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Mason Shaw’s return to Wild ‘feels like Christmas morning’

When Mason Shaw tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last spring, the team was nearly as heartbroken as the rookie forward, whose season was ended by a knee injury for the fourth time.

“He’s a heart-and-souler,” teammate Marcus Foligno said after Shaw was injured last April in Las Vegas. “When we see that go down, it kind of deflated us a little bit.”

After playing more than 130 games in five seasons with the Wild’s American Hockey League team in Des Moines — a journey interrupted by surgeries to both of his knees — Shaw had finally found a spot with the Wild as a hard-checking forward, registering seven goals and 10 assists in 59 games.

Wild management, led by general manager Bill Guerin, promised to see Shaw through his fourth rehabilitation and give him every chance to return to the big-league club — which Shaw finally did on Friday. The contract is worth a prorated, league-minimum of $775,000 in the NHL, $400,000 in the AHL, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

“It feels amazing,” Shaw said after a 50-minute practice at TRIA Rink, his first with the team in nearly a year. “This is where I wanted to be when I started this journey, and it feels amazing to be back here and hanging around these guys. It feels like Christmas morning.”

Shaw, 25, was signed to a two-way contract through the rest of the season on Thursday and recalled from Iowa, where he had three goals and four assists in nine games with the AHL squad.

His fourth recovery was made a little easier by the support he got from the Wild. Shaw did all of his rehab with Minnesota’s staff, starting last May, and despite not having a contract was part of the team’s fall retreat to Two Harbors last fall. Late last year, he attended the team’s Christmas party.

Shaw might not have been playing but, he said, he always felt part of the team.

“It just dates back to what I was told when this first happened, that I was part of this group and they were going to take care of me,” he said. “They’ve stuck to their word on that, and I felt like I’ve been part of this the whole time. So, now it’s time for me to take care of my end and help this team get some wins.”

It’s unclear when that might happen. Shaw won’t play Saturday when the Wild play host to Buffalo in a 4 p.m. puck drop, in part because the team is playing well, winners of four straight and 8 of 11 since Jan. 15. Minnesota entered Friday five points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot, and one point behind ninth-place Nashville and 10th-place Seattle.

“Right now, I think it will be day by day,” coach John Hynes said. “There’s a couple of forwards that need to be better.”

The Wild are without injured forwards Foligno (lower body) and Pat Maroon (back), and Hynes said Friday he was going to look at video with the third line of Brandon Duhaime, Ryan Hartman and Freddy Gaudreau.

“We’ll go through some shifts,” Hynes said. “I think we have to be a bit better.”

Shaw said he believes his game is in order after struggling in his first few games back, and that his knee is able to withstand the rigors of his role as a high-energy checker. For now, though, he’s being patient. The team is winning, and he has played in only nine games this season.

Asked if he anticipated returning to the big-league team so quickly, Shaw said, “I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest. I didn’t know how the knee would respond to games, or how my game would go.

“Nothing was guaranteed here; I had to go and earn my chance to get back here,” he added. “Obviously, everyone in the organization kept their word to me and gave me a chance, and now it’s my turn to do my part and get back on the ice here.”

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