In two career games against New Jersey, Gustavsson has shined. He is 2-0-0 with a 1.38 GAA and a sterling .961 save percentage in those contests.
The Devils are set to counter with Vanecek in net for the second straight game against Minnesota. Vanecek is 4-2-0 with a 3.24 GAA and a .895 save percentage this season.
The 27-year-old Czech has faced the Wild four times in his career. He is 1-1-2 with a 2.65 GAA and a .895 save percentage in those games.