On Wild's top line, Chris Stewart will have to work on his aim
ST. PAUL--Veteran forward Chris Stewart likes the view from the Minnesota Wild's top line. Stewart, 29, has had to fight to get to this point in his career, and after playing alongside Eric Staal and opposite Zach Parise during Sunday's 3-1 victo...
ST. PAUL-Veteran forward Chris Stewart likes the view from the Minnesota Wild's top line.
Stewart, 29, has had to fight to get to this point in his career, and after playing alongside Eric Staal and opposite Zach Parise during Sunday's 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, he doesn't plan on giving up that spot anytime soon.
"It's something I'm not going to take for granted," Stewart said. "Who knows how long it's going to last? There are guys that are champing at the bit to play on that top line. I'm going to have to prove it and show up every day to stay there."
Stewart has spent most of the season grinding for minutes near the bottom half of the lineup, primarily on the fourth line. He has 11 goals despite the limited ice time, while also providing a physical presence, evidenced by his team-leading seven fights.
"It was my turn last game," Stewart said. "Who knows? We know next game that it could be an (Erik) Haula, it could be a (Ryan) White, it could be a (Jason) Pominville. That has been the key to our success this season. We have new guys driving the bus every day. That internal competition is something that we really take serious around here."
Asked about elevating Stewart, coach Bruce Boudreau responded, "It gives us a lot more balance." And it's the coach's chance to reward Stewart for his solid play over the past few weeks.
"You like to see people get rewarded," Parise said. "He has the label of being a fourth-line player, so I think some people forget that he scored (28 goals) in a season. That doesn't happen by accident. He has the skill level to move up and down the lineup."
Stewart is far from the No.1 option on the top line, though, which means he'll have to use his bulky 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame, rather than his saucy mitts.
"I know I have to use my body to open up space for those other guys," he said. "Just be a workhorse to go get the puck for them. Just do the dirty work."
"I thought we played well together," Parise added. "We had some really good scoring chances."
Stewart might have to repent for his sins, though, after he accidentally bopped Parise in the face with a right cross during a net-front scrum in the game against the Sharks.
"I was trying to grab (Joel) Ward there and someone deflected my hand and I ended up getting him in the face," Stewart explained. "Maybe it got him fired up. I don't know. It was a pretty funny thing that happened."
Parise was OK and laughed about the incident in the aftermath.
"He got me pretty good," he said. "I was a little bit shaken up after that."
How exactly is Parise plotting his revenge against his new linemate?
"You seen him?" he laughed. "I'm not getting back at him."
Stray punch aside, Stewart has been instrumental to the team's success this season, serving as a leader in the locker room and a security blanket on the ice.
"He's been a great teammate," Parise said. "He's a guy that really gets excited about the team, gets excited about winning, gets excited about other players. We're glad we were able to get him back."
"We played with him two years ago, so it wasn't like a new guy coming in," Charlie Coyle added. "He's been here; he knows what it's like. I feel like any team he goes to he's going to be himself, he's going to be Stewie. He shows his true colors right away. We love having a guy like that."
Stewart, who played 20 games for the Wild in the 2014-15 season before moving on to Anaheim for 2015-16, is happy to be back after signing a two-year deal.
"It was easy coming back in here with the leadership we have in place," he said. "There aren't any egos on this team. It's been the perfect fit for me. It's like a family here. That's the type of atmosphere I thrive in."