Wild turn to Vinni Lettieri to help get back on winning track

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Vinni Lettieri wore some of his resumé on his face Monday when he joined the Minnesota Wild after starting the season at AHL Iowa.

“A little scrum in the net front a few days ago,” the veteran forward said.

He should fit right into the fourth line with center Connor Dewar and wing Brandon Duhaime, speedy, hard-nosed forwards who have consistently set an aggressive tone when they’ve had the puck this season.

The three practiced together Monday morning at TRIA Rink.

“People don’t know, sometimes, how skilled fourth lines are around the league, and these guys are great shooters, they’re great playmakers, they have great vision,” Lettieri said.

Lettieri, 28, has been nothing but sharp since signing a two-year, two-way deal with the Wild on July 1, impressive during training camp, and productive in preseason games (1-3–4 in two games) and at Iowa (1-2–3 in four games).

“He played not only skillfully but gritty, as well,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said. “That’s what we’re looking for from him.”

The Wild have lost their past two games (0-1-1), both at home, while struggling defensively. The Wild are ninth in scoring through five games, averaging 3.6 goals a game, but are tied for second-worst in the NHL in goals against, 4.2.

“We’re scoring enough goals to win hockey games,” Evason said. “We’ve got to keep it out if our net with defending. We’ve got to be way better in that area.”

Lettieri replaces Sammy Walker, who played in each of those games, registering one shot on goal before being reassigned to Iowa on Sunday. In seven seasons since graduating from Minnesota, Lettieri has played 83 NHL games in stints with the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins, scoring a combined seven goals and 18 points.

“Every year you learn something new,” Lettieri said. “I wouldn’t say it’s getting better at something, it’s becoming more knowledgeable and more aware of your surroundings, and you’re supposed to get open, pick up pucks the correct way. It’s just fine-tuning your skills at this level is the biggest thing.”

Tuesday’s 8 p.m. puck drop against Edmonton at Xcel Energy Center will be his first as a member of the Wild, the hometown team of the Minnetonka graduate and grandson of Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne, who picked him up Sunday from MSP, where the Iowa Wild had a short layover on the way home from Manitoba.

“I’ve played here before, but playing for the Wild is definitely another level,” he said. “I’m super excited, but I think patience is the biggest thing I’ve learned. … It’s the hardest thing to learn, but the best thing to learn.”

Extra body

Defenseman Jon Merrill was absent from the Wild’s practice on Monday, but Evason said the team is hoping he’ll be available for Tuesday night’s game.

“Just some maintenance; he got banged up the other night,” the coach said. “He should be fine, but we wanted to make sure that he was OK.”

Regardless, Evason said the team would recall another minor league player from Iowa on Tuesday so they have an extra available body on a trip that begins Thursday in Philadelphia and ends Sunday at New Jersey.

He said it wasn’t clear whether that player would be a forward or defenseman.

“We’re going to work through it this morning,” he said. “We’re going to chat about it after (practice). Things were a little quick this morning.”

Extra body?

Evason said he expects Matt Boldy to travel with the team when it leaves for Philadelphia on Wednesday. The winger has been sidelined since suffering an upper body injury Oct. 15 at Toronto.

“He’s at the point where he’s able to move on with us (as a) practice player,” Evason said.

The coach didn’t rule out Boldy play on the trip, which continues Friday night in Washington D.C. before concluding with a 4 p.m. drop Sunday in Newark.

“The intention, obviously, is to have him with us, and then we’ll see how he is,” Evason said. “But certainly he won’t play early in the trip, and then we’ll evaluate and hope for the best.”

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