CHICAGO — Declan Chisholm joined the Minnesota Wild on the ice for the first time Wednesday morning, but when he did, it must’ve been just like he was still wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. The 24-year-old got the exact same treatment in his new duds: a bag skate by the assistant coaches.
At least he’s used to it.
“Pretty much, yeah,” Chisholm said, laughing. “A lot of practices. It’s really hard work, honestly. You’re just getting bag-skated every day. You’re in the gym every day, and, yeah, you’re just grinding away and hoping to get in the lineup. Because there’s not much you can do other than, when you’re in the game, play your best. When I did play, I thought I played really well, so I’m going to use that as confidence going forward.”
Unfortunately for Chisholm, but fortunately for the playoff-bound Jets, Winnipeg has been remarkably healthy on the blue line this season.
“I think they’re the only team in the NHL who hasn’t had an injury (on defense) … so kudos to them,” Chisholm said, triggering laughter. “It was a great group to watch play, too, so, practicing with those guys, I learned a lot.”
Chisholm played just two games for the Jets this season and four in his NHL career. To get him playing, he was assigned to the AHL Manitoba Moose for a seven-game conditioning stint in November. He played six of those games (he missed one game to illness), assisting on five goals.
A delay in getting his U.S. work visa approved meant a late arrival to join the Wild, and he’ll need a little conditioning before getting into a game because, like his Minnesota teammates, Chisholm was on vacation during the Jets’ bye week and All-Star break. He spent that time in Miami, so he hadn’t been on the ice for 11 days, from Jan. 27 until Wednesday.
“I’m still out of breath here,” Chisholm said five minutes after getting skated extra by the Wild’s assistants along with fellow anticipated Wednesday night healthy scratch Adam Beckman. “So I think I’ll probably get a couple conditioning skates in and then hopefully, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll play soon.”
With Jonas Brodin also not slated to play against the Blackhawks because he’s been struck by an illness that has crept through the Wild locker room for weeks, the team’s three defense pairs Wednesday night were expected to be Jake Middleton–Brock Faber, Alex Goligoski–Zach Bogosian and Jon Merrill–Dakota Mermis.
Coach John Hynes didn’t want to put a timetable on how much practice Chisholm will need before he’s thrown into the fire. He just made clear it won’t be two weeks or something like that. He said Chisholm looked to be in great shape and the Wild will do their best to help him along.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Hynes said. “I did talk to him. He didn’t skate at all for a while and then obviously a new team. He’ll come in. We will have him dress for warmups. We’d like to see him get in, get into team meetings, get himself back and around the team and see how things go and then get a practice and then we’ll see.
“Some of it might be based on performance. If guys play really well, we’re not just going to yank a guy out to put him in. But some of it would be performance-based (for when) he will get an opportunity. We’ll have to let it play out here a little bit.”
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) February 7, 2024
The Wild’s blue line has been erratic after entering this season with three defensemen — Calen Addison, Goligoski and Merrill — who struggled so much down the stretch in 2022-23 that they were consistent healthy scratches. Mermis has been a career minor-leaguer seeing regular minutes for going on his 34th game Wednesday. Couple all this with the fact that Jared Spurgeon has only played 16 games and is done for the year, and you can see why the Wild took a flier on Chisholm, who has been an elite defenseman at the AHL level (91 points in 146 games), even though he has barely played this season.
He’s a puck-moving, offensive-minded young defenseman, so this is a chance for the Wild to see what they have in him for the rest of the season and into next. The Jets likely figured they’d lose him on waivers but chose to risk it because they needed to clear cap space to add a center. The Jets were subsequently in on Elias Lindholm before he was dealt from the Calgary Flames to Vancouver Canucks, then they acquired Sean Monahan from the Montreal Canadiens.
Chisholm said he was grateful for all the Jets did for him since they selected him in the fifth round in 2018. But they were playing so well and were so healthy that he and fellow defenseman Logan Stanley just couldn’t get in the lineup.
He doesn’t think it’ll be difficult to scrape off the rust once he debuts for the Wild, whether that’s Friday against the Penguins, Monday at Vegas or beyond.
“My first game (in Winnipeg in December), people were asking that, too, because I spent a month and a half not playing,” he said. “When I jumped in, I felt super comfortable. Nothing changed. You’re going over all the situations in practice, so I think that just prepares you there. Then I do a ton of video as well, and I think you just have to be confident in your ability to jump right in. After the few first few games, the nerves will go away and you’ll just play your game. So I don’t think it’s as hard as you think.”
Chisholm said he loves fast-paced hockey, loves to join the rush and uses his feet to transition the puck up ice. He feels he can be a reliable two-way defenseman for the Wild. While the Wild haven’t given up hope of making the playoffs, Chisholm also knows he can use this as sort of a tryout for next season.
He’s a pending restricted free agent.
“I wasn’t hoping to be put on waivers,” he said. “I was just hoping to play, and, if that took waivers, I was going to be happy if I got picked up on waivers. And that was the case, so I’m really happy to be here. Super excited and couldn’t be more grateful.
“I think I’ve got to prove myself as much as I can. You’re always playing for a job, right? So that’s for next year. I hope I can prove that here for the remainder of the season and earn myself a spot on the team next year full-time.”
(Photo: James Carey Lauder / USA Today)