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Wild's Graovac facing more ice time with Haula injury

ST. PAUL-Wild center Tyler Graovac has a simple nickname. His teammates call him "Grao," and while it's not the most creative nickname, it's been that way since he got called up from the minor leagues.That said, coach Bruce Boudreau only recently...

Minnesota Wild forward Tyler Graovac (44) celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Wild forward Tyler Graovac (44) celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL-Wild center Tyler Graovac has a simple nickname. His teammates call him "Grao," and while it's not the most creative nickname, it's been that way since he got called up from the minor leagues.

That said, coach Bruce Boudreau only recently started using the moniker for the fourth-line center.

"There were a couple times when I got called up it would be like 'The White Line' or 'Stewie's Line,' " Graovac said. "I was kind of just the middle guy so I was like, 'OK. I'll just follow Stewie.'

"There was another time (when I got called up) he just pointed at me and was like, 'Uh. You go that way,' " Graovac added. "Now we're at a good point. I think when he knows my name, that's a good start."

Boudreau was forced to roll with three centers - Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu and

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Graovac - on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes after usual third-line center Erik Haula went down with a lower-body injury early in the game.

"(He) kept saying, 'Grao. You're up. Grao. You're up,' " Graovac said with a smile. "I've never heard him say my name so many times. I had a blast, and I know the guys had a great time. This is really fun for me."

It was fun for Boudreau, too, knowing he can trust Graovac in an expanded role should Haula miss a long period of time.

"I don't know how bad Erik is, so I wanted to give Grao as much ice time as I could get him because he hasn't had a lot of ice time in recent games," Boudreau said. "I thought he came through pretty well."

Graovac, who played a career-high 18 minutes, 45 seconds against the Coyotes, mentioned that it was much easier to get into a rhythm playing more minutes. That was evidenced by the fact that he scored a goal to go along with a few other Grade A scoring chances.

"I've been waiting for an opportunity like that for a while," Graovac said. "I've tried to prove that I can do a little more than just play that fourth-line role."

Graovac has spent most of his time in that fourth-line role this season, with his average ice time resting at less than 10 minutes per game. Boudreau has elevated him a few times, and Graovac has responded well.

Still, he is going to have to prove that more consistently if Haula is sidelined.

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"I don't know how long Erik is going to be out," Graovac said. "Hopefully not long. If they need me to play special teams or something, I'll try my best."

Graovac appears to have the confidence of his teammates.

"You can see he's coming into his own here," veteran winger Chris Stewart said. "He is getting more comfortable every day. He definitely feels like he's part of the team now. And it's good to see.

"He's earned it," Stewart added of the extra playing time. "He's demanded it. He's deserved it. I'm sure he'll step up and get the job done for the boys."

Boudreau also has confidence in Graovac, though he said he can't really gauge Graovac's confidence.

"He's so quiet," Boudreau said. "I don't know if his confidence has skyrocketed or not. He doesn't say a word. He's playing like he thinks he belongs, and that's important."

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