Rem Pitlick isn't keeping track of how many different lines he's played on, but the winger is emerging as quite the utility option for the Wild in his first season with the team.
After recently joining Kevin Fiala and Frederick Gaudreau, Pitlick was assigned to take Mats Zuccarello's seat next to Kirill Kaprizov and Ryan Hartman on Sunday with Zuccarello injured and the line delivered the decisive goal in a 4-2 victory over the Lightning at Xcel Energy Center for the Wild's third consecutive win.
"There's so much talent in that room," Pitlick said. "I'm just excited to play with anyone. It's fantastic."
Pitlick's assist on Hartman's game-winner was his seventh point over his past eight games, a span in which he's scored four goals himself.
That run started with the 24-year-old's first NHL goal as part of a hat trick on Nov. 13 at Seattle in his fourth game back after being out with COVID-19. But even before he was sidelined, Pitlick made an impression — assisting on another game-deciding goal in his first appearance with the Wild on Oct. 26 at Vancouver after starting the season as a healthy scratch.
"That was tough," said Pitlick, the former Gopher from Plymouth who was added by the Wild off waivers from the Predators during training camp. "I just tried to do my best to stay prepared, watching guys in practice, watching guys in the games. Just doing my part to keep working on my game when I'm watching it."
His assist on Sunday marked the first time in his still-young NHL career Pitlick has picked up a point in consecutive games, and it's the rookie's speed and defensive awareness that coach Dean Evason credits for enabling Pitlick, 24, to fit in at various spots.
"Obviously, he's got a skill set with his hands that when he moves his feet, he's going to put pressure on people offensively, as well," Evason said. "He can play up and down our lineup, and it's a nice asset to have."
Zuccarello didn't play after getting slashed on the hand during the 7-1 rout of the Jets on Friday.
The Wild is having an optional practice Monday, and Evason said he assumed Zuccarello would skate.
"It's a nasty injury," Evason said. "So tough to hold your stick and it's his bottom hand, so it's a tough spot."
Evason praised Zuccarello for completing his shift after he was hit by Winnipeg's Nathan Beaulieu in the second period.
"A lot of times a guy gets slashed like that and would throw his glove and his helmet and his stick away and either lie on the ice or skate off the ice," Evason said. "He did not. He tracked back defensively until we got control. We had a great opportunity at the end of the power play, then he changed. Showed a lot of character."
Green light for empty-net goals
Marcus Foligno's empty-netter with 17 seconds left in the third period came from the neutral zone, 94 feet away from the Tampa Bay net, and Wild players have the green light to go for chances like that even in one-goal games.
"Why wouldn't you?" Evason said. "You got an open shot at the net that's empty, take it. At any point if you don't have it and you have to go through somebody, then of course not. Then we're going to chip it out.
"But if you have a clear lane and you think you can score a goal from there, these guys are in the NHL. Shoot it at the net."