One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild winger can go from 0-60 in a flash thanks to a motor that revs higher than most. But too often in his young career, Gaborik’s wheels have failed him.
He missed 34 games last season due to a groin injury and has never never played a full NHL schedule. With that in mind, the Wild asked him to change his off-season workout habits this year in hopes of keeping him on the ice.
“That’s the No. 1 thing for me – to stay healthy,” Gaborik said Friday as the Wild opened training camp. “I’m going to stay healthy and compete at the top level and help this team to get to another level and to win games.”
Despite missing all that time last season, the Slovak still managed to score 30 goals. He ranked third on the team with 57 points, and the Wild were 33-9-6 in games they had No. 10 on the ice.
Gaborik just gives the Wild a different dimension when he’s in there. He is a threat to score any time the puck lands on his stick, giving what has long been known as one of the best defensive teams in hockey some much-needed balance.
“I didn’t check the stats, but you can see it on the paper that there’s a big difference when he’s playing and when he’s out,” goaltender Niklas Backstrom said. “It’s not just him scoring some goals. He’s helping all the other guys to be better players.”
The Wild were 19-2-2 in games that Gaborik scored a goal last season. He has reached the 30-goal mark four times in the last five seasons, so imagine what he could do if he played an entire 82-game schedule.
“It could be dangerous,” Wild winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard said with a grin.
Gaborik, who signed a US$19-million, three-year contract extension before last season, knows the possibilities are there as well and was open to changing his workout habits.
“He has a better understanding of what needs to be done and the specific drills that are the most helpful,” general manager Doug Risebrough said. “We’ve had enough experience with the staff and him with what works and what doesn’t work so we’re more honed on what doesn’t work, obviously.”
Gaborik didn’t get into specifics when talking about his new regimen, only saying that it was “A lot of different stuff during the summer.”
“It can help me to be healthy and keep working off the ice during the year,” said Gaborik. “I focused more on my lower body and stuff.”
If the workouts pay off, and the wheels stay on, Gaborik and the Wild could be in for a special season after being eliminated by eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs.
Risebrough didn’t make many significant free agent signings this off-season, aside from bringing in centre Eric Belanger and defenceman Sean Hill and re-signed several key veterans including Bouchard and Wes Walz.
That puts even more pressure on the 25-year-old Gaborik to stay off the injury list and stay on the ice.
“It’s critical for him. It’s critical for us,” Risebrough said. “But you can only do what you can do, and I’m pretty comfortable that we’ve done what we can do for him – and he’s done that he can do for himself.
“So you just have to hope that all of that’s going to pull it together. He needs to have that type of a year for himself to get his confidence back.”