The NHL lockout certainly has fans of the Minnesota Wild feeling down after an offseason of positive buzz with the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but there is a bit of good news that has come out over the last day or so. Forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is “pretty much symptom free” after concussion issues have limited him to 97 games over the past three seasons.
Since he was not cleared to play prior to when the season would have started under normal circumstances, Bouchard is not technically locked out and has been skating with Wild coaches on a daily basis. He apparently also practiced with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, last week.
Bouchard is in the final year of a five-year, $20.4 million contract, so he would certainly like the lockout to end so he can prove he is healthy and enter free agency next summer on a positive note. He will reportedly see team doctors at some point this week in the hopes of being ready to go for training camp if and when the lockout ends.
When healthy, Bouchard has been a skilled offensive player for a Wild team that has largely lacked scoring punch and playmakers. In four straight seasons from 2005-2006 through 2008-2009, he had at least 30 assists and 46 points each season while also playing at least 80 games three times. He is the third-leading scorer in Wild history with 327 points, and is also second in franchise history in games played (522).
There will be concerns about Bouchard’s durability due to his slight build (5’11″, 173 lbs.), and with so much missed time over the last few seasons his skills may have eroded some. That said, it’s hard not to root for him to make a full recovery and return to somewhere close to his previous form.
Since he still just 28 years old, and with the assumption he will be and can stay healthy, I think Bouchard has a chance to be a underrated difference maker for a Wild squad with elevated expectations this season. If the season ever starts of course.