DIFFERENCES ARE WHAT MAKES WILD'S FOURTH LINE CLICKFeb 27, 2020
By Tom Witosky
When the Minnesota Wild recalled Gerry Mayhew this week, Iowa Head Coach Tim Army had to decide how to fill the open spot on the Wild’s first line left by the AHL’s top goal scorer.
One possibility was to move Brandon Duhaime back to playing on that line; the rookie left wing began the season playing with Nico Sturm and Sam Anas.
Army thought otherwise. Well, actually, he never thought about it at all.
The fact he never considered breaking up the Wild’s fourth line illuminates just how well Duhaime, rookie center Connor Dewar and second-year right wing Dmitry Sokolov are playing as a group.
“Didn’t consider it,” Army said when asked. “I don’t break up lines that are working as well as those guys are. They have a great rhythm together right now. They are arguably our second-best line.”
On Tuesday night, the three again contributed to another club win – a 5-2 victory against division rival Chicago. Sokolov scored the Wild’s key fourth goal at the end of a power play after the Wolves had rallied from a 3-0 deficit with two tallies to make it a one-goal game.
Earlier in the contest, Dewar picked up an assist on a power-play goal by Luke Johnson, replacing an injured Kyle Rau on the Wild’s top power-play unit for his first work on the man advantage this season.
The emergence of the three Minnesota Wild draft choices provides the Wild a full complement of lines – a luxury difficult to obtain for many AHL teams. As the Wild enters the final stretch of the regular season, their ability to step in against any opponent’s line gives Army great flexibility in keeping his bench from getting overworked.
“I’m comfortable with them playing against anyone,” Army said. “They are not just getting by, but playing hard and getting the advantage on a shift at any time during the game.
Since Dec. 18, the Wild has compiled a 22-5-1-1 record, while the fourth line has scored a combined 18 goals and provided a combined 27 assists for a total of 45 points in those 29 games. On defense, Dewar and Duhaime are mainstays on the Wild’s penalty kill units, but more importantly, Sokolov has a plus-13 rating, Dewar a plus-10, and Duhaime a plus-5.
The trio has meshed well from the beginning, but it may be a little difficult to find a more different group anywhere else in the AHL. Duhaime is a Florida native, Dewar is from south-central Manitoba, and Sokolov grew-up in Siberia.
“Those two guys are crazy,” Sokolov said of his linemates, who are also roommates in Des Moines. “They are always laughing and cracking jokes. They keep it pretty loose.”
But those differences also how the three of them became a formidable line.
“We’ve developed a chemistry because we each do some things a bit differently but work well together,” said Duhaime, who was drafted by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. “Sokie is an elite shooter who can score from anywhere. You just need to get him the puck. Connor checks and passes so well and my job is to get into the corners and get the puck to them.”
Dewar, the Wild’s third-round selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, agreed the line’s chemistry has continued to develop with each game.
“When you play as many games as we do in this league, it's easy to keep the rhythm and that allows us to continue to score and play well on defense,” he said.
Sokolov, drafted in the seventh round in 2016, was naturally tabbed as line’s shooter, but also has improved his quickness and his defensive skills.
“It really is about trying to play hard and to compete as hard as possible in every game,” said Sokolov, who ranks third in goals on the Iowa roster with 14, two short of his total from last season. “We are trying to do what Coach tells us to do and it seems to be working for all of us.”
Alex Tanguay, Iowa’s assistant coach who works with the forward group, said the three players have exhibited a growing maturity that has helped them develop.
“They will play well and then maybe not have such a good game,” Tanguay said. “But they learn from it and come back from it well.”
Army’s decision to put the line together also runs counter to the traditional thinking that young players should play with veterans.
“Sometimes, younger guys just play better with each other because they're not as intimidated at playing their game. They don't defer to the older guys,” Army said. “It can bring out the best in them – their personalities and skillsets.”
The line has shown the ability to use their individual skills in a collective way that often provides an energy spark to the rest of the bench.
“They all have great puck skills and can play in traffic,” Army said. “Brandon has got a good head on his shoulders as a wing and Connor is an outstanding center at reading the whole situation. Then you add a big shooter like Sokie and that’s a pretty formidable group that adds that youthful exuberance you need to have.”
One thing the line doesn’t want is a nickname. Asked if they wanted to be known as the Kid Line as suggested recently by veteran Cody McLeod, Dewar just shook his head.
“I don’t think we need one,” he said.