Kyle Rau was never the biggest guy on the ice during his rise up the ranks. Nowadays, he’s easily among the smallest guys on the ice during an NHL game.
That didn’t stop the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Rau from going toe-to-toe with the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Nicolas Hague in Thursday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Though neither player actually dropped the gloves, Rau and Hague exchanged some blows after the whistle before both heading to the penalty box.
That type of energy is exactly why coach Dean Evason inserted Rau back in the lineup for Saturday’s rematch. He was penciled in to skate alongside Luke Johnson and opposite Nick Bjugstad.
“He plays the game the right way,” Evason said. “He plays hard. He’s got real good speed. He gets in on the forecheck and finishes absolutely every check. There’s no question that he provides us with that straightforwardness that we are looking for.”
The decision to start Rau means Nico Sturm was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. This gives Sturm a chance to watch from above, and while it might not be the most enjoyable experience for him, there’s a hope amongst the coaching staff that he could benefit from this in the long run.
“Everyone puts such a negative perception on not playing one game or two games,” Evason said. “Sometimes it can be the best thing for a player. I know from personal experiences. You’re not happy with it. You’re pissed off at the coach and everybody else in the world when it happens. That said, it can be a positive thing as long as the guy uses it as a positive thing.”
“You can watch and see and say, ‘Maybe I would’ve done something different three games ago.’ Hopefully he comes back and he’s energized and ready to go and plays the way we know he can play.”
Zach Parise (COVID protocols) and Marcus Foligno (lower-body injury) have resumed skating in St. Paul, signaling a return to the lineup could be on the horizon for both players. It sounds like Parise is a little closer than Foligno at the moment.